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Cartagena Travel Blog

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Cartagena is an amazing city.
Our handy guidebook advised to simply wander the streets and discover places as we went rather than looking specifically and that´s pretty much what we did.  Central Cartagena is divided into several parts, the oldest of which is contained inside the huge stone fortification wall.  Buses and chivas are not allowed inside and accordingly the streets are far more pleasant as most of the traffic is newer cars and taxis which have lower exhaust emissions.  Once again, everywhere you look is like a postcard.  We took heaps of photos here as almost every street corner has a monument or statue of some sort dedicated to someone famous or religious (or both).
The first place we visited (when we launched forth into the heat) was the Palace de la Inquisicion which is one of the places the torture of the infamous Spanish Inquisition took place.  It´s quite gruesome to think that people were tortured to death there and the implements of torture now on display were actually used.  And again, the building itself is stunning.  The Spanish seemed to have a thing for making their prisons and places of punishment really beautiful buildings.  Having never really been that interested in architecture before, I was really impressed with the old structures - especially when you think that some of them are 600 years old.
And for a person who knew nothing about the history of Cartagena I found it fascinating.  All the tours we took were in spanish so we relied heavily on Janneth to give us a run-down.
Despite the fact that Cartagena is very expensive (it´s a popular tourist destination for North Americans as well as Colombians), our 3.5 hour chiva tour of the city (with guide) was only 30000 pesos and our day trip by boat out to the Islas del Rosario the next day was only 65000 pesos - the equivalent of about $20 and $47 NZD respectively.  It´s no wonder the hawkers in the streets descend on tourists which delight - we think things are incredibly cheap and they´re charging about 10 times what they would charge locals.  Janneth saved us a heaps of money by negotiating with taxi drivers and finding us a restaurant which we ate at three or four times which served the menu del dia for 4500 pesos - $3 for a lunch of soup, rice, meat and salad.  On our secondlast day we visited the Museo de Naval and found out how and when each series of fortifications was built and why.  During our time there we traversed the tunnels beneath Castille de San Felipe and took a chiva up to La Popa, a very old monastery which if I remember correctly was actually consecrated by the Pope in the 1990s.  Our hotel was fantastic (see the review) but had one draw-back - no swimming pool.  Although admittedly if we´d had a pool to swim in every day we probably wouldn´t have explored the city as much as we did.
Every day was sweltering.  We were convinced the signs that displayed the temperature were broken as it never seemed to change - about 30 degrees at night and 37 or more during the day.  About two minutes after walking out the front door of the hotel we were sticky with sweat and we were showering at least twice a day - yup cold showers.
It is about this time I should confess Janneth introduced me to Crepes & Waffles-  This is apparently a Colombian chain (they are in Bogota as well).  For four days in a row (I think) we visited Crepes and Waffles for dinner and/or desert.  This was no mean feat as it involved a taxi ride in both directions (or at least a walk in one direction then taxi back) because the restaurant was on the Bocagrande (the newer tourist-section of Cartagena with all the major hotel chains) but I have to say their dessert menu is quite the most divine I have ever experienced and the desserts when they come out actually look like the pictures in the menu.  They have a range of flavours of icecreams and sorbets which are absolutely indescribable.  Suffice to say that if the Crepes & Waffles in Bogota was not on the other side of the city (about 40 minutes car ride away) it would be very dangerous for me.  In my defence I should point out that their bar salad was also divine and was the main reason we went there originally - Janneth and I were craving a salad of fresh cold vegetables - something that seemed to be completely non-existent on most restaurant menus.
On the last day in the city we discovered the expensive fashion street of Cartagena, in the old part of the town.  Fashion in Colombia is incredible.  Everybody you look at seems to dress beautifully and put a lot of care into their appearance.  Guys actually wear colours, not just black.  I can see why New Zealanders are considered to dress very conservatively (read boring) - black, black, black, black, navy blue, black.  Everything I have bought here has been colourful and cheap.  It´s probably expensive by local standards and either they think they´re ripping you off or you´re crazy for spending so much but clothes here are fantastic.  The only bummer is that despite being a size 12 at home (sometimes even 10), here I am XL in everything and quite often shops don´t stock above medium.  Sigh.
We left Cartagena in the evening feeling as though we´d had a decent length of time wandering the old city.  I would recommend not less than a week in Cartagena to really get a feel for the city.
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photo by: vulindlela