Cartagena is a city that well known, even to those who have not yet visited Colombia. It is definitely a must-see destination, with its historic walled city, beautiful architecture, and vibrant nightlife. Nearby, Santa Marta is impressive as well. It boasts better beaches and fewer tourists. It was a great place to spend Christmas among the people who live there.
After a visit with my family via Skype (which along with TripAdvisor is one of the technological gifts in the last decade for a traveler in my opinion), I had lunch on Christmas Day at a place recommended by my hostel that’s only distinguishing feature from the street was a doormat that said, “Welcome.” Once inside I was greeted with numerous murals on the walls and ceiling, a fresh seafood dinner, and a friendly fellow patron. Our conversation was intermittent, because he, like all the locals that entered, were engrossed with the TV. The funeral of Diomedes Diaz, one of Colombia’s most popular musicians, was being broadcast. While watching it I was reminded of eyes glued to TVs in the US during Princess Di’s procession. For some in the coastal areas, Diaz’s funeral overshadowed the celebration of Christ’s birth celebrated on the same day. Later in the afternoon, I did what many locals do on Christmas Day…I went to the beach!
The culture and history of Cartagena is evident on every street of the its historical center. Pirate raids, the Spanish Inquisition, international trade of precious metals and slaves: these are just some of the stories that this walled city holds in its past. Today the fortress walls also serve as a great place to watch the sunset over the Caribbean Sea. Within the historic center, the city’s architecture retains its colonial character with rich colors, flower covered balconies, and arched walkways. Food vendors, horse-pulled carriages, and tourists meander through the streets, adding the the beauty of experiencing this special place.
In the Getsemaní neighborhood, brightly colored murals cover walls between hostels, cafes, tiendas, and salsa bars. Artist studios and small local businesses make their home in many of the historic buildings there.
Walking through the streets here, I never knew what waited around the next corner. The streets of Cartagena are perfect for wandering, and the romantic beauty of the place makes it easy to lose track of time.