On our second morning in Cartagena, we awoke early for breakfast, and then caught a cab to take us to Convento de La Popa. La Popa is a monastery that sits atop the highest hill in Cartagena and offers stunning views of the city. The entrance fee is roughly $2.00 (or 6,000 COP) per person We were able to wander through the monastery and its courtyard, which was adorned with beautiful flowers. We even ended up finding a litter of adorable kittens before returning to our cab.
Our next mission was to visit Mercado Bazurto, the local market in the middle of the city. We had seen rave reviews of the market on various different Food Network shows and were interested in seeing a less touristy side of Cartagena. We had also heard that it is wise to take a guide with you if you plan to visit the market because it is easy to get lost there, and difficult to find English speakers. Our cab driver spoke little English, so we tried to convey our desire to hire a guide in broken Spanish. After assuring us that the market was safe (at least that’s what we gathered he was getting at as he mimed shooting motions and then waved his hands to indicate we needn’t worry about anything like that), he drove us to the market and found a parking space. This was no small task as the cars were packed in tight and most drivable areas were narrow, steeped in garbage, and in some places abruptly interrupted by massive holes where the road should have been. When the driver stopped the car, he got out with us, indicating that he would guide us through the market. He led us through narrow and winding passages, pointing out certain booths as we went, and explaining that this was the cheapest place to buy anything in the city. Much like the rest of Cartagena, the best word I can find to describe Bazurto is ‘overwhelming.’ Shouts and noises came from every direction. The smell of delicious food mingled with the stench of garbage and sun-baked raw fish. The stalls were piled high with goods, and the streets with litter. A multitude of shore birds lurked on the fringes of the market, hoping to catch an easy meal. We were incredibly grateful to our cab driver for sticking with us and making sure we didn’t get lost as the narrow passages would have been very confusing to navigate on our own.
After our visit to Bazurto, we stopped back at our hotel to change into bathing suits, then caught another cab to take us to Playa Blanca, a beach a little shy of an hour’s drive away from the city. We were eager to hit the beach to try to get some relief from the intense heat of the midday sun. The drive to the beach was rather beautiful after we left the city. It was interesting to see some of the Colombian countryside. When we arrived at Playa Blanca, we quickly realized that it was essentially a tourist trap. We were immediately approached by many people trying to sell us various things from massages to food to trinkets and jewelry. We relaxed on the main stretch of beach for a bit before I got restless and decided to take a walk. I dragged the others down the beach to a jagged rock outcropping and we had fun exploring the caves and sea cliffs away from the throngs of visitors and vendors. All in all, Playa Blanca was probably my least favorite activity from the entire trip, but we made the best of it and had a fun time anyway. We saw a bird sanctuary on our way there, which looked interesting, but we didn’t stop because we were so hot and just wanted to swim. Since then, a friend of mine who has family in Cartagena has visited Aviario Nacional de Colombia and highly recommends it.
We returned to Cartagena for dinner, settling on a little restaurant in Getsemani called Caffe Lunatico. This was hands down the best dining experience of our trip. We found ourselves alone in the restaurant as dinner is served later in Colombia than it is is the US, so we were hungry before almost everyone else around. The atmosphere was relaxing with a magical sort of feeling about it. The food was excellent both in presentation and flavor, and the chefs and server were very friendly and seemed as excited about the menu as we were. We couldn’t have asked for a more perfect finale to our time in the walled city, and we returned to the hotel, stuffed and excited about our upcoming journey to the Rosario Islands the next morning.