The coffee was some of the best, freshest brew I’ve ever had. As I sat in the outside sunshine, enjoying free WiFi and java at the Juan Valdez Cafe, a group of flamingos casually strolled by. I had just booked a taxi van with several others to take us out to the beach and a lunch of authentic Colombian food and I was waiting for our driver to whisk us away. So begins the first of many visits to Cartagena Colombia. With a city so rich in history and culture, I wanted to ease into it, so I started with the beach. For $20, our driver would take us to the beach, wait while we dined and swam, then take us back to the port area. We could pay at the end to ensure he wouldn’t leave us stranded! Seemed like a great deal.
Our lunch was at a place called Kiosco el Bony. Sitting right on the beach in the Bocagrande area of the city, this hut/shack is known by locals as THE place for great seafood, and it didn’t disappoint! We ordered up some great food and sipped on local beers while batting away locals trying to sell us trinkets. After our lunch, it was time to take a dip in the water. The beach was busy with locals and tourists alike and the water was warm and refreshing. Lots of locals trying to pawn off their wares. After a great day it was time to head back to port until next time.
The port area has an amazing bird sanctuary filled with parrots, toucans, flamingos, and other exotic feathered creatures. You’ll be able to hold a parrot as well as get up close and personal with a toucan. This port area is where you’ll be able to get some of that great coffee as you wait for your taxi tours.
Now that I’d gotten my beach day out of the way, it was time to dive into the impressive history and culture of this fantastic city. So for my next visit to Cartagena, I decided to book a tour that took us to the old colonial walled city as well as short visits to some markets, to the top of La Popa mountain and also to the impressive fort San Felipe Barajas Castle.
Cartagena was established in 1533 and you can see evidence of the colonial era all around you in the architecture of the old town. This area is best explored by foot as you take in the narrow streets lined with charming cafes, churches and parks. Some of the best examples of this are surrounding Plaza de Bolivar, the central square featuring a statue of Simon Bolivar. Other sites you’ll be able to see in this area are the Catedral de Cartagena, built in 1577, attacked by Francis Drake in 1586 and rebuilt by 1612. The Catedral de San Pedro Claver, built in 1575 and also damaged in Francis Drakes 1586 attack was rebuilt by 1602. Teatro Heredia is a beautiful and romantic theater recently restored to its full glory.
Not far from the old town is San Felipe Barajas Castle, built in the mid 1500’s and one of the oldest buildings in Colombia. I didn’t go inside, but I did get some pictures from the outside. My next visit might have to explore this historic treasure in more detail.
I always look forward to visiting Cartagena and can’t wait for the next time and dive deeper into some of the places I’d seen and discover more! Its best to hire a taxi van and negotiate a tour with several people or hop into one looking to fill up. You’re likely to see more sites. Although the port area has the great bird wildlife, incredible Juan Valdez coffee cafe and a very clean, but expensive gift shop, you really should get out into the city and explore some of the historic sites.