The Tcherassi Hotel + Spa (Calle Del Sargento Mayor N 6-21; +575 664 4445)
With only seven guest rooms, this renovated 250-year-old colonial mansion at the heart of Cartagena feels more like a stylish home than a boutique hotel. The expansive hacienda-style suites feature dramatic yet calming décor, each room crafted by fashion designer Silvia Tcherassi. For fun, you can head to the hotel’s restaurant which specializes in Italian costal cuisine, or check out the full-service spa for a soothing massage or an energizing Columbian Coffee body wrap, or just head to the rooftop pool for mesmerizing views of the skyline. Rates from US $295 per night. A two-night minimum stay is required for weekends.
El Viajero Cartegena Hostel (Calle 7 Infantes 9-45; +575 660 2598)
For the budget-minded, just down the street from the Tcherassi is El Viajero Cartegena Hostel. Clean, simple, and air-conditioned, there are dorm options as well as doubles and private rooms. There is a nice courtyard to socialize with fellow backpackers as well as a happy hour, organized tours include a pub-crawl, and even a fire show. It does get noisy, but if you are staying here, you probably aren’t looking to sleep much. Rates from 29000 Columbian Pesos/US $17.
Eat & Drink
Café Del Mar (Baluarte de Santo Domingo; +575 664 6513)
Located on the western wall of the old city overlooking the ocean, the atmospheric Café Del Mar offers some of the best views of the sunset in the city. Stop in at twilight and watch the beach with a cold beer, or come later to hear DJs pumping music from a fortress lookout tower.
VERA (Calle Del Sargento Mayor N 6-21; +575 664 4445)
The glamorous indoor/outdoor restaurant features delectable Italian coastal cuisine created by head chef Daniel Castano. Indulge on house specialties like Penne Melanzana, a delicious combination of eggplant, marinara, and mozzarella or the Risotto Pescatore cooked with Arborio rice, clams, mussels, shrimp, and squid.
See & Do
If you need to escape the rush of the city, venture over to Playa Blanca. Privacy and seclusion are the only things you’ll find on this spotless beach, and the clear waters are perfect for swimming. Tour boats usually pass the beach, so you’ll find it hard not to pay this pristine treat a visit.
An hour boat ride away from Cartagena lies the Rosario Islands Natural Park. Created in order to protect some of Colombia’s most important coral reefs, the park features an impressive open water aquarium and museum, where you can encounter dolphins, sharks, giant turtles and a bounty of aquatic tropical life. The reef itself provides seemingly endless opportunities for family fun with snorkeling, scuba diving, water skiing, canoeing, swimming and wind surfing. But for the islands’ more romantic side, stay overnight in one of the local hotels to take advantage of the open beaches and clear night sky.
Forty-five minutes from the city stands the Tutumo Volcano. Local legend holds that the mountain used to spit fire, but now, it only spits hot mud, renowned for its alleged healing abilities. Groups of visitors can ascend the staircase to the crater and take mud baths, with the option of being massaged by attendants. Many tours figure it into their itinerary.
In and around Cartagena, you’re always steps away from vendors hawking cheap jewelry, fruit, massages and other trinkets and souvenirs. For more discerning tastes, visit Bocagrande, located outside of the fortifications of the Old City. An upscale beachhead area known for its nightlife, where luxury hotels and condos dot the beach alongside upscale restaurants, nightclubs, art galleries and extensive shopping opportunities. Be on the lookout for emerald dealers waiting to sell you a piece of Colombia’s gem market to take home.
Getting There and Around
If Modern day fairytales do exist, taking a horse-drawn carriage through the Old City would fit right into the story. Although the best way to explore Cartagena is on foot, cabs are abundant and cheap as well. You can also hire a cab for the day to take you on a private city tour, the best and safest way to visit the highest point of the city, Convento de La Popa, and also check out the public market for some local flair. From the airport, a cab should cost around 10000 pesos (around US$4). Buy a pre-paid ticket from the special window at the airport to avoid being overcharged.
Avianca: Part of the Star Alliance, Avianca has the most international flights/direct available.
Copa Air: Copa Air is a partner of Continental and offers daily flights.