Highlights from Cartagena's Beautiful Old Town
If you ever go to Colombia, you HAVE to make time to go to Cartagena. This port city sits on the Caribbean coast and its historic Old Town is a UNESCO World Heritage site. As you fly in, it looks as though you are landing in Miami because in addition to its beautiful, colonial center it has modern high rises overlooking long, sandy beaches. Cartagena’s Old Town is surrounded by over 8 miles of protective walls, which were constructed by the Spanish to protect from pirates (and other attacks). The project was started in 1596 and the walls weren’t completed until nearly 200 years later! Phil and I spent almost a week in Cartagena (split across three different accommodations… a long story that I’ll get into in another blog post) and while we loved exploring a few different parts, nothing compares to the Old City!
On our first visit into the walled center, we headed in with no plan beyond finding a place to eat lunch. I was pretty hungry and a bit overwhelmed by choice - I’m not great at making small decisions like where should we eat lunch and I get even worse at it when I’m really hungry :P. Luckily we stumbled upon a cute Japanese restaurant, Masaki Sushi Wok, and decided to check it out. Is it weird to get Japanese food as your first meal in Cartagena? Probably! But it was delicious so #noregrets. We were pretty hungry so we ordered edamame & tempura salmon as appetizer plus two rolls. Everything was AMAZING (I mean the edamame was jut fine but I don’t really think edamame can be amazing) and the portions were huge! The tempura was crispy & moist and came with tartar sauce surrounded by teriyaki sauce - sounds weird but was actually really good! When they brought out the rolls we were amazed by the portions. We had actually discussed getting three rolls because we were that hungry but thank goodness we stuck with two - we couldn’t even finish those! If you ever find yourself hungry in Old Town Cartagena, we highly recommend Masaki - you may be hella far from Japan but you are real close to the ocean which makes sushi a good enough choice for me!
Oddly enough after our off-the-beaten path lunch we ended up getting sunset drinks at THE place for sunset drinks, Cafe del Mar. If you walk along the portion of the wall that faces the ocean, you will come upon a large, outdoor restaurant/bar and if you happen to be walking by around sunset you will notice it is PACKED. It was Friday night, sunset was only 30 minutes away and it seemed like everyone who had been in Old Town was now at Cafe del Mar. Phil is more optimistic than I am so he suggested we go in and just try to get a table. For groups of two, it’s first come, first serve so we wandered the space but didn’t see any open table. I was ready to give up - I figured if you come to Cafe del Mar around sunset, you aren’t going to leave 30 minutes before the main event but I was wrong! We had waited less than 10 minutes when a high-top table with a front row seat to the ocean opened up and we grabbed it! We figured with this luck, we were gonna go all in and ordered a pitcher of margaritas. We enjoyed our drinks and watched as the sun set over the Caribbean Sea - doesn’t get much better than that!
Once the sun dipped below the horizon, everyone clapped (I was confused like, are we applauding the sun? Are we applauding the earth? … I’m still not sure) and then the DJ kicked up the music. Little did we know, this is when the real show would begin. In addition to the DJ, there was now a dude playing saxophone over a background of the most popular techno hits! It was SO cool! I have never seen anything like it - we’re sitting on a 200 year-old wall overlooking the ocean listening to a man play saxophone over club bangers while neon lights flashed all around us. It was AWESOME! If you find yourself in Cartagena on a Friday night (or any night for that matter), definitely head over to Cafe del Mar at least an hour before sunset (if not more) and don’t forget a sweater or windbreaker as the wind really kicks up in the evening..
Besides those two favorite spots of ours, we really enjoyed just wandering the Old City aimlessly. The narrow streets filled with colorful houses and plant-covered balconies are gorgeous. You are never more than a block from a restaurant, cafe, bar or cute shop. Yes, there are lot of street vendors and restaurant staff who want to talk to you all about what they are selling but it’s a small price to pay for a day enjoying the city.