Archive for the 'Colombia' Category


bocagrande playa

Across the city from the old town is the fashionable seaside resort district of Bocagrande.  Part of the fun of spending a day on the beach in Cartagena is watching the endless parade of people who walk up and down the beach selling all types of goods and services.  Some of them can be quite persistent and replying to all of them with a polite “no gracias” gets exhausting.  But it’s fun just the same and convienient when someone passes by with something you actually want. 

meCartagena beach


Cartagena de Indias


Founded in 1533, Cartagena de Indias was the main Spanish port on the Caribbean coast and the gateway to the north of the continent.  As a result of the city’s location, frequent pirate attacks prompted the construction of elaborate walls encircling the town.Cartagena street  Today, Cartagena’s old walled town, a Unesco World Heritage Site, is its principal attraction, particularly the inner walled town.  It’s a showcase of 16th and 17th century Spanish architecture, much of it beautifully restored, with narrow winding cobbled streets, massive churches overlooking wide plazas and large mansions, all with balconies.  There are tourists too, though not nearly as many as we are used to seeing and far fewer foreign owned bars, restaurants and hostels, even despite the fact that Frommers has named Cartagena one of the top 12 world destinations to visit in 2009. 

As it turns out, we managed to avoid any run-ins with guerrillas, paramilitaries or drug traffickers during our time in Colombia.  Instead, I’ve spent most of the week trying to decide which part of the historic old town I prefer – the clean, perfectly restored and heavily police patrolled inner walled town or the dirtier, more chaotic outer walled town with its street markets, food carts and interesting cast of characters – and I still haven’t been able to decide.  Either way, we couldn’t have hoped for a better introduction to South America.  And, it appears, word is getting out.  In recent years Colombia’s tourism industry has been experiencing rapid growth.  Along with improvements in safety, the country’s reputation among travelers is improving and it likely won’t be long before previously forbidden travel routes open up making the country an even more attractive destination.  We love that we got to see it now!


cartagena co

We weren’t sure exactly what to expect when our flight from Panama City touched down in Cartagena.  Colombia’s poor reputation as a country known for its frequent kidnappings, drug trafficking and dangerous civil conflict; a triangular war between guerrilla insurgents, right-wing paramilitaries and government forces has caused it to remain one of the less frequented stops along the so-called ‘gringo trail’.  But we had also heard some really good things about traveling to Colombia, particularly the Caribbean coastal city of Cartagena.  In fact, Colombia is hard at work trying to change its image amoung travelers, so much so that the country’s tourism board‘s most recent advertising slogan reads “Colombia, the only risk is wanting to stay.” 

Currently getting from Panama to Colombia, or any country in South America, is a little tricky.  There is no safe overland route across Panama’s Darién Gap and most people either fly or sail between the two countries.  Five days aboard a sailboat sounded like too much so we decided to make the journey by air, flying in and out of Cartagena on our way south to Quito, Ecuador.