Cartagena is on the north coast of Colombia and is one of the oldest continually-inhabited cities in the Americas. It’s famous for its old, walled city and nearby Playa Blanca (white beach).
We caught super-cheap Viva Air Colombia, refused to pay to choose our own seats (so we got seats in totally different rows, despite being on the same reservation), had to print our own boarding passes at home to avoid a $3 per person check-in fee, and saved a bunch of money by taking a cheapo airline and not insisting on ‘perks’ for a 75min flight. I don’t need a drink and pretzels at the tune of double the cost.
Off to Cartagena!
We had a bunch of Hyatt points and used those to stay at the Hyatt Regency, which was super nice. I mean…super. They picked us up at the airport, and the driver of course wanted to offer us tours ‘on the side’, but we were looking for a good deal to Playa Blanca at some point, anyway, and his price was better than things we’d seen online, so we got his card. Solid.
By the time we checked in, explored the hotel, poked around a bit, and then looked to see what the local vegan food options were, it was getting dark. We caught a taxi into the old town and went looking for Girasoles vegetarian restaurant. I will say that the old town is a great place to walk.
I wasn’t super impressed with Girasoles. I’d been so excited to eat empanadas in Colombia, and their options were spinach filling, mushroom filling, or eggplant filling. I’m crazy about none of those. The desserts were also super dry.
We walked some more, got offered various drugs for sale, saw some traditional dancing, and then BLEW the mind of the bus station agent that we were foreigners and wanted to ride the city bus back to our hotel. Supermarket stop for breakfast foods, since the hotel breakfast was $25 for “not much vegan stuff” buffet, and we enjoyed looking out over the sea from our room.
The next morning, we started walking along the sea with no real aim. It wasn’t even lunch time yet, but it was already super hot, and we were looking for shade.
After a bit, we saw one of those hop-on-hop-off buses go by, and it had a covered top, so we decided this was a good idea. We went looking for a ticket stand, which was a few blocks away, and all sorts of confusion ensued when we wanted to pay by card.
We passed some really beautiful areas, awesome buildings, and approached the old city again after a while.
From Centennial Park, we walked through the old city looking for Mar y Hojas vegan restaurant and had the lunch-time ‘plate of the day.’ Man, it was delicious! And cheap! The ‘ice cream’ we saw on the menu was…well…not ice cream. I had a smoothie for dessert. Don’t lie when ice cream is involved, people.
We walked over to some nearby portions of the old wall, the indigenous monument, and then looked for the nearest point to get back on the bus.
The bus showed up when we were still a bit away from the stop, and they gave us the “I ain’t waiting for you” look. Imagine us running in our flip-flops between cars and through a red light, hot sun and all, because the buses only come every 30min. We made it.
We rode the bus to see more of the city. It’s impressive and beautiful. The audio guide was super intersting; I love history.
We got off the bus about half a block from our hotel (it only goes 1 direction, which is why catching it into town requires a big walk) and checked out the mall looking for an iced coffee.
We found that and more.
When we finally found a coffee shop on the top floor, there was a big crowd, including the local police, gathered around the TV watching a game from the Champions League. We watched while we drank our coffees and marveled at the fact that all of the city’s crime had been solved, thus the police enjoying some R&R.
After a nap, we caught the hop-on-hop-off bus back into the city and just walked around the old town aimlessly for a while.
For dinner, we weren’t sure if Mar y Hojas was still open, but we also didn’t want to go to Girasoles, so we were off. People on every corner were touting “look at our menu” and we happened to tell one guy, “No thanks, we’re vegan.” “Oh, we have a bunch of vegan options.” Prove it.
Their menu actually had the word “vegan” on several things, so we were in. Rice, beans, lentils, some salad…traditional foods in South America, good flavors, and a good price. We liked it.
From here, we continued wandering aimlessly through old town and then walked back to our hotel to enjoy the nice weather.
We’d arranged with the driver to meet us at 8am the next day to head to Playa Blanca, which is a bit more than an hour outside the city and known as one of the best publicly-accessible beaches in the region. The driver was 100% awesome and had great connections from going there so many times. Can’t park here? He can. Can’t come down this dirt path to park even closer? He can. Can’t come into this private area for a more secluded part of the beach? He has a reservation, and he can.
The beach wasn’t “the best beach I’ve ever been to”, but it was nice, water felt great, and we enjoyed it. We paid to get chairs and an umbrella, and you know the area we went to is geared towards tourists when you see the prices for drinks, umbrellas, etc. in dollars, not local currency.
We were offered nearly anything imaginable for sale: drinks, foods, massages, drugs, handicrafts, you name it. I can’t IMAGINE the volume of sellers in the ‘more crowded’ area the driver said had more vendors. He was nearby in the shade and ready for us after we’d had our fill. We enjoyed several hours of swimming, relaxing, swimming relaxing. Back to Cartagena, drop-off at the hotel, and a happy exchange of money between a happy client and a great service provider.
Back in the city, we checked out Kokoa Sushi Wok, which I highly recommend. But don’t have anywhere to be afterwards, because the service is sloowwww. Plan for the waitress to go home, do laundry, grocery shopping, come back to bring your food, run some more errands…that’s about how long it took. Food was really great, though.
The next day was our last full day, and we wanted to take it easy. We slept in and got some brunch at Cafe Stepping Stone, which is an awesome place striving to give living wages to local employees, and we wish we’d found it earlier. The food was AMAZING, and they have vegan milkshakes! Delicious all around.
We walked through the old city some more, checking out the last part we hadn’t seen yet, and generally tried to stay in the shade, because it was a hot day.
We hung out in the shade back at the hotel rooftop, which has a really nice pool but is quite crowded at times. Since we’d gone to the beach and not really spent much time at the hotel, we hadn’t enjoyed it. If there was 1 more day, we definitely would’ve lounged here more.
After the sun had set, we walked back to Kokoa for more sushi and just accepted that we’d be there for a while. It was as delicious as the night before.
We asked the hotel about a ride back to the airport in the morning, and the front desk lady was nice enough to say that their price is essentially 3x the price of just finding a taxi on the street, so if you know some basic Spanish just do that.
Got a taxi in the morning, passed the Cartagena sign, and we were off.
Cartagena was awesome. We really, really liked Colombia.This entry was posted in Cartagena, Colombia, South America