I’ve been putting off this post about my recent vacation to the Caribbean city of Cartagena, Colombia (aka The Best Place Ever), because I am still in the throes of post-travel depression. Pulling out my journal from the trip and finally reviewing what I had written while I was down there further pulled at my heart strings. It’s been a week since I returned to NYC and I’m still consumed by Colombia; we lived in a tropical, sensual dreamworld for a week so starkly unlike the United States it’s simply ineffable. My experiences and the people I met had a profound impact on me.
First, I’d like to address two common questions I’ve been getting about traveling to a place like Colombia, which yes, unfortunately has a bit of a bad rap. Granted, we visited a fairly safe, tourist-driven coastal city, and I’m sure had we been in a bustling city like Bogota or Medellin our experience would have been much different. But, we weren’t, so here you go:
No, we did not get approached about anything cocaine-related. In fact, the local people we met seemed genuinely troubled and embarrassed by the stigma and stay far, far away from drugs. Booze, on the other hand, flows as freely as the tap water you can’t drink.
Yes, we felt safe. Of course we weren’t waving around our iPhone 5s on the streets, or leaving our purses unattended. If you keep your wits about you, and walk with direction and confidence, no one will seriously bother you. We got the same amount of attention and street harassment I encounter on a daily basis walking through my hood in Bushwick.
My traveling partner and friend Kate and I spent a great deal of time exploring and getting lost in the beautiful walled city, the oldest part of Cartagena. The incredible Spanish colonial architecture is surrounded by the old Las Murallas, walls built to protect the port from pirate invasion. At night we drank mojitos with our Colombian friends and danced until dawn.
Inside the walls:
We also took a day trip to Playa Blanca, about an hour and a half by boat from Cartagena. We took a boat tour headed for Islas del Rosario, but had them drop us off at Playa Blanca for the day per the recommendation of our local Colombian friends…apparently Islas del Rosario is a bit of a tourist trap, and is unenjoyable. The boat ride itself was an exciting experience – it was fascinating zooming through the industrial parts of Cartagena harbor, giving way to the undeveloped coast, seeing the beautiful terrain along the perfect turquoise water.
I feel like a jerk for the complaint I am about to type as we were in literal paradise, but if you plan on traveling here, be forewarned: since some of these visually stunning places are incredibly impoverished, many local people rely heavily on soliciting tourists for jewelry, food, massages, etc. It was annoying at first as some of them are quite aggressive, but as it is their only form of income, we quickly learned to be patient, and bought some beer and fruit. A simple “No, gracias” usually sends them elsewhere if you’re not interested.
Really, no words can describe this place, so I’ll shut up and let the pictures speak for themselves.
Our delicious fresh lunch served on the beach:
Another notable food experience we had was at La Cevicheria; the best ceviche and mojito I’ve ever had!
Kate and I ventured to Volcan del Totumo, a small volcano outside of Cartagena. Instead of lava, this volcano spews mud. We drove along the rural coast for about an hour before reaching our destination, and quite literally climbed into the volcano to descend into the mud bath. The feeling was unnerving at first; you don’t sit on anything, nor do you have to swim to keep yourself afloat. You simply bob in the thick mud! Afterwards older Colombian women lead you into the Caribbean lagoon near the volcano and wash you off like a baby.
Photos by Liv Hauck