Cartagena, Colombia is hands down my favorite destination to visit! Known as the “Jewel of the Indies,” this city stole my heart because it’s absolutely magical. From the Caribbean climate, to the delicious food to its unique blends of cultures, Cartagena should be your next travel destination. Here are my top eight reasons why.
1. THE INCREDIBLE FOOD
The food in Cartagena is off the chain amazing! Whether you’re looking for fine dining at the best restaurants, late night street food after partying or chowing down on some island food, you will not be disappointed. Not to mention the fresh fruit available on every street corner. My favorite food experience was at Cholon island where I stuffed my face with fried lobster, garlic shrimp, grilled octopus, coconut rice and plantains. Cartagena is truly a gastronome traveler’s paradise.
2. THE FASCINATING HISTORY
I love learning all about the history of a city and Cartagena has a fascinating one to tell. During Colonial times, the city was often invaded by pirates because it was once the largest port in the Americas. So they built a fortifying wall around the city, giving it the nickname, “The Walled City.” You can walk along the old city walls and still come across cannons that were used to fight the pirates.
3. THE REJUVENATING VOLCANO MUD BATH
Take a trip to Volcan de Lodo el Totumo for a mud bath experience of a lifetime! This is an absolute must do. El Totumo isn’t your traditional volcano filled with lava. Instead, it’s a 50-foot mound literally filled with mud, which locals say will cleanse and smooth your skin. You have to climb a staircase to get to the top and a ladder to descend into the volcano. Once you hit the mud, your body starts floating. It’s exhilarating! I left feeling rejuvenated. P.S. You receive a “mud massage” during and a “mud washdown” after … definitely something to experience!
4. THE MAGICAL PINK SEA
El Salar de Galerazamba, also called Colombia's Pink Sea is quite magical looking and yes, it’s really pink. The best time to visit the sea, which is actually a salt mine is during February and March because the water levels are low causing a high concentration of colorful salt loving microbes which gives it the bright pink color. Don’t worry, it’s safe to go in the water. Just make sure to wear water shoes or even just sandals because the salt crystals are super sharp against bare feet. I know this because my friend cut his foot pretty badly. So, don’t let that happen to you. Oh, and feel free to taste the water in its natural state … it’s pretty freaking salty!
5. THE ISLAS DEL ROSARIO
Spend a day outside the Walled City and jump on a boat to the Islas del Rosario, which are beautiful islands off the coast where you can soak up the warm sun on white sandy beaches. Our boat tour included five beach stops but we only made it to three because we spent majority of our time on Cholon island, where the party never stops! But make sure to visit Playa Blanca, Isla Grande and Tierra Bomba and sip on piña coladas, while relaxing on the beach.
6. THE UNIQUE CULTURE
Cartagena has one of the most unique blends of European, African, and indigenous cultures. One that really stands out is the iconic palenqueras, who are Afro-Colombian women who wear traditional, brightly colored dresses. You can usually find them each day selling fruit in Cartagena’s plazas. The palenqueras are from the UNESCO-recognised village of San Basilio de Palenque, which sadly I did not get a chance to visit but will be the first thing I do when I return to Cartagena! San Basilio de Palenque is the first freed slave settlement in the Americas, located about an hour outside the city and has its own completely unique language.
7. THE ARTSY NEIGHBORHOOD
Take a stroll in Getsemani, Cartagena’s most bohemian neighborhood where every street is lined with bright graffiti and beautiful murals telling deep and moving stories along the walls of old buildings. Get lost in the winding roads of what feels like an open-air art gallery with a vibrant street atmosphere filled with friendly locals hanging out, playing dominos or chess and kids playing in the streets.
8. THE PHOTO OPS
Cartagena is a photographer’s dream! The streets are extremely photogenic from the beautiful colonial buildings, brightly colored houses with intricate doors, vibrant plazas and colorful decorated streets. You can easily spend hours wandering around snapping memorable travel photos that would kill it on the gram. I was obsessed with the bougainvillea-adorned balconies and old metal door knockers in the shape of sea monsters and lions. Just make sure to always have your camera ready because Cartagena provides the perfect photo opportunities.
There you have it! My top eight reasons to visit Cartagena. Are you ready to pack your bags and hit its brightly colored streets? Let me help you plan your trip. Check out my travel planning services and I will create the perfect itinerary to fit your travel budget and needs.