Cartagena

25 Nov

Contrary to my last post, Cartagena isn’t all violence and robberies. This handsome old city in the north of Colombia is hot and alive with a Caribbean culture that you won’t experience in Bogota or the South of Colombia. Here are a few notes I prepared for friends while sitting in Cartagena’s airport (free wi-fi) for friends heading in this direction.

Where to stay

The beach (along the shore at Boca Grande) and the old town are two main hubs of tourist or short-stay accommodation in Cartagena. Although the beach is dirty and a no-go zone at night, Boca Grande is home to many of Cartagena’s big resorts and international hotels such as the Hilton. Unless you are set on staying in a luxury hotel, don’t bother looking for a room in this area. Hands down you are better off staying in the old town where you’ll find hostels and hotels to suit all budgets.

If you are the kind of traveler who is happy to turn up in a place and organise accommodation on arrival, your best bet is to head straight to Calle Media Luna in Getsemani. The Media Luna Hostel, is the biggest and most popular option here amongst the under 35 crowd. It offers guests all the usual hostel services; free wifi, a modest book exchange, and plenty of information about Cartagena and transport connections to other cities including to Panama by boat. The Hostel also boasts a small pool in its large and attractive courtyard, and its rooftop bar is always busy, especially on Wednesday nights. However despite all it has to offer, this big party hostel is not necessarily the best option for budget travelers in Cartagena. Dorm beds here are expensive at $13 a night, especially since this rate does not include breakfast and there is no kitchen. Those traveling in groups of two or more can easily find a private room on Calle Media Luna and the surrounding blocks for $15 a night or less with shared bathroom, for example at the Hotel Contact (in the big white building two doors down from the Hostel Media Luna on the same side of the road). Across the road the Hotel Marlin offers double rooms with private bathrooms and free breakfast for roughly $20.00 a night. This hotel also has a kitchen for guests.

We opted to stay in the Casa Beluarte. Here we paid $25.00 a night for a double room with private bathroom, fan, and cable TV. The Beluarte’s courtyard garden is a pretty and peaceful place to chill out, and there are lots of chairs and hammocks to sit in on the second floor while using the Hotel’s free wifi. The beds here were the most comfortable I have slept in for a long time. Another plus is that the Beluarte is owned and managed by a friendly local family called Fox. Their staff are kind and helpful too. This hotel proves that there are huge variations in the quality of rooms offered by different hotels and hostals in Getsemani within the same price range, so it is worth checking out a few places before you commit to staying anywhere.

The majority of hostel and hotels in Getsemani offer free wifi to guests, but they also tend to provide cold-water showers only. I’d prefer a hot shower but in the humid heat of Cartagena a cold shower is not too much of a rude shock first thing in the morning.

Where to eat

The Australian Fusion Cafe is one of the best restaurants in Cartagena. This Cafe was only recently opened by Australian Chef Ian and his Colombian wife Angela so you won’t find it in the guidebooks yet, though I am sure Ian and Angela will make it into the next edition of Lonely Planet Colombia. This isn’t a tacky Walkabout bar. We aren’t talking roo burgers and Fosters beer (which no one drinks downunder). This resturant offers visitors to Colombia a wonderful taste of modern Australian cuisine. Main meals served for lunch and dinner include succulent fried white fish fillets and wedges served with fresh colslaw, a gourmet beef pie topped with cheesy mash, delicious chicken and pork sausage rolls and a malaysian curry that can be served as a vegetarian dish with enough chili to give it a nice kick. The quality of ingredients is high which is not necessarily common in South America and the portions are generous. Those on a tight budget will be pleased to know that the Australian Fusion Cafe is also great value. All mains are priced at only 9000 COP (just under $USD 5.00). The Porterhouse Steak, specialty of the house, is available for 24,000 (about $USD 12.00) and is served with a cold beer. At lunch and dinner guests can add a soup or salad to their meal as an entree and / or a desert of their choice for an additional 2000 COP ($USD 2.00) a course. I strongly recommend trying Ian’s lentil soup with vegetables and ginger and the banana cake which is served with a rich rum sauce and fresh cream.

Also worth checking out is the ‘chicken place’, which has another name that I forgot to note, located on Lemaitre opposite Parque Centenario. Look out for the huge barbeque and chickens roasting out the front of this crowded local restaurant and you won’t miss it. The specialty here is (surprise surprise) is chicken cooked over a charcol grill Portuguese style (ie flatened) served with plain maize tomales and a delicious rich garlic sauce. Half a chicken big enough for two or three hungry people to share, and it will set you back only $10,000 COP ($USD 5.00). Sides including delicious roasted potatoes are available from about $1 USD. The chicken place also sells the famous Colombian soup / stew Sancocho.

Lots of restaurants in Getsemani sell cheap pizzas. Small pizzas are available from 9000 COP ($4.50 USD) and large pizzas from 18,000 COP. Having been deprived from pizza for months in Central America where it is neither cheap nor tasty, Alex and I ate pizzas at lots of different places in Getsemani. By far the best were those sold at the Pizzeria under the Holiday Hotel, located on Calle Media Luna opposite the Hostal Media Luna. This place is incredibly generous with toppings, you will leave full and feeling as though you definitely got your moneys worth. We were introduced to this Pizzeria by our Captain Gwen. He and his wife Veronica have visited Cartagena many time and also swear by this place.

Lots of places on and around Calle Media Luna offer economical set breakfasts aimed at western tastes. We had breakfast and brunch at a number of cafes and restaurants but the best was Luna’s Cafe outside Hotel Beluarte. Here you can have a bowl of cereal, fruit and yoghurt with coffee or tea and a juice of the day for $7000 COP. This cafe also offer omlettes and croissants.

Street Food is also cheap and worth trying in Cartagena. Arepas are fried, fat and round maize cakes filled with yummy melted cheese available around the clock all over Cartagena. Try street corners if you are searching them out. Amongst locals this carb and fat-loaded snack is popular choice for breakfast, lunch, and/ or late-night beer-snack. Costing between $1000 and $3000 COP, arepas can be a cheap and filling meal for backpackers. Try to buy one that has been freshly cooked from a busy vendor.

Those juicy heart-attacks also known as papas rellenos (filled potatoes) are also delicious. This snack consists of meat or cheese squished between two thick slices of potato which is then battered and fried. Yum Yum. To be eaten in moderation of course.

For those healthier-minded friends, check out what the fresh fruit vendors have to offer. Usually watermelon or mango is available on street corners all over the city, conveniently peeled and cut up for you to enjoy. Note that mangoes are sold and eaten green and under-ripe with chilli and lime. Something different.

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2 Responses to “Cartagena”

  1. christine November 26, 2010 at 9:17 pm #

    kristie i love looking at your photos, sorry about your robbery it just how quickly it can happen, are you having a good time with mum love Christine

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