Our bus ride from Santa Marta to Cartagena was long (5.5 hours) but the A/C in the bus was great. On the way, the bus driver stopped to pick up a snack sales person. The first vendor sold ‘Airy Puffed Cheese Tasty Balls’. It has a distinct cheese smell. I liked the ‘Airy’ part. It looks big but actually it is almost like eating air. Good diet food! Along the way, there are many road vendors looking to be picked up by a bus driver. Later, the driver picked up an ‘Empanada and Drink Sales’ person. The deal seems like the driver and attendant get free fresh food and drink by letting them on the bus to sell to the passengers. Don’t tell this to the airlines, they might try the same thing!
There are many different buses. We took a big bus from the terminal because a big bus has toilet facilities and comfortable seats. Going to a terminal costs a big of extra time and taxi ride though. Upon arriving in the old city Cartagena, we started our get-away by having local lunch special (Almuerzo del Dia). ‘Lunch Special’ typically comes with a bowl of soup, rice, a choice of meat or fish, small salad, plantain or beans, and a glass of juice. The whole lunch special usually costs $2 to $5 depending on location. There are lots of fancy restaurants in Cartagena. It was my birthday weekend. For celebration, I picked ‘La Cevicheria’ restaurant. My choice of ‘Tropical Seafood Paella’ was excellent even though my first choice was ‘Black Squid Ink Rice’. The minimum order of this dish is for two people. John had an issue with eating ‘Black Squid Ink’.
Strolling in the old town of Cartagena is like being a city in Italy or Spain. During our stay, there was the second annual Cartagena International Guitar Festival. On the first night, we enjoyed the outdoor performance by the Cathedral. The second night, we went to see another performance at a theater (Teatro Heredia Adolfo Mejia). There were many guitarists from different countries. John liked the performances of a US guitarist ‘Nili Brosh’ who had once played with Iron Maiden, and also a Rastafarian looking Colombian guitarist, Ludwing Watts who played the guitar behind his head! My favorite was the ‘Junior Orchestra of Guitarists from Cali’. They were so enthusiastic with their performance so I was deeply touched by their performance.
Two things we missed in Cartagena, were the ‘Horse Carriage Ride’ and visiting ‘Havana Club’. The horse carriages come to the city just before Sunset. Riding a horse carriage in an old city, could have been brought me feeling of nobleness, wealth, and fame. A horse carriage ride was one of our plans but we decided to enjoy the guitar performance instead. Havana Club doesn’t start rocking until after 11pm and by then we were back in the hotel, exhausted from our day.
*** My Favorites in Cartagena (October 2015) ***
- Fortress ‘Castillo de San Felipe de Barajas’ (A Half Day, Rent an Audio tour and follow the audio tour map numbers.)
- Monastry ‘Convento de la Popa’ (A Half Day, One way taxi cost from old city to the Convento is 20,000 Pesos. The road up to the Convento is very nice so we wanted to walk down. However, the vendors and taxi drivers on the top told us we must take a taxi back down because it is not safe to walk. I didn’t believe it but John insisted on taking a taxi back down.)
- Palacio de la Inquisicion (Two Hours)
- Watch Music Performances (It seems Cartagena offers something every weekend.)
- Eat at the La Cevicheria Restaurant
- Coffee and Beautiful Pastries at ‘Mila’
- Wine and Tapa Break at ‘La Brioche’ near Cathedral (Excellent A/C)
- Enjoy Fresh Fruit Cuts and Natural Fruit Juice in the Jumbo grocery across ‘Castillo de San Felipe de Barajas’
- Enjoy ‘Arepas with Cheese’ in the evening at ‘Moneda Street’ (Calle de la Moneda)
- Visit ‘KGB Bar’
- Visit ‘Parilla Argentina Restaurant’
- Pass by the wall of Nobel Prize Writer Gabriel Garcia Marquez’s House. I was just curious since I enjoyed reading ‘One Hundred Years of Solitude’ and also so amazed by the author’s creation and imagination. (It is close to Parilla Argentina restaurant. Ask a local vendor since there is no indication of this house.)
- In between, walk wherever in the walled city, visit plazas, old walls, stores, and etc.
*** Travel Tips in Cartagena ***
- Take the most comfortable shoes for walking
- At first, when walking in the old city, it would be better to walk one end to another end because the street names are very confusing. The street names change on every block. We got lost many times.
- It’s hot during the day. Start the day early and stay in the air conditioned hotel or take a break in a nice air conditioned restaurant or store during day time. After 4 PM, wander the city again.
- Listen to local vendors and catch words in Spanish. Say ‘No’ to them with a smile if you don’t need their offer.
- Observe the real Cartagena and leave your smartphone, Laptop, iPad, or Tablet at home, you will enjoy yourself immensely by living in the moment rather than updating your Facebook profile or tweeting your friends that you are having fun.