Of course I have to sing the praises of Cartagena! It really is like living (or vacationing) in a 3D postcard.
The colors in old town and Getsemani will hit you immediately. The magic of the city is intoxicating, and it definitely cast its spell on me the very first day. You will take a billion photos and all will be amazing. Then there's the music. Everything here moves with a rhythm and song; the colourful fruits being pushed in rattling carts with accompanying shouts of Aguacate! Limones! Mamoncillos! The giant speakers in front of every neighbors house blaring out an aural patchwork of Latin and local music: Salsa, champeta, vallenato, reggaeton.
I recommend visitors start with some kind of orientation tour with me and my team from Cartagena Connections. I know that's a plug, but really notwithstanding the bias, I truly believe it. Our tours are designed for people who don't like tours. They are more about hanging with local friends who are passionate about the city and experts in the best ways to get the most out of it. Not about speeches and name badges and flags to follow. We cover lots of interests - food, drinking, street art, history, politics, architecture, music, dance, photography, market, shopping or we can tailor something exactly for you which combines all of the above or something different.
Once you're oriented, the city is there for you to explore. Great restaurants. Live music. Shopping. Handicrafts and beautiful islands that are just a boat ride away.
I have a bunch of ideas on our website, but in particular here are some favorite must-dos:
Bazurto Social Club is the accessible home of champeta in Cartagena, and is a completely fun, local experience. The walls are covered with Cartagena icons and each night starts with a free dance class to get everyone warmed up.
Crazy Salsa jam night is a bit of an undiscovered gem. No cover charge, intimate setting and really great musicians jamming from jazz to salsa.
BYO drinks and watch the sunset whilst sitting on the centuries old wall. Sigh.
The scrummy coconut pie at Demente restaurant on plaza Trinidad is, for me, the best dessert in the city. Their fried artichoke pesto pizza is my favourite pizza. The overall chilled ambiance is my fave eat-drink spot.
NOTE: Want to know what I loved about Cartagena? You're in luck! I traveled there in March and you can see my Cartagena City Guide here.