The colourful city of Cartagena sits on Colombia’s Caribbean coast. Its charming colonial old town, friendly locals, laid-back Caribbean vibe and views over the ocean make it any easy place to while away a week, but if you only have one day in the city, this is what you should do. The metropolitan area of Cartagena is large, but in a day it’s best to focus on the old town surrounded by the old wall.
Unless you’ve had a late night, wake early to make the most of the day. The pleasant temperature of the mornings cooled by breeze from the ocean makes it an excellent time to explore. Stop by Elaine Gomez Lozano’s arepa stand on the corner of Carrera 11 and Calle 38 in Cartagena’s Old City. Her generous corn arepas filled with cheese, meat and tomatoes are delicious and cost just a couple of dollars. Many street vendors specialise in freshly squeezed exotic juices, perfect for a little vitamin C boost.
The city wall is more than 400-years old, but despite its age it’s in remarkably good condition. Start in the west and walk along the 2-mile stretch on top of the wall, taking in the views over the Caribbean ocean on one side and the old colonial streets on the other. There are plenty of scenic places to stop for a rest.
You’re by the coast, so eating seafood is a must. Ceviche, a zingy mix of fresh raw seafood, typically white fish, marinated in lime juice, is fresh and perfect for the warm weather. While it’s easy to pick up a little plate from the street stalls or local cafes, the best in town is at La Cevicheria, a small restaurant on Calle Stuart 714. Sit outside in the sunshine, or perch on the seats inside and as well as ceviche, be sure to try the shrimps and octopus salad.
Head over to the Castillo San Felipe de Barajas located just outside the old town. This enormous fort was built by the Spanish in the 16th century in order to defend the city from land and sea attacks. It was expanded in the 17th and 18th centuries. A scramble to the top of the fort 130ft high takes twenty minutes or so, from which you can explore the bunkers and tunnels and look down over the city.
As the sun begins to set, and the twinkle of the city lights appear, jump on board one of the horse and carriages for a picturesque tour. Trotting around the old town is a delightful way to while away the early evening, enjoying close up views of the colonial architecture and people watching. The lighting at this time is excellent for photography, so get snapping.
For dinner head to Don Juan’s on Calle del Colegio No. 34-60, a casual restaurant with a sophisticated menu that puts Colombian’s excellent produce at the forefront. For a starter, the grilled octopus, bacon and candied potatoes is an excellent choice. For dinner, try the roasted lamb with yucca fries and an artichoke aioli.
Music plays an important role in Cartagena. Grab a stool at the bar in La Vitrola on Calle Baloco no. 33-20, a charming venue with a similar atmosphere to the joints in Old Havana. Sip on a cold beer or aguadiente (the local fire water) and listen to the nightly live samba and Cuban music.
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