Our first stop in South America was Cartagena de Indias, set on the shores of the Caribbean coastline on the northern tip of Colombia ...
After 2 days in transit, 4 planes and 3 time zones, we arrived into Cartagena around midday. The blast of 33°C heat reflecting off the tarmac and near 100% humidity was a shock to the system (even for two Australians). Needless to say we couldn’t wait to get to our hostal and into the pool quick enough!
Cartagena has had a rich and colourful history, serving as the principal port for the Spanish to ship its imperial plunder back to Europe and a centre for slave trading from Africa. It’s treasures were also a tantalizing target for pirates of the Caribbean (arrr!) and it endured several sieges, prompting it to build walled fortifications and several impressive fortresses for protection.
The Old City
These days the wall ramparts encapsulate the Old City of Cartagena, which is a labyrinth of narrow streets filled with colonial churches, plazas and colourful homes draped in bright bougainvillea.
We took it easy in Cartagena while we recovered from our jetlag and mainly because it was too damn hot to do anything else! Mostly we enjoyed getting lost in the colourful laneways, people watching in the plazas while sipping a Lulo (an icy drink made from the a tropical fruit that tastes similar to pineapple – delicioso!) and strolling along the stone ramparts at sunset.
As coincidence would have it, Justin’s Uncle Tom was also in Cartagena while we were there and we caught up with him for a few mojito’s and ceviche to celebrate the start of our respective holidays.
Located just outside the city’s main entranceway is the gritty working neighbourhood of Getsemani. In contrast to the Old City, it has little in the way of tourist attractions but affords a great taste of local life, is home to most budget accommodation and features some really cool street art ...
Life literally spills into the streets of Getsemani … men sand furniture, play dominos or sip cervezas (beer) and ron (rum) in the shade, women sell empanada’s or exotic fruit juices from small stalls and practice their salsa to music blaring from speakers in the street while kids ride bikes and play soccer in the plaza.
Where we stayed
After doing some research on TripAdvisor, we decided to stay at Casa Relax in Getsemani. Casa Relax is located a short walk from the main Plaza de Trinidad but far enough away from the noisy clubs and bars along Media Luna to get some sleep (or so we thought!). The best part of the hostal was it’s central pool surrounded by shaded tables and hammocks to chill in - which we put to great use throughout our stay.
We had a huge double room with air-con (a necessity here!), private bathroom with cold shower (trust me you don’t need hot water) and a satisfying breakfast of fresh juice, tropical fruits, eggs or crepe’s, toast and jams.
While we still struggled to get an early night with the thumping salsa from local speakers on the weekend, we thoroughly enjoyed our stay at Casa Relax in Getsemani and would highly recommend it if you are looking for a few creature comforts to beat the heat while enjoying a more authentic taste of local life.