Cartagena and Bocogrande | Oct 23-25

Cartagena Travel Blog

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Fernando getting advice from the taxi driver
Traveling from the airport to Boca, Fernando asked our taxi driver more questions and advice about how to get around in Cartagena, and I strained to listen for familiar words like "five thousand" (as in 'don't pay more than that for a taxi from Boca to the walled city') and "on the left" (as in 'that's the walled city there on the left'.) My little amount of self-taught Spanish was actually enabling me to pick up some fairly general information from the conversation... Trying to discern the voices above the car/street noise, and only picking up one or two words in every ten spoken was a little tedious and frustrating, but for now I was in a warm glow of language-related self-confidence.
Sunset at the beach at Bocagrande


After arriving at the Hotel San Pietro in Bocagrande (approx. US$70 p/night), we dropped our bags in our room and went out searching for a place to exchange money and to find food to satisfy a pair of vegetarians... a delicious first-time experience of whole fried fish (we made a concession due to lack of options!) and patacones (a kind of fried plantain fritter) had my belly satisfied and my taste-buds excited. We opted for a post-meal stroll along the beach to watch the sunset and find someone to give my leftovers to. It didn't take long for the vendors to spot the newbies and soon we were surrounded by a swarm of people aggressively pushing oysters, coconuts, crab legs and handicrafts in our faces. As Fernando extricated me from the grip of an overly-zealous would-be masseur, I made a mental note of Lesson Number Two: don't abandon City Cynicism entirely.
.. when people push a free sample on you, it's never really free.

It took us a few days to realize that, although our hotel was lovely, clean, quaint and very friendly, the location in Bocagrande was unnecessarily far from any activities you'd do in Cartagena. The neighborhood of Bocagrande is like many outer-city neighborhoods, with run-down streets and ordinary shops and restaurants. Every morning and evening we would cab our way out of Bocagrande into the old city, where just walking around the narrow streets with balconies spilling with flowers, seeing all the colourful fruit vendors mixed in with people living on the street, conspired to make us think of ourselves as professional photographers a.k.a National Geographic-style. For three days our cameras continually snapped as we'd turn a corner and encounter yet another pretty street or gnarly door.
Castillo de San Felipe de Baraja


In between shooting award-winning photos of doors, we decided to explore the city on foot and on day one we took ourselves to the Castillo de San Felipe de Barajas - a self-guided tour with the highlights being amazing views and the many tunnels to explore; and visited Convento de la Popa - a winding drive through a poor and sketchy neighborhood, to a church at one of the highest points in the city, with even more wonderful views. The trip to la Popa came recommended as the 'must see' attraction, by every local we spoke with - however, we probably spent less than 25 minutes looking at the small chapel and pretty courtyard before heading back to the city. Our second day was spent relaxing on Isla del Pirata - a tiny, beautiful, secluded island, approx. 45mins by boat from the port, where we snorkeled, sunbathed and hung out with Izaac, a delightfully energetic 71-year old Russian Jewish man who has spent the past few years traveling to every country he can think of, and who was determined to teach us a few words in Russian.
Having some aguardiente with Izaac on Isla del Pirata


It's not necessary to organize any of these excursions in advance of arrival. However, had I not had a Spanish-speaking companion, I most certainly would have gotten lost at least once or twice trying to find the Castillo, would not have had the benefit of discussing which Isla would best suit my wants, and I would have spent a lot longer gathering information with my Language Barrier and City Cynicism preventing me from trusting anyone I spoke with! I was simultaneously grateful to Fernando and his Warm Heart for taking on the burden of being solely responsible for gathering information, and furious at myself for not being able to participate in the conversations.

By night we wandered around the city taking artistic night-time photos of doors; eating outside in the Plaza Santa Domingo while watching the musicians serenade diners; and always paying a visit to what became our favourite chill-out bar - Cafe del Mar.
Fernando Botero sculpture at Plaza Santo Domingo
Situated on top of the wall not far from Plaza Santa Domingo, Cafe del Mar is an outdoor bar looking over the ocean with a fantastic dj and great lounge-seating. The service was not good, with the exception of one waitress, but the atmosphere was enough to always entice us back. Every night we were determined to visit the dance spots in Getsamami, but alas we never quite made it... I guess you have to leave something to do next time!
aelder2259 says:
I'm going there this May. Did you ever feel that you were in danger? I was reading on the State Department's website and they warn against riding the buses and only taking a taxi that your hotel or restaurant has called (or you risk being robbed or worse).
Posted on: Feb 08, 2010
vulindlela says:
Nice!
Makes me want to go back...
Posted on: Nov 09, 2009
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Fernando getting advice from the t…
Fernando getting advice from the …
Sunset at the beach at Bocagrande
Sunset at the beach at Bocagrande
Castillo de San Felipe de Baraja
Castillo de San Felipe de Baraja
Having some aguardiente with Izaac…
Having some aguardiente with Izaa…
Fernando Botero sculpture at Plaza…
Fernando Botero sculpture at Plaz…
Being National Geographic photogra…
Being National Geographic photogr…
Relaxing over drinks at Cafe del M…
Relaxing over drinks at Cafe del …
Hotel San Pietro
Hotel San Pietro
Castillo de San Felipe de Baraja
Castillo de San Felipe de Baraja
The view from Convento de la Popa
The view from Convento de la Popa
Vendors selling agua and sombreros
Vendors selling agua and sombreros
The boat ride to Isla del Pirata
The boat ride to Isla del Pirata
The boat ride to Isla del Pirata
The boat ride to Isla del Pirata
Isla del Pirata
Isla del Pirata
With Izaac on Isla del Pirata
With Izaac on Isla del Pirata
Isla del Pirata
Isla del Pirata
Isla del Pirata
Isla del Pirata
Isla del Pirata
Isla del Pirata
Isla del Pirata
Isla del Pirata
Isla del Pirata
Isla del Pirata
Heading back to the cit
Heading back to the cit
Thunderstorm coming in over the ci…
Thunderstorm coming in over the c…
An extremely informative horse-car…
An extremely informative horse-ca…
Back to Cafe del Mar
Back to Cafe del Mar
A litre and a half of sangria cert…
A litre and a half of sangria cer…
Fruit vendors
Fruit vendors
Cartagena Hotels & Accommodations review
A charming and lovely hotel. San Pietro has a warm, open feeling and provides complimentary breakfast in the courtyard, free use of computers with in… read entire review
Cartagena
photo by: vulindlela