Thanksgiving week 2016 we went on a 4 day trip to Cartagena, Colombia. We spent a few days in Miami prior to going, then took a short 2.5 hour flight to Cartagena. It’s the perfect destination for a long weekend getaway and great if you’re traveling with little kids. We flew JetBlue out of FLL and it was a great flight. As always, Milana just had to say hi to the pilots!
Cartagena is the 5th largest city in Colombia, and known for its Old Town, which has squares, cobblestone streets and lots of colorful buildings. Because it’s also a port town, you may encounter throngs of cruise ship passengers, but they are easy to avoid as they seem to stick to their groups of 60 and only visit the very popular places, not going off the beaten path. While staying in the walled city would be fun, because we were traveling with Milana we wanted something more kid-friendly with a pool. We chose the Hilton, which is in Boca Grande and a 10 minute cab/Uber ride from the walled city, and loved the hotel! I highly recommend it if you are staying with kids. It’s a large hotel, with 3 pools, a playground for the kids, beach and a game room. It was nice to enjoy the pool in the 90 degree heat!
And of course, the obligatory pina colada by the pool picture:
On one of our days, we hired a private guide to show us around the city. It was the best decision ever! You’ll see lots of tour buses, filled with a ton of tourists who are dragged from place to place looking miserable. Martin picked us up in an air conditioned van and we were the only family with him, doing things at our own pace. His website, Cartagena Tour Guide, has lots of tour options. I highly recommend checking it out and booking a tour with Martin. You won’t regret it! We opted for the afternoon tour (2:30) and it was a much better choice since not only was it a bit cooler, the lighting for photos was perfect as the sun was going down.
Our first stop with Martin was a fortress. You’ll see walls and cannons all over the city, and it’s so cool to see them up close!
After the fortress, we headed to the popular La Colina de la Popa, which offers great views of the city.
Then (this is the best part about having a private tour), we opted to skip the rest of the historical stuff and instead headed to the walled city, where Martin showed us some famous landmarks and told us the history of the city. San Diego square is a great place to start, and then you can walk anywhere from there. Milana loved looking at all the different building colors and would point out where she wants her picture taken! You can easily spend hours inside the city alone, wandering the narrow streets and checking out shops, restaurants and street vendors. We ended up going to the walled city on our own a few more times during our stay, just to explore the different areas.
There are several places inside the city that sell fresh fruit popsicles, and Milana couldn’t get enough of the mango, her current fruit obsession!
Martin also took us to the area where are the candy vendors are. Without him, we would have never known what anything was, as nothing is labeled, so it was nice to have him describe each item. We ended up buying lots of yummy Colombian treats!
You will also see lots of street food. As always, we love eating street food and were very excited to see arepas being sold. They are some of our favorites and these didn’t disappoint. They were huge, filled with yummy cheese and at less than $1 each, a bargain! Milana also loved the various fruit carts, and ate quite a bit of mangos while there!
We normally aren’t souvenir people, but the one thing I really wanted to get while in Cartagena was a Wayuu Mochila bag. These bags are beautiful and come in a variety of sizes and colors. They are sold in stores and from street vendors, and the street vendors are a lot cheaper than stores. We ended up buying 9 and will use the large ones in place of baskets in Milana’s playroom at home. You can read the history of these bags here.
As far as food goes, we ate a lot of yummy street food and at a few mediocre restaurants that I won’t mention. However, you must go to La Olla Cartagenera at least once during your visit. It is definitely one of the best meals we have had anywhere in the world. The whole red snapper was super fresh and the arroz con pollo was the best we’ve ever had. Their brown coconut rice is out of this world, we could have eaten just that! Milana really enjoyed her shrimp with garlic sauce as well. Don’t miss this gem! Martin is the one who told us about it, and we are so glad he did.
Cartagena is a beautiful city, filled with rich history and culture, that is perfect for a 3 night stay. I personally wouldn’t stay longer as you can see pretty much everything during that time, but it’s definitely worth a visit!