48 Hours in Cartagena, Colombia. What to do, what to eat and where to stay.

Your ultimate travel guide to Cartagena.

I thought that I knew what to expect from Cartagena, by looking at photos and reading different blog post while doing research. My experience in Cartagena went above and beyond what I could have ever expected from the moment that I arrived.
Where to stay:
Let’s go ahead and get this one out of the way. Remember that Secret Service scandal, involving some ladies of the night in Cartagena before President Obama‘s arrival? Well, that is where we stayed. Hotel Caribe is the oldest hotel in the Bocagrande area of Cartagena and it was fabulous! With a 5 star category, this luxury hotel in Bocagrande is considered one of the national monuments of Cartagena de Indias, due to its spectacular colonial architecture with a Spanish style and big corridors and arches, its gardens and historical elements. Be sure to schedule time in your itinerary, to enjoy the hotel and it’s amenities.
What to do:
I definitely wish that I had more time to spend in Cartagena, and I do plan on going back, but I maximized the moment and saw as much as I could while we were there.
Day 1:
Take a stroll through the walled city and enjoy the sights and sounds of the locals. The walled city is absolutely gorgeous and is filled with so much history. I would recommend that you take a walking tour so that you can get a quick overview of the history, then stay down there a little longer and explore the area on your own. Take a 5 minute walk outside of the walls and enter Getsemaní. Getsemaní is the neighborhood that African slaves lived in when they landed in Colombia. This neighborhood is life! The streets are filled with brown people dancing, eating, drinking and living their best lives, on any day of the week. Beautiful murals cover the walls and help add to the party atmosphere. Getsemaní is the definition of being free.
End your day by enjoying a mojito and watching the sunset at Cafe Del Mar.
Day 2:
I searched high and low for companies in Cartagena, that would provide a customized tour, that would take me exactly where I wanted to go and give me the cultural experience that I was looking for. Alex Rocha of “Experience  Real Cartagena” came highly recommend from several travel groups that I follow. I reached out to Alex via Facebook messenger, and told him what I wanted to do for the day and he responded almost immediately to let me know that he could make it happen. Alex also quoted the best price.
I paid a deposit online to secure our date and everything was set! I checked in with Alex on the day before we arrived in car Cartagena and we were good to go. Around 8 AM that morning, Alex‘s son-in-law Boris,  picked us up from the hotel and drove us to the mud volcano. The treatment that we received was top notch from the beginning until the end. We are arrived at the mud volcano and were the only ones there. We had the whole place to ourselves and he even took us through a few indigenous communities along the way. There are so many mixed reviews on the mud volcano. Some people think it is the nastiest thing ever and others are annoyed with the amount of tipping that has to take place. We had a wonderful experience and took advantage of the massages. We felt like we were at the spa for the day. The tips that we gave were earned and I appreciated. The people at the volcano did everything for us from caring our clothes, taking photos and videos, to giving us a good scrub down and making sure that the mud was gone from our bodies and clothing.
Our next stop was the beach! Now there is a beach of sorts that many people within the city of Cartagena visit, but it is not nearly as beautiful as Playa Blanca. The trip from the mud volcano to Playa Blanca Was about a one and a half hour drive. We had a car to ourselves and we were able to relax and enjoy the countryside along the way. On our hey there, our guide Boris stopped to let us try the best empanadas in the city. We also stopped at several Afro Colombian communities that had been established hundreds of years ago when the slaves were freed. We were able to get out and speak with the people in the town and support their local economy.
Playa Blanca was absolutely gorgeous. It was crystal clear blue water and white sand for miles. Our private tour including lunch that was prepared freshly for us by one of the local merchants. We had fish, rice, plantains and the best fresh squeezed juice. Our tour also included our beach chairs and umbrellas. We only had to bring our towels. The only thing that I regret, is not having one whole day to just relax at the beach. The time that we had there just makes me want to go back for more.
Alex‘s tour company also operates a party bus each night that is called a “Chiva”. We didn’t really have anything planned for the night but knew that we wanted to go out. We traveled to Cartagena with an amazing group of people that all got along so well. I reached out to them and everyone wanted to come. We booked about 12 spots on the Chiva bus for that night. The bus picked us up around 8 PM, right outside of the walled city. We did not really know what to expect, but we were in for a treat. The party bus experience came with an open bar, that served us Colombian rum and Coke the whole night and it included a stop at a local park where we had Afro Colombian dance lessons from a group of people from Venezuela. We got back on the bus and it took us to a club where we danced for another hour or so after that. Four hours of straight drinking and partying for only $20! Riding the Chiva is a must do while you are in Cartagena.
Where to eat:
I never had a bad meal during my visit to Colombia and could not get enough of the fresh seafood. There was a hut on the beach directly across from our hotel in Cartagena, that had the best Mojito that I had ever tasted and fresh red snapper.
Besides Café Del Mar, I would recommend having dinner at Café Havana. Go late, and end the night by dancing salsa.
Alquimico is a beautiful restaurant that serves tapas and craft cocktails. I know, it sounds fancy and expensive. It was definitely fancy, but very cheap! I had a drink, shared an entrée and had dessert for only US$12, with the tip included. One drink will cost $12 in the states!
I enjoyed my time in Cartagena so much, that I am already looking at my schedule to see when I can make another trip. I will be adding Medellin to the list as well.
I hope that this guide helps you with your planning. Happy travels!

48 Hours in Bogota Colombia. What to do, what to eat and where to stay.

48 hours in Bogota, Colombia. What to do, what to eat and where to stay.

I recently took a trip to Columbia, that I was supposed to take over a year ago. The trip got canceled due to an airline strike. Of course I was upset about it then, but it ended up being a blessing in disguise. I traveled with one of my girlfriends to two cities in Colombia, for five days, and we had the time of our lives! Here is your guide on what to do, What to eat and where to stay in Bogotá.
Day 1: Bogotá was a quick three hour flight from Miami, so it gave us a full day to see a few sites after we landed and got checked into our hotel.
Where to stay:
We stayed at the Estalar Windsor House, in the Parque 93 area of town. The rooms were spacious, clean and there was a fabulous restaurant inside of the hotel. It was also a safe neighborhood, and in proximity to a mall and several great restaurants.
What to see:
Bogota is an extremely artsy city, and like so many cities in South America, it is filled with beautiful churches and cathedrals. Our first stop was to Iglesia Nuestra Señora del Carmen, also known as the candy cane church. We did not have time to go in, but we were able to get some beautiful photos on the outside.
The rest of our evening was spent at Montserrate. Monserrate is an important symbol of Bogota. Not in ecological respects, but in religious terms. The name is derived from the Montserrate mountain near Barcelona in Spain. You can go up in different ways. There is a cable car, a train, and you can also just walk. We took the cable car for $9 usd round trip. On top of Monserrate are 2 restaurants. San Isdro house is open from Monday to Saturday from 12:00 pm to 12:00 am. The Santa Clara House is open Tuesday through Saturday from 12:00 pm to 5:00 pm and on Sunday from 09:00 am to 5:00 pm. Metered cabs are available all over Bogotá, but we took Uber (which is not legal) for about $10 from the hotel.
Day 2:
I mentioned that Bogota is a very artsy city, and it is filled with history and museums. Spend a little time at the gold museum (Museo del Oro) that is located in the heart of the city. The museum displays a selection of pre-Columbian gold and other metal alloys, such as Tumbaga, and contains the largest collection of gold artifacts in the world in its exhibition rooms on the second and third floors.
Next, head over to the Botero Museum. The museum houses one of Latin America‘s most important international art collections. the Colombian artist Fernando Botero donated 208 art pieces, 123 of his own making and 85 of other international artists, to the Bank of the Republic. With this collection, the Botero Museum was founded in the neighborhood of La Candelaria, the historic center of Bogotá, in a colonial mansion that was acquired by the Bank of the Republic and made suitable to house the art collection by Fernando Botero himself. I love how Botero’s pieces, celebrate the curves that women have. I was able to see a couple of pieces by Picasso as well!
Do some shopping and people watching at Plaza de Bolivar. The shopping in Bogota was significantly cheaper than in Cartagena. You are always encouraged to haggle, but I did not have any luck with it.
If you are a Narcos fan, this area is where you need to be. Several scenes are set within Bogota’s main plaza which is just a short walk from the Casa de Nariño and Palacio de Justicia.
Remember the episode where the M-19 raided a big government building in an effort to destroy evidence against Escobar? That was the Palace of Justice in central Bogota, parts of which had to be rebuilt after the deadly siege.
Also, Colombia’s presidential palace in downtown Bogota features predominately in the show, most notably when President César Gaviria declares a state of emergency in response to his country’s narco-terrorism woes. Netflix was granted special permission to film inside the complex.
Lastly, enjoy some local beer and a game of Tejo.  Tejo, is the Colombian sport of throwing rocks at gunpowder. According to Wikipedia, “the sport originated by the Chibcha people from pre-Hispanic central-western Colombia.”
Where to eat:
Colombia as a country, is known for its coffee, among other things. Enjoy a cup of coffee at any time of the day, at Juan Valdez Café. Having coffee in Colombia is something that you cannot miss. The people in Bogota say that Juan Valdez is the best brand in Colombia, but I beg to differ. I enjoyed Sello Rojo, a much cheaper brand that is a little more smooth.
I highly recommend La Pureta de la Catedral for a traditional Colombian meal. This restaurant is known for its Ajiaco (potato and chicken stew) and its great views. The ingredients were very fresh and the portions were large.
If I ever returned to Bogota, I would make the trip a couple of hours outside of the city, to see the Salt Cathedral and visit a coffee farm. Other than that, this list will help you to check off all of the hot spots on your list.
I will talk about Cartagena in my next post. I definitely want to visit that city again!