Before all the craziness of 2020 kicked off, Zack and I managed to squeeze in one last vacation back in January: my 30th birthday trip to Cartagena, Colombia (and our first time to South America).
This vacation was much different than all of our previous trips. I’m a planner, so typically we have a pretty detailed itinerary, but this time we had almost no plans or expectations going in (besides location and accommodations). We really wanted this trip to be relaxing and come back feeling refreshed and ready to tackle the new year/decade. (Little did we know what the following months would have in store…)
THINGS TO KNOW BEFORE YOU GO
- The Rafael Nunez Airport is only a 10 minute taxi to city center.
- Taxis are easy and convenient – just be sure to negotiate your price BEFORE your ride.
- Cartagena itself is a very walkable city, so don’t worry about renting a car.
- Be sure to have some Colombian Pesos, the local currency, on hand for taxis, street vendors, and even some restaurants.
- Cartagena sits right on the Caribbean sea; it’s a tropical climate. That means hot & humid. Pack accordingly, wear sunscreen, and drink plenty of water!
- With that said, a beach day is a must. Definitely plan a visit to one of the nearby islands.
Here’s a look at what we ended up doing during our visit:
ISLA TIERRA BOMBA
FENIX BEACH HOTEL
Just a ten minute boat ride from Cartagena, we spent our first 3.5 days relaxing on this island. We stayed at Fenix Beach in the most adorable beachside bungalow. It was actually perfect.
Our friends own the hotel (we met them when Zack was working on a film), so when planning a trip for my 30th birthday, we thought this was the perfect opportunity to visit.
We spent our days lounging on giant beach beds and getting massages (daily), and our nights by the bonfire with friends (old and new). The food and drinks at Fenix were SO good. Plus the resort even has several cats and dogs that they have rescued that love a good cuddle.
Even if you don’t plan on staying the night, you can purchase a day pass to experience the private beach and amenities. Perfect and easy day trip to add to your itinerary.
KAYAKING THROUGH THE MANGROVES
Fenix offers several other activities including kayaking, jet skiing, and paddle boarding. We decided to take a guided kayaking tour through the mangroves which was so much fun,
BLUE APPLE BEACH HOUSE
For a change of scenery, we also spent one day at a different resort on the island: Blue Apple Beach House.
Typically when you arrive, the boat pulls up right near the resort, but the day we visited, it was extremely windy so the boat had to dock at a different area.
We then had to ride on dirt bikes driven by island locals to get to the resort. It was about a 10 minute ride, and it was so cool to see more of the island. To be honest – this was one of the highlights, so I’m glad for the strong winds! We’ve included a few snippets of the ride in or youtube video so be sure to check that out as well!
We spent the afternoon laying by the pool, walking along the beach, and eating/drinking delicious local cuisine. Another very relaxing day.
For our last day and a half, we swapped the island life for some time in the city.
PICTURESQUE STREETS + NEIGHBORHOODS
Sitting within the old walled city, you’ll find colorful colonial buildings and cobblestone streets. It’s definitely a touristy area but still has that Caribbean charm. We stayed at our friends’ place in this area, but there are plenty of boutique hotels as well as tons of bars and restaurants.
Be sure to check out the Cartagena Cathedral, walk on the old wall, and just spend some time wandering the streets and soaking in the beautiful architecture.
North-east of Centro, you’ll find the other half of the walled city. The vibe is much more laid back and less “grand.” but there are streets and streets of colorful houses. We went out early in the morning to beat the afternoon heat, and it felt like we had the whole neighborhood to ourselves.
• Carrera 8 and 9 between Calle 38 and Calle 39
• Calle 37 between Carrera 7 and Carrera 10
Just outside the walled city, you’ll find this artsy neighborhood. While the architecture remains the same, you’ll find more street art, giving it a bit more edge.
We spent our time in the city in and around the 3 neighborhoods mentioned above, but others worth noting include:
MANGA: South of Getsemani, this residential area is quiet. It would be a good place to stay if you need somewhere quiet at night. (Centro and Getsemani definitely get loud in the evenings.) There are supposed to be some great restaurants here as well..
BOCAGRANDE: The “Miami Beach” of Cartagena. Even from Centro, you cant miss the high rise buildings. If your looking for a “luxury beach experience,” this is the place, although I’d say just head to one of the nearby islands.
CITY + SUNSET VIEWS
We were lucky enough to have one of the best views at our friends’ place (not joking, probably one of the best in the city), We watched the sunset both evenings from the rooftop, and one night there were even fireworks.
CAFE DEL MAR: While we didn’t actually go here, we walked right by it, and I heard that it’s one of the best spots for sunset, but go early as it tends to get busy.
HOTEL MOVICH: Rooftop bar with great views of walled city. And how amazing is the pool?
RESTAURANTS + BARS
Highlighting a few that we checked out and would highly recommend:
Celele serves up some incredible contemporary Colombian/Caribbean inspired cuisine. Each dish is created and assembled with so much care, and the flavors come together perfectly. Not sure if reservations are required, but definitely recommended. (Location: Getsemani)
Another great dinner option – the restaurant itself is beautiful, and the seafood and sangria was amazing. (Location: Centro)
MARIA BONITA TAQUERIA CANTINA
Some seriously good tacos in a seriously cute space, Highly recommend ordering the Totopos, which I thought was just chips and salsa but ended up being loaded nachos with 4 different salsas, and IT. WAS. SO GOOD. (Location: Getsemani)
This small bar gives off a speakeasy vibe. There’s plenty of seats in the large square outside, but we managed to grab one of the few tables inside and enjoyed some creative cocktails. (Location: Centro)
EPOCA ESPRESSO BAR
Of course a trip to Colombia isn’t complete without some Colombian COFFEE. We stumbled upon this place on our way to the wall and popped in for a cup. (Good news – they actually had chai lattes if you’re a non-coffee drinker like me!) (Location: Centro)
I know it took me a while to share the details from this trip, but it’s been kind of nice to recap this a few months later – brings back so many memories. If it wasn’t already, add Cartagena to your bucket list. I promise you won’t regret it. Be sure to check out our video on YouTube as well!