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Looking for the incredible weather and soft, sandy beaches of the Caribbean, but not interested in bland island resorts? Cartagena, Colombia is the perfect place to get all the benefits of a beautiful beach holiday, combined with the history, culture and fantastic food of South America. With some of the oldest, best-preserved colonial architecture in the entire continent, you can snorkel in the turquoise waters by day, and sit in an plaza tucked inside the old city walls at night, soaking up the lively folk music and aroma of fresh fish on the frying pan. Here are a few of our favourite things to do while in Cartagena:
Indulge our inner foodie: Often hailed as the culinary capital of Colombia, Cartagena’s seafood and tropical fruits are the foundation of the local cuisine, and the unique blend of cultural influences – Spanish, African, and indigenous – give it a special edge. During the day, cool down with delicious juices and in the evening, tuck into a sancocho (stew), which mixes fresh fish with plantains, yucca, corn on the cob, and cilantro. If you’re looking for a quick bite, you’ll find empanadas – pastry filled with egg, meat, or cheese – sold by street vendors on almost every corner.
Get lost in history: It’s hard not to be in awe of the 400-year-old stone walls, built as protection from storms and pirates. Climb to the top of the walls and you can look out at the sea, then clamber down and wander along the narrow brick streets past burnt orange and royal blue buildings to relive the city’s colonial past. At the Castillo de San Felipe de Barajas – the main fortress – visitors can walk the battlements and check out the underground passages, all constructed in the 1500s.
Hit the beach: When you’re ready for paradise – that is, white sand beaches and azure water – then you should get straight on a boat (every hour from the main port) to Playa Blanca. It’s situated on Isla de Baru, one of the larger islands in the Islas Rosario archipelago, just south of the Bay of Cartagena. The price you pay for the exquisite landscape are local salesmen touting their wares, but be firm and you’ll eventually be left alone.
Stay out all night: When the sun goes down, the walled city really comes alive – head to Calle del Arsenal or Bocagrande for everything from romantic, intimate bars to to loud sexy clubs. If you’re looking for salsa, you’re in luck – get over to Café Havana in Getsemaní (it really gets going after 11 p.m.) where you’ll find both great music and crowds spilling onto the streets.
Get out of town: For a cool day trip, check out nearby Arboletes – about an hour from Cartagena towards Barranquilla, and home of the Volcán de Totumo, a “mud volcano” famous for the healing powers (some say) of its mud bath. The dense mud makes for a hilarious experience, as well as some unique photo opportunities!