We’ve been totally off grid with recent travels to the adventure capital of San Gil, exploring the Amazon, trekking to the Lost City and hanging out above Santa Marta in the cooler region of Minca.
Cartagena was our final stop to end our six weeks in Colombia and a step back into organised tourism infrastructure ie. WiFi. Located on the Caribbean, the old Colonial city’s fortifications remain boldly intact, reminding us of St Malo in France. We were both looking forward to this destination as not only would we be doused in sunshine and beautiful waters, but we knew there would be many seafood creations to tempt us. We spent a total of four days which clearly wasn’t enough time to try everything but we certainly had a good crack of finishing our holiday on a high. You correctly noticed the use of ‘holiday’ in that last sentence as we are now at the end of an amazing two year adventure that has seen us travel to over 25 new countries and successfully work in England. We had our backpacks and still opted for hostel life in Colombia which allowed us to splash out on activities and delicious meals. In the final days we finally felt as if we were on holiday, rather than travelling. We have deserved this.
Staying outside of the city at Tu Onda Beach Hostel provided us with a delightful walk to the old town each day. We either opted for the direct backstreets walk past a number of building sites and dodgy paving or occasionally we opted for the coastal walk less visited by tourists.
Wandering towards the stone walls on any given day provided the opportunity to see people going about their daily life. Big colourful public buses with fluoro lights flashing and a guy always hanging off the door selling the route pass by regularly. It’s the first time that African women are wearing brightly coloured outfits alongside their array of fresh fruits ready to be juiced. Men with small wooden display cases filled with cigarettes offer more illicit substances with each purchase whilst police stand not to far away. ‘Ah mi Amigo… for you I have a promotion…’ We were stopped in the street by a man all to willing to have a conversation. His forearm bears a number of beaded bracelets made from supposedly coffee beans and sea coral. He wanted 50,000COP and we offered 2,000COP which fell on deaf ears. It was clear there was no budging on the price and we wandered away. The old city has an instant colonial feel amongst the architecture. Wandering streets a third or fourth time uncovered more each time. It was so strange to see such well constructed solid architecture following 6 weeks of travelling through villages where extensions are built precariously on top of the previous floor.
‘Colombia has the best beaches in the world’, the locals would remark… Guidebooks pointed us in the direction of the Rosario Islands for an opportunity to see wildlife, coral and tranquil beaches of pure white sand and turquoise water. The power of online reviews highlighted the destruction of these areas due to the mass tourism and it swayed us enough to spend our day elsewhere. Playa Blanca is a beach on a large island south of Cartagena. It was as busy as any Australian beach with enough room to walk and play football still. Lined with palm leaf huts, cocktail stands and shady recliners, the sandy beach isn’t very wide but we found a place to towel down and relax. I’m not much of a lie and relax person but I was determined to finish the only book I’ve read this holiday whilst taking in some sunshine and frequent dips in the warm water.
Sarah had been telling me about the Ceviche for a long time before I realised what it was. Colombia has many food items that vary between states, however the seafood preparation in Cartagena blew us away. Ceviche is a method to cure seafood with citrus. Photos can’t represent the whole experience but we can vouch for it and wish there was more time to have more!
La Mulata on Calle 37 was adorned with all sea creatures in an artistic manner. An appetiser of crisps and mango sauce arrived promptly with a coco lemonade for Sarah. The mains were small for their value but were well presented and flavoursome.
La Cevicheria on Calle 39 attracts a constant crowd and upon our arrival we opted to sit on the sidewalk sipping a cherry lemonade frappe until a table became available. Here is we started to splurge but lucky we can share and it was lunch and choosing anything larger I would have needed a siesta. We picked two main dishes – Pulpo en Salsa de Mani (Peanut sauce Octopus) $57,000cop (15pounds) and Ceviches de Calamar/Caracol/Pescado del dia al coco y limon (Ceviche with squid/conch/fish with coconut and lemon) $24,000cop (7pounds). Totally happy with these choices.
We were seeking out a Peruvian restaurant for days with no luck and by chance read that the chef is now part of El Kilo on Carrera 7. A small shop front with a limited seafood display, yet the reviews are astounding. We were led to a darkened table, hence the images are poor and being our last night we decided yet again to splurge and I always like to have several items so that is what we chose.
- Tuna Tartare, creamed beans ( in this case avocado wedges) and Pico de Gallo
- Octopus Carpaccio with tomato confit and homemade coriander mayonnaise
- Ceviche of Fresh fish and shrimp in yellow peppers
- Tapas style Grilled Octopus served with yucca mash and amazon black mint mayo
Wow Wow Wow. Seriously amazing flavours swarmed our tongues whilst our eyes sought out the colours of what had been presented to us. Only thing missing was chopsticks. The carpaccio texture reminded me of the Outer Hebrides smoked scallops we had in Scotland, whilst their flavour, condiments and sheer serving size had me delighted. The tuna tartare was equally as tasty with the much loved avo in between each slice, drizzled with a well balanced salsa. Together with drinks it set us back $132,000 COP (34 pounds) for the two of us.
”By day we are drinking tacky cocktails on the beach and by night we walk into gin bars in our surf sandals sipping swanky cocktails.”
Our final activity to top off our sun drenched, seafood induced break was to go for a paddle. Kayaking regularly appears on our itinerary and we’ve always had mixed experiences. This was no different. Arranged by the hostel, Karib Kayak centre had us sorted out for a 6km paddle over to Tierra Bomba island. These guys were professional and had us skirted up for our sea kayaks. Hang on… Sarah doesn’t know what to do with her skirt and soon realises she can’t eskimo roll, so we heaved the skirt over, didn’t worry about the later point and were pushed out to the channel with incoming waves crashing over the front. The waves in the channel were quite daunting to me but I soon relaxed as we paddled over to the beach. It was early and the humidity hadn’t set in yet. Hotels were setting up their private cabanas. Taxi boats heading back and forth. We reached the island in good time and had some snacks to regain our energy before the paddle back, stopping by a tug boat for a photo who wasn’t impressed and blew his horn.
Colombia will be the country that my future children will be travelling to without second guessing it. We were safe, we had a blast, the people are happy, kind and helpful. Put it on your list of places to go.