On December 31th, we were leaving Bogota and flying north to Cartagena. Milena and I thought it could be busy at the airport, but had no idea what we were in for. When we arrived, there must have been 500 people in line to check bags…it was really scary. We were both happy we booked with LAN Airlines and could use my status to bypass the line. So what would have been over 2 hours to get through, was only 5 minutes. Yea!!
New Years Eve
After hearing that Cartagena is one of the largest parties in Colombia for New Years, we decided to spend it there and I’m glad we did. While getting ready, we had the traditional pre-party snack of champagne, string cheese and Doritos! Sometimes you enjoy what you find.
It was an all out party in the walled city. All the bars, restaurants and streets were full of fun people out to celebrate. There were street performers, vendors selling food and drink all over the streets and we made our way all around to see it all. Milena and I even found a great wine bar to duck into for a break from all the street partying (and clean restrooms – added bonus!)
The night ended with a great fireworks show over the walled city and ocean and it was worth the wait.
The following morning was a lazy one of course, but we thought we would wander the walled city and find some lunch. It was the perfect day to explore as most business were closed and the streets were really empty, which allowed us to take it all in with a little peace.
We also decided to try to go to the famous restaurant called “La Cevicheria” which was featured in The TV Show, “Anthony Bourdain No Reservations Colombia”. This was one of our favorite places to eat. Each time we walked by there was a massive line out front (as they don’t take reservations). We thought if we went off peak time on New Years Day, we may get in and we were right. Going at 3 in the afternoon was the perfect off peak time and we only had to walk 30 minutes (not the usual 2 hours or so). We ended up sitting next to a group of girls we were drinking with on New Year’s and made friends with another guy. The whole meal was about a 2 hour experience from time time we ordered to finished, so two bottles of wine later…we were all good and the food was outstanding. We were already planning on what day we could return before we left Cartagena.
Cartagena Walled City
The walled city was very quaint with beautifully decorated buildings and colorful homes. When heard it was easy to get lost inside the walls and we did. Part of this was due to the fact that the streets kept changing names (on the same street). It was fun to wander around, see all the colors. There were so many beautiful buildings and colorful doors…here are a few of my favorites.
We decided to walk on top of the city wall on our way to the best sunset bar on the wall. It was right at the perfect spot to see the sunset…and why not? It was quite spectacular.
One night we came across a few plaza’s. This one had a cute little grandma making empanadas and her granddaughters would cook them up. They were delicious (for $1 each). One variety even had a cracked egg inside which cooked into a perfect fried egg in the fryer.
Milena and I decided to do two days of diving and spend one night out on the Rosario Islands. The islands are part of a national park and about an hour boat ride away from Cartagena. It was totally worth the trip and glad we spent the night and got 5 dives in. On the boat ride over there, one of our dive masters brought her new Dalmatian puppy, which was just precious. So we all got a little puppy cuddles (well that was when Milena wasn’t hogging the puppy). She was missing all the puppies she works with at home, and became the puppy’s surrogate mommy for the next 2 days.
The scuba diving was outstanding and I would highly recommend. We had one of the best night dives ever and I got one of my favorite photos of a colorful octopus plus bright red crabs and lobsters.
Here are some photos for the Rosario Island Resort we got to stay in.
Volcan de Lodo El Totumo (Mud Volcano)
We read about this mud volcano that was about an hour drive from Cartagena. Just for the record, it’s not a volcano. It’s a really fun, very buoyant soft mud pool. I read it runs 2 miles deep so that’s impressive. We weren’t able to ever touch the bottom and just bobbed around in the mud. What’s funny is everything we read said…it’s such an odd experience, but so great at the same time and a must do. So we decided to give it whirl. I’m glad we read about this first as the basic plan was this:
- Get transport out there. We got a day trip for about $25 US (volcano trip and then a stop at Bocagrande beach with lunch).
- Bring lots of small bills for tips (9,000 pesos per person) as you have to tip everyone 3,000 peso each (guys that use your camera to take photos, the person providing the mud massage and women that wash you in the lake).
- Climb up (and then down) the rickety stairs (if you call them stairs). Wait in line while you watch everyone else’s reactions to the mud experience.
- Once you climb down into the mud pit, you are pushed over to the massage corner and get a mud massage for about 3 minutes. Simple but nice.
- Once the massage is over, they push you to the other side where you can hang out in the mud and bob around as long as you like
- Once you climb out of the mud pit, someone wipes all the excess mud off you so it stays there and you have to walk down these steep and slippery stairs and head to the lake to clean up.
- You can have one of the woman bathe you and clean you up. We read they will take off your swim suit top and wash out as well (which was good as it was covered in mud – but I’m glad I knew this up front). The water was very muddy where you were bathed, so no one could see anything. I would recommend bringing an older swim suit as even after washing in a washing machine at home, the mud didn’t all come out. Maybe there was other sticky mud or something that is now a permanent reminder of that fun trip.
A few of the photos from our experience:
After the volcano, we spent a few hours at the Bocagrande Beaches, where all the fancy hotels are located. The lunch was pretty bad so we decided to go walk on the beach and see what we could find. We loved this local mango seller and had him slice a fresh one up for us with a little fresh lime. So good!
The mud volcano was an unique experience and I’m glad we went. Milena and I were the only English speaking people on our bus of 30 people, so the guide tried to help us and communicate with us in English. This was all good until the end of the tour. As the bus dropped everyone off at hotels, they never called our hotel, we weren’t really sure where we were and at the end of the drive, we were the only ones left on the bus and “supposedly” they already went to our hotel, but our guide didn’t know what hotel we were at. They were going to just drop us somewhere and make us get our way back to the hotel, but we finally were able to request/demand a drop off close to our hotel.
We spent out last night in town wandering around the walled city and taking it all in and getting lost in more plazas and streets. It was such a fun walled city to walk around in.
We had planned our last dinner to be a little nicer and it was quite a treat. As we got to the walled city early, we decided to get a bottle of champagne (with flutes) and wander the plazas drinking as you can easily drink in the streets. It was almost like Vegas! Anyhow, when it was time, we headed to our restaurant, called Vera, which was delicious! I would so highly recommend it but reservations are essential. See details below in logistics.
So that’s it for Cartagena. Great 5 days in town. Now we are heading east to Taganga (small fisherman’s village outside of Santa Marta).
Cartagena Hotel – Our Cartagena hotel was so poor…I can’t even mention it there. But it was New Years and you get what you get.
Rosario Island Hotel – We stayed at Coco Lisa hotel which was ocean front with an amazing pool. We booked a hotel through our dive center as a 2 day package. Too bad once we got to the island, there was no reservation at the place we were supposed to stay at. Plus where we were supposed to stay was not suitable. We got the puppy owning dive master that was helping us to get the dive center manager in touch with us (and he was on the island with us). So after some discussions…we got moved to this much nicer hotel and were quite happy.
This island hotel was great for us as an overnight, but there were lot of “day trippers” that come out at 10 am and leave at 3pm. It was very peaceful both before and after they were all there, but a little busy with all them there during the day. It was a nice place to stay for the night since we did two days of scuba diving.
- La Cevicheria – www.lacevicheriacartagena.com (featured in Anthony Bourdain No Reservations Colombia). Amazing as noted above.
- Vera – Great dinner that a friend recommended. Reservations are required (as 2 seatings at 7:30 and 10:30 only). It was always busy and attached to a nice hotel www.tcherassihotels.com/dining/