In December we took a vacation to Cartagena, Colombia. It was the perfect combination of culture and relaxation. The architecture reminds me of a cross between Bourbon Street and Cuba. Lots of high balconies over narrow streets.
The old town of Cartagena is surrounded by Spanish colonial walls. Its position on the edge of the Caribbean was a strategic trading point in the 1600-1700s. It also made it vulnerable to pirate attacks.
The people are a mix of African, Spanish, and Indian cultures. The streets are bustling with vendors – fruits beyond your imagination, cheese arepas, and fresh coconuts. There are a number of swanky hotels, and upscale shops, mixed with shops frequented by the locals. It’s not a secret anymore and I’m afraid it will become one of those places that’s more tourist destination (like Venice) than a living, working city. For those concerned with safety, there were more police officers on the streets of the old city than I’ve ever seen in the States.
We stayed first at the lovely Casa La Fe, owned by the British Geoff and Colombian Carmen. They met after Geoff sailed across the Atlantic and fell in love with both the city and Carmen. The hotel is actually an old brothel. After they refurbished the whole building some of the women came by asking for their jobs back. The location is fantastic and their hospitality is wonderful. They do not however, offer the services of the above mentioned ladies.
After 3 days at Casa La Fe, we took a sailboat charter with Geoff out to the Rosario Islands. We enjoyed a couple days of swimming, sailing and siteseeing. It was wonderful to be on the water and the weather was perfect.
The last few days we spent at the Sofitel’s Hotel Santa Clara. Our hotel room backed up to a view of Gabriel Garcia Marquez’s house overlooking the ocean in Cartagena. Despite my rubbernecking, I was unable to catch a glimpse of him. The hotel rooms were pretty standard, but the huge pool was great and the hotel itself is built on the grounds of an old Spanish monastery. The design of the interior courtyards was spectacular.
And just so you know, it’s pronounced “Cart-uh-hay-nuh”. You can thank Michael Douglas’ character in the movie “Romancing the Stone” for the misspronunciation of “nya” instead of the hard “n”.