Cartagena was a shock to the system after so long since sun. True, Cali was hot, but Cartagena was HOT. My skin started to sizzle as I left the plane, and I was pleased to see that the airport had done up the debarkation area in a sort of tropical style, with lots of wooden panels and green plants.
I spent my first night at the Cartagena Beach Hostel, which in reality is just the Playa Club hotel stuffing 5 single beds into a standard room. While a nice idea, the lack of lockers, hot water or a common area that wasn't packed with OAPs and families detracted from it somewhat. It was also at the far end of the new part of town, and the main thing I had come to see was the beautiful old town: a 40 minute walk in 34 degrees heat? I think not. I moved to Casa Nativa the next day, run by a pleasant woman who spoke excellent English, and conveniently located in the San Diego district of the old town.
The next day I decided I was going to go and spend a night on Playa Blanca, the famed beach to the north east of the city. It’s simple enough to get there: show up at the market docks at around 9am and jump on a boat heading that way. Most of these are loaded up with all the goods they cannot get at the beach (i.e: everything), and passengers are a bit of an afterthought. Eventually though, after waiting for a couple of hours, we pushed off from the dock and set off across the bay.
Make sure you bring suncream. Seriously. And money. On the beach, you can buy alcohol, water, some food and that’s really about it. I, stupidly, had neglected to rebuy suncream following my flight up from Cali (incredibly, flights through the country are at times cheaper than the buses, and obviously take a fraction of the time) and so wandered fruitlessly up and down the beach looking for a shop that sold some before overhearing a group of people speaking English and begged for them to let me use their suncream before I turned into a giant tomato. They were Canadian, so of course they said yes.
And after that, it was sipping Pina Colada’s out of freshly cut Pineapples on the beach, and relaxing in the sun. I had a delicious Red Snapper for dinner, and eventually fell asleep in my hammock on the beach for the night. It’s definitely worth a visit. A note though: there is no wifi there, so don't expect to use Facebook!
The Cartagena old town is postcard perfect at every turn, and incredibly safe. It’s surprising, when you ask people to picture Colombia, it’s Escobar, drug running and homicide that springs to mind. But really, this is a first world country, full of beautiful people, beautiful sights (both natural and man made) and beautiful food (well, it’s really good food, but I was trying to keep up with the theme there).
Sadly, I was struck down with a bout of food poisoning the day I arrived in Bogota, but I can still highly recommend the Andres D.C. restaurant, which is (if I counted correctly) 6 floors full of cheerful and charming waiters and waitresses, some of the best steak I've had outside of Argentina and some great music. Downside? Like most places in Bogota, it’s almost as expensive at home, but the food is much much better.
And so now, it’s onwards to the Northern part of America, before Hong Kong in a week or so!