December 19, 2016
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.
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.
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
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.