PITUSA PACKS // CARTAGENA, COLOMBIA

Window, Cartagena by Shon Ejai

CARTAGENA

As the days get shorter and the months get colder, wanderlust really fills our hearts and our minds as we gear up for a winter’s worth of Pinteresting dream destinations. Cartagena is high up on that list and since it’s only a short flight from most places in the US (and very close to our headquarters in Miami), it’s a good option for Christmas, New Year’s Eve or the long, cold and dark months of January and February. Cartagena has become increasingly popular in recent years as an international destination for the jet-set crowd – but it’s really for anyone, and there is such a wonderful mix of people – from Colombian tourists to the high fashion crowd to backpackers – there really is something for everyone here. You can dance until the early morning, go to pristine beaches, shop for insanely colourful mochilas, much like our own Mochila, $98 , eat out of this world ceviche and drink the most delicious (and potent) Colombian drink, arequipe, all the while dancing in the street. We promise you – whether you go for a long weekend or an extended holiday, it’s one of the most romantic places in the world.Cartagena is really full of alchemical magic, we’ve never been anywhere else quite like it.
A Few Tips Before We Get Started
Cartagena is a definite walking city (always try to wear flats – the cobblestones are ubiquitous and heels will double your travel time). If you need to get across town quickly, taxis are also a good option — you can hail them in most areas and they’re safe and affordable. Just make sure you set a price beforehand (and you shouldn’t pay more than $8 for any ride).
The city really comes alive for fantastic NYE celebrations, but high season can be super crowded and pricey. If you’re more of a low-key type (or on a budget), it’s a good to visit between the high seasons, anytime from January to April.
Don’t walk on the wall at night, it may be romantic – and so attractive considering the view and how many locals hang about there – it is a known haunt of thieves and assaults on women have been reported. This particular blogger was once in Carty and wandered a bit too far on my own and luckily a local told me the score, since I was young and alone (and a woman), a friendly stranger told me to get in cab and go back to Getsemani. I was lucky! Cartagena is very safe, you just have to know where you’re going (and walking)!
Photo courtesy of Miguel Van Der Oeven

STAY

A popular venue for weddings, this gorgeous boutique hotel was owned by the Count of Pestagua in the 18th century. There are only 11 rooms but each one is replete with beautiful details and the breezy courtyard is made for hot Cartagena nights. Upon entering it really feels like a fairy tale.  They do a bang up job of a Colombian breakfast: an array of tropical fruit, stuffed yuca fritters, and arepas.

Another boutique hotel very common in Cartagena, it’s in a colonial house built in the 17th century. They are big on service here and have renovated the house to give guests a cosy and welcoming vibe.

Popular Colombian fashion designer Silvia Tcherassi has turned her eye  to be a hotelier. She converted a 19th century mansion into a tropical paradise for the Colombian fashion elite. There are only seven rooms but each has impeccably executed wood-beamed ceiling and quirky touches like bedspreads designed from dress labels. It’s smack-dab in the heart of Centro Historico and the terraces of each of the rooms look over the terracotta roofs of the area.  There are four – yes four – separate pools to lounge away the hot days. Meanwhile, the Hotel Tcherassi houses 42 rooms – both have spas with all manner of treatments.
Casa Blanca is in the old town and is true to its name: it’s yet another renovated colonial house, but instead of the deep reds and bright oranges one often sees around town – they went very white.  It has a bit of an urban feel to it and the interior design is really beautifully done, it’s a big space – there are massive wooden doors, a rooftop terrace with daybeds, and cool mosaic floors. There are pools to hang out it – you won’t find much air conditioning in Cartagena, they prefer open air living.
Casa Pombo, again housed in a 16th century colonial mansion (sensing a theme?), has five apartments, designed as large loft spaces. It functions as a hotel but are like well-run Airbnbs, with a shared rooftop pool!
Cartagena, Photo Courtesy of Youleks

EAT

La Vitrola

Go here for live Cuban music and dancing that could happen anytime, even in the middle of your meal! It functions as Cartagenas self-proclaimed “unofficial clubhouse” – and it’s sort of true – people descend on this lively spot for dancing and incredible seafood, pasta and steak. It’s not to be missed, and it’s a popular spot so be sure to make a reservation ahead of time.
 This is the place to go for ceviche in town, and in a town of some of the best ceviche we’ve ever tasted – that’s really saying something. Honestly, anything on the menu is delicious, so don’t worry too much about popular dishes but the lobster, crab or octopus ceviche are not to be missed and definitely get a side of coconut rice for good measure.
Go here for the scene (and to see and be seen!) There is live music on Fridays, so if you’re in Cartagena over a weekend, definitely plan for a romantic dinner here – by proper candlelight. Go for the lamb shank or the delicious array of seafood pastas and risottos.
Don Juan was opened by an alum of Michelin starred restaurant Arzak in the Basque Country in Spain, Colombian Juan Felipe Camacho, a stylish bistro with excellent seafood and an extensive South American wine list.
Go here for brunch!
Go here for GREAT ice cream. Seriously. Do. Not. Miss.
Photo courtesy of Cafe Havana

DRINK

Go here for a drink with a killer view –hang with tourists and locals alike.
 One of the most fun and lively spots in town: amazing drinks, Salsa dancers and a funky crowd- -you really have to at least stop when you’re in town. It will feel like magic.
St. Dom, A Concept Store in Cartagena. Photo courtesy of St. Dom
SHOP
You can find literally anything for your house or get eccentric accessories here.
A concept store stocked with predominantly Colombian designers, from gown by Johanna Ortiz, to woven bags by Palma Canaria, and colourful jewelry by Mercedes Salazar. A sartorialist’s dream.
DAY TRIP
Take a boat  a day trip to the island of San Pedro de Majagua or stay the night at Hotel San Pedro de Majagua, or just hang for the day on the beach chairs. Taking a day trip to one of the islands around Cartagena is so worth it, and you won’t believe what paradise is only a short 45 minute boat ride away. It should be about $80 return, and with that you’ll get a tour of the islands, beers, and lunch.

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