Photographer: Nick West | Date: 02/16-02/21-17 | Camera: Sony A7ii | Lens: Sony Sonnar T* FE 55mm f/1.8
Wandering the Walled City of Cartagena
4 days isn't enough, but it's also enough.
The flight from New York City to Cartagena is just over 5 hours. Compare that with the 6 hour flight to Los Angeles, coupled with the U.S.’s strong dollar relative to the Colombian Peso and you can now justify finally making that trip down to South America. Cartagena, specifically.
For four days, my wife and I jam-packed our schedule with good eats, a trip to the beach, historical tours and aimless wandering. While most would think “four days isn’t enough,” we felt satisfied with all we had experienced as brief visitors to the truly magical city of Cartagena. And, it’s not to be taken for granted that only in the past few years, aided by aggressive anti-trafficking/drug laws has the city begun to reemerge and flourish as a cultural hub for international explorers.
Cartagena is a city of dramatic historical context, having been the largest port for slave trade in the Americas in the 16th century and a constant place of violent conflict. As a strategically located area, it became a target for takeover attempts as the Spanish, who initially colonized and deemed Cartagena a city in 1574, were forced to defend, and eventually militarize the city (hence it’s nickname: The Walled City) mainly from the ambitious French and English armies.
Today, Cartagena is a city bolstered by its tourism industry attracting the discerning traveler for its adventurous nightlife and culinary scene, beautiful beaches, and highly photogenic, colorful Spanish Colonial architecture. Here is the New Library guide to 4 Days in Cartagena.
The “Old City” is where the bulk of your sight-seeing will be done. Amazing architecture, luxury and boutique hotels, clubs and rooftop bars will be found here. That being said, the Getsemani neighborhood, filled with inspiring graffiti art, more boutique hotels and hostels, and our favorite restaurants (Demente and Di Silvio Trattoria) is definitely the most authentic, still somewhat gritty, and hip area in the city. It’s basically the Brooklyn circa early-mid 2000’s of Cartegena.
This newly restored boutique hotel is the perfect mix of modern amenities and classic Spanish Colonial architecture. With a dipping pool in the middle of the inner courtyard, an amazing morning brunch, bike rentals, and a coffee/sandwich shop on the outer rim of the build that doubled as their room service menu, we couldn’t imagine going back to Cartagena and not staying here again.
Modern Colombian cuisine with a kitchen helmed by an expat from San Francisco
Dishes We Dug: Banh Mi De Cerdo (Vietnamese style pork belly sandwich), Duo de Congrejo (Pan-Seared Crab Cake)
Uber trendy restaurant, also with modern Colombian cuisine.
Dishes We Dug: Angus Hamburger, Ceviche Laminado, Tataki de Res
No hyperbole here: This is one of the best pizza joints we’ve ever been to, and we consider ourselves big-time NYC pizza snobs. This is a must visit.
Dishes We Dug: Burrata di bufala, Quattro formaggi & Margherita pizza
Demente is in the liveliest, most culturally submersed area of the way too cool Getsemani neighborhood. It’s an open-air bar/ tapas restaurant with strong drinks, great food and a view out to the daily (kid’s playing soccer) and nightly (music, dancing & street vendors) action on the Plaza de Santisma Trinidad.
Dishes We Dug: Crab Dumplings, Sea Bass & Crispy Pork Belly Ceviche, House Meatballs, Criola Potatoes, Oxtail Burger, Stuffed Bun with Baby Back Ribs (Yes, we ate that much)
Great traditional Colombian food with a Caribbean twist. Great “locals” vibe. Super authentic. This is one of the best dishes we had on our trip.
Dishes We Dug: Camarones En Salsa De Aguacate
Restaurants We Wished We Had Visited
This place has chemist like equipment with the most radical menu of coffee concoctions. Truly unlike any coffee shop I’ve ever been to -- flavored coffees and coffee mixed with liquor. Definitely a hidden gem.
Cafe & Liquor Bar - Incredible Cocktails. I couldn’t stop going back for the Rosarito (Mezcal Scorpion, coriander, pineapple extract, sweet & sour mix, Scrappy's Firewater Bitters)
Sunset Bar on the Wall - This place is extremely touristy, but extremely worth it given the view over the water for the sunset. It's a great activity for your first night, and a très romantique spot if you're on a trip with your boo, or if you just love yo'self.
Lively tourist spot with salsa music and dancing. Get there on the earlier side as it gets super packed.
DJ’s and live music in the Getsemani neighborhood. This is where you can really party, if you’re down to get down.
So much history here. There's even a crypt in the middle of the joint that inspired Gabriel Garcia Marquez (Author of Love in the Time of Cholera) to write the novel "Of Love and Other Demons."
Historical Tours & Sites:
Great group and private tours. Our tour guide kicked it off with a trip to El Baron Bar to get a lil loose for all the walking. We were all about it. Great mix of history and casual South American drinking.
The core of Cartagena’s defense network is this 130 foot tall castle/fortress previously used to guard the city from land and sea attacks. Must see/do if you're into history and great photo opportunities.
Possibly Not Worth A Day Trip:
While it’s tough and frankly, irresponsible to complain with a beer in-hand at a beach with crystal blue water, this particular beach is a bit of a let-down. It’s tough to relax in general as you’ll rarely go 5 minutes without being aggressively sold on coconut water, hats, messages, necklaces, and anything else you could imagine. While I love and respect the hustle, it’s just simply tough to enjoy yourself if your goal is to go full Weekend at Bernie’s for a couple of hours.
Nick West is the founder and Chief Editor of New Library based between NYC & the Catskills. He wishes he could go on more trips like this one.