If you’re planning a trip to South America, you’re probably thinking of heading to some of the mainstay places to head to—Rio de Janeiro, Buenos Aires, Machu Picchu—and while all of those cities are definite must-sees, Cartagena, Colombia should also be at the top of your list. Cartagena is a top destination for Colombians and many other South Americans, and it’s easy to see why. Within the walls of the old city you’ll find cobblestoned streets, Spanish-style villas painted every color under the sun, and wonderful restaurants—many that feature live Colombian music. But there’s also the new city, with Miami-like skyscrapers lining the coast of this gorgeous city. And since there’s so much to do in Cartagena, The Tig turned to one of our fav Cartagena-based handbag designers, Danielle Corona of Hunting Season, to give us the lay of the land. And boy, did she not disappoint. So, along with our own few tips to traveling to Cartagena, here is The Tig’s Insider’s Guide to the beautiful city of Cartagena!
La Vitrola – This is the quintessential Cartagena restaurant. With its Old Havana charm and its impeccable food, this establishment is a mainstay favorite amongst everyone from old-school locals, to the glitzy socialites that come in from Bogotá. Go for dinner (when you may be serenaded by a live guitar), order yourself a mojito or two, and enjoy the menu of local and Italian-influenced fare. The carpaccio de mero and carpaccio de pulpo – paper-thin sliced grouper and octopus – are not to be missed.
Don Juan – Perfect in you’re in the mood for a more formal dinner, this restaurant has a lovely setting and fresh, contemporary design. The blue and white color scheme creates a perfect escape from the hot days in Cartagena. The owners have a second restaurant next door called Maria, which is great for a quick, more casual bite.
Trattoria di Silvio – You’ll find this restaurant in the Getsemani district, Cartagena’s city’s up and coming neighborhood. Located outside the walls of the Old City, the area still has the same charming, colonial-style architecture. It’s perfect for a casual dinner; go for take-out pizza, and sit in the plaza next door to eat, drink wine, and watch the locals. You most likely won’t see any tourists here.
Juan del Mar – At his eponymous restaurant, Colombian actor and man-about-town, Juan Del Mar, turns out the most popular pizza in the city. The sidewalk seating and rooftop tables are ideal for a romantic dinner tête-a-tête, or raucous dinner party before a night out. Try the carbonara pizza – a very worthwhile indulgence.
Quadrifolio – I love this hotel’s colonial-inspired, elegant décor. It makes it feel very authentic and intimate, as though you’re staying in someone’s beautiful house rather than in a hotel at all. Note: they serve a truly delicious breakfast.
Casa San Agustín – This very elegant hotel, decorated by American designer Kelly McRorie, originated from a trio of traditional white-washed colonial buildings. Inside, you’ll find original frescoes on the walls and centuries-old wooden beamed-ceilings. It also has a great restaurant called Alma that serves amazing contemporary Colombian cuisine.
Charleston Santa Theresa* – Built in a former convent, The Charleston Santa Theresa is one of the most gorgeous buildings in the entire old city—it’s a bright orange, Spanish-style building located next to some of the best shopping in all of Cartagena. The best part of the hotel isn’t its colorful walls and modern decor, but rather its to die for rooftop pool with views of the entire old city.
Casa Chiqui – My mother-in-law, Chiqui Echavarria, opened this home furnishings & accessories store as an outlet for her amazing eye for design. It’s filled with incredible treasures that she discovers on her travels to exotic places like Bali, Thailand, and Morocco, and then imports to Colombia.
St. Dom – Located on one of the main cobblestoned shopping streets in the old city, St. Dom has the best selection of Colombian designers that you’ll find anywhere in the city.
Street vendors – Wander around the alleys and squares of the old city and you’ll find a huge selection of street vendors offering gorgeous Colombian and Cartagena-specific crafts like handwoven, colorful bags and jewelry that you shouldn’t come home without.
Islas Rosarios and Baru Island – Even though these islands are a good 45 minutes away from Cartagena via a boat ride—you can’t leave Cartagena without venturing out to these gorgeous islands. You’ll enter into the Caribbean—where the ocean is turquoise and glistening, the beaches are filled with white sand, and the food is resoundingly island (like lobster, shrimp, and coconut rice).
Castillo San Felipe de Barajas* – One of the most impressive forts we’ve ever seen, Castillo San Felipe de Barajas was actually built by a Dutchman in 1536 and features some of the coolest medieval war tactics you probably never knew existed. Make sure to take a guided tour so that you don’t miss out on learning about any of the hidden layers built into the fortress. And the best part? The stunning view of the entire city.
Images via: Judy Meepos, Danielle Corona, Boomsbeat, De Boca en Boca, Hotel Casa San Agustin, Bloomberg