Having slept relatively late last night, we wake up at around 9 AM. After quickly refreshing up, we head upstairs for breakfast. We discuss sightseeing options for the day while enjoying breakfast. Option 1 – a day trip to some of the nearby islands (e.g. Rosario Island) which apparently offer some of the best beaches in the area or Option 2 – relax by the pool, go to the local beach in Cartagena, and take the day easy. Having walked 15,000 steps/day (thanks Fitbit) on average for the last few days, we all agree that option 2 is our best bet. We quickly change into our swim apparel after breakfast and head to the rooftop pool. The pool area offers amazing views of the city and the shoreline. We play few rounds of Euchre and enjoy the sun before cooling off in the pool.
After spending a couple hours by the pool area, we decide to check out the nearby beach. Rishabh talks to the people at the Front desk who recommend that we check out El Laguito beach by hotel Hilton. On our way to the beach, we manage to find a Mediterranean/Lebanese restaurant for lunch. Since the cuisine is vegetarian friendly, we are able to order the vegetarian platter, falafel sandwich, and couple other things. The food is certainly better than some of the other vegetarian options we have had so far. After a satisfactory lunch, we are back on our feet and on our way to the beach. The walk is quite long before we finally reach El Laguito beach. We are quite disappointed in the particular section of the beach that was recommended by the hotel (no crowd, no waves, no restaurants). We therefore decide to walk back to another area that we had passed on our way. That section of the beach is filled with people, surfers and restaurants. Having never tried surfing before, I decide to rent a surf board. Rishabh and Akshita, having taken surf lessons in the past are able to share some basic Surfing 101 tips and tricks with Suhail and I. I cannot speak for others but I certainly failed at surfing. It was much harder than it looks but a lot of fun. Certainly an activity I would like to further explore in the future.
We end our time at the beach by enjoying couple drinks while watching the sunset from the oceanfront restaurant. We walk back to the hotel for a quick shower before dinner. For dinner, we head back to the old town (Plaza Santa Domingo) for some Indian food at the Ganesha restaurant. The South Indian style restaurant is sub-par but certainly helps us get our fix of Indian food. We end the night and our time in Cartagena by walking the walls of the old city and enjoying the ocean breeze. Next Stop – Bogota!!
We wake up early in the morning and make our way to the Medellin airport for our flight to Cartagena. Though we were sad to leave Medellin, we were certainly looking forward to the warm weather of the coastal city of Cartagena. Cartagena or Cartagena de Indias is the capital of the Bolivar Department, north of Colombia. It is the 5th largest city in Colombia with over a million inhabitants. Located on Colombia’s northern coast and facing the Caribbean Sea, it is the most visited city in the country by local and international tourists
After a short one hour flight, we were welcomed by the warm weather of Cartagena. After checking into our hotel, we grab lunch at a nearby restaurant called Gokela. Though the “Health Food” themed restaurant has a decent selection of vegetarian options, the food is very bland to say the least. Following lunch, we take a cab to Castillo San Felipe, one of the greatest fortress ever built by the Spaniards in any of their colonies. The fortress built in the 1600s covers a 130-foot-high hill and an entire section of Cartagena’s so called walled city. Cartagena was a popular marketplace for incoming slaves from Africa and also acted as a key seaport for shipping goods of the new world including gold, silver, cacao, tobacco, etc. to Spain. This attracted pirates roaming the Caribbean to Cartagena and the Spaniards responded by building Castillo San Felipe to defend the city. The fort also provides magnificent views of the city. After a tour of the fortress in screeching sun, we grab some water and soda to cool off the heat.
Castillo San Felipe
Panorama view of the city from the Fortress
Family Photo at the Fortress
At the top of Castillo San Felipe
Next, we walk to Getsemani, the other district of old Cartagena (the walled city with Castilla San Felipe being the first). Getsemani offers a more authentic old Cartagena experience and is an up-and-coming neighborhood for soaking local culture. The neighborhood is emerging as a hotspot for dining and nightlife, is populated with hostels and filled with colorful houses of local residents. While walking around the neighborhood, we try empanadas from local vendors and also stumble upon a cool coffee shop called Cafe Mural. Distant from a traditional coffee shop, Cafe Mural is a laboratory for baristas. The owner is all about experimenting with coffee and very frequently uses lab equipment such as bunsen burners, test tubes, beakers to prepare the end product. The owner personally walked us through the complex menu (which looked like pages from a Chemistry book) and even offered to make a special drink (not on the menu) for Rishabh. I am not a coffee connoisseur but I would rate the coffee 6 out 10 but the experience deserves a 10 out of 10.
Outside of Cafe Mural
Colorful houses in Getsemani
Akshita outside Cafe Mural
Sanchit outside Cafe Mural
Cafe Mural – 1
Cafe Mural – 2
After coffee, we take a cab to Plaza San Teresa for the walking tour of the city of Cartagena. The tour was very informative and provided a good overview of the city. Some key observations: Cartagena
was first found by the Spanish empire in 1533
was the main Spanish port on the Caribbean coast and the major gate-way to South America
was a key seaport for shipping goods of the New World to Spain
was a key hub for buying and selling slaves; it is estimated that over 1.1 million slaves from Africa entered the docks at Cartagena
frequently suffered sieges from pirates – Spaniards responded by building the Castillo San Felipe fortress to defend the city
was one of the first Colombian towns to gain independence from Spain in 1810
was reconquered by Spanish forces in 1815
finally gained independence from the Spanish again in 1821 with support from Simon Bolivar’s troops
City Tour Cartagena
City Tour Cartagena
City Tour Cartagena
City Tour Cartagena
We ended the tour by watching the sunset from the walls of the old city overlooking the ocean. Having walked for few hours and sweating profusely, we decide to head back to the hotel for a quick shower before coming back to Plaza Santo Domingo in the old city for dinner. We grab dinner at one of the restaurants in the open section of the plaza. While the vegetarian crew sticks to pizza and pasta, Suhail, Rishabh and I indulge in some seafood (fish and ceviche). The ceviche is one of the best I have ever had. We end the day with couple drinks at an open air bar overlooking the ocean. Here we also try a shot of the popular Colombian liquor Aguardiente.
Imagine you were born in a poor family, in a poor city, in a poor country, and by the time you were 28 years old, you have so much you can’t even count it. What do you do? You make your dreams come true.
Well that is what Pablo Escobar did and in doing so, changed the course of history forever for Colombia. My knowledge of Colombia was very limited. All I knew was that Colombia had been the Mecca for drug trafficking for many years until just a few years ago. I had read about the disturbing state of affairs in the country but never really bothered to learn more until I watched the Netflix show – Narcos. Now, I am someone that spends weekends watching the Discovery Channel and documentaries. Never have I shown any interest in shows until I was introduced to Narcos. Suhail had been on my case to watch the show forever but I never really showed interest (probably because I was busy watching documentaries on ‘juice diets’ or ‘India’s Frontier Railways’). One fine Friday though, I decide to watch an episode of Narcos (it was first on my Netflix list of recommended things to watch). With Akshita working over the weekend, next thing you know, it is Monday afternoon and I am on the last episode of the 2 season series – and season 2 had just come out on that Saturday. Never had I ever been this addicted to a show, let alone finish one. The show was a perfect combination of drama, history and essentially felt like watching a documentary (perhaps the reason why I was addicted to it to begin with).
Who says travel plans can’t be made over wine and a good show? While deciding where to go on vacation in December with parents and our brothers, we stumbled upon Colombia after having considered Brazil, Argentina, and Peru. To say that the show Narcos didn’t influence our decision to go to Colombia would be a lie. With only a week of vacation and close proximity in comparison to other countries in South America, Colombia seems feasible and will also end up working out pretty well with flights from Los Angeles, Chicago, and New York. And of course the show Narcos has shown us how beautiful the country is and definitely put Colombia on our radar.
Our trip will begin in Pablo Escobar’s Homeland….the City of Medellin. After spending about 2 and a half days in Medellin, we will travel over to the northern coastal city of Cartagena. After spending 2 nights in Cartagena, we will end our trip in the Metropolitan city and capital of Colombia, Bogota. Suhail will continue onward to Peru for a week (joined by my cousin Komal who lives in Houston) visiting Machu Picchu, Lake Titicaca, and capital, Lima.