Colombia has recently started to appear on all of the "Top Places to Visit" lists and for good reason. The past year has seen an unprecedented peace settlement reached with the rebel group FARC and the fearsome reputation it once held as a dangerous drug haven has long since passed.
Tourism has become big business!
One place that has benefited hugely from this is Cartagena, whose popularity just seems to be growing and growing as it is fast becoming a favorite destination for those in search of the perfect South American experience.
While it has been the place to be seen for Colombia's rich and famous for decades, overseas visitors are starting to switch on to its wide appeal. There's so much on offer here from beautiful beaches to relax on, great cuisine to enjoy and a happening nightlife, to picturesque backstreets to get lost in. It's no wonder why everyone's in love with Cartagena.
Being on the Caribbean Coast at the very North point of Colombia means it's easily accessible from America. Direct flights from Miami or Fort Lauderdale take just over 2 1/2 hours and there are increasing numbers of low cost flights available.
English is widely spoken in Cartagena, so if your Spanish is not up to scratch, no problem. There's accommodation to suit every budget whether you're a backpacker, a 5* luxury seeker or something in between.
The best way to get around once you’re in Cartagena is by foot as most of the main attractions are within walking distance, but another a great way to see the city is to hire one of the many horse and carriages that race around the narrow streets.
Vibrant, But Laid Back
If you've heard of Cartagena, it's probably because you've seen photos of the brightly painted multicolored buildings that line the streets. But it's not just the buildings that are vibrant, the town is a buzzing hive of activity.
There's a huge modern port where you can often spot a super yacht moored up belonging to someone rich and famous. The walls that surround the Old Town looking out to the sea have become a favorite romantic spot for lovers to head to and enjoy the sunset. The gastronomic scene is well established and the city is home to many top class restaurants and exciting street food stalls.
Being on the Caribbean coast lends it a laid back vibe and there are plenty that come for a chilled out beach break, but if you're looking for a great night out you'll find one here. There’s an abundance of outdoor spots to enjoy a cocktail and watch the world go by, but the locals love music and above all they love to dance.
If you’re looking for an authentic experience make sure you pick somewhere playing salsa, preferably with a live band and dance the night away.
Surprisingly, Cartagena itself doesn't have the most amazing beaches. Whilst there is a long stretch called Bocagrande that lies just behind the new port, it's not the Golden sands that come to mind when you think of Caribbean beaches and it's overlooked by lots of high rise developments.
Unfortunately, to visit the best beaches you'll be traveling about an hour by boat or by road.
Playa Blanca is probably the easiest to get to as you can catch a bus, take a taxi or hire a car for the drive. But by far the best option is to jump on a boat and head over to the 30 islands that make up the Islas Rosarios. If you're in a group, you can hire a private boat with a crew and a guide who will take you to visit all of the most beautiful beaches on offer. White sands, clear turquoise waters and blue skies await, grab yourself a cocktail and chill out in style.
Cartagena has managed to retain its old-world charm and welcoming atmosphere while at the same embracing the ever increasing tourism trade. It’s beautiful, historic, cultural, vibrant and laid back, there is something here for every type of traveler.