After a week in Peru—and experiencing nearly every climate and season while hiking the Inca Trail—we headed north to Cartagena, Colombia for four days. Like Peru, I knew very little about Colombia, but after the dry, cold air high in the Andes, the warm, tropical humidity of Cartagena was a welcome change.
We had to take three flights to get to Cartagena, and aside from one very tight layover that had us running through the Lima airport Home-Alone-style, we had pretty good travel luck. I was also carrying my Peruvian market bat by this point and Colombian airport security is no joke—they questioned us so many times about how our luggage was handled that I almost started to think that it might actually be filled with heroin. Thankfully, my bat and I made it through various customs checkpoints without incident, but I did learn that I'd probably be the world's worst drug smuggler.
We stayed in the Getsemani neighborhood, located just outside of the old walled city. I didn't realize it when we booked our hotel, but this once crime-riddled area is now considered "cool" and "up-in-coming", or as we started calling it "The Brooklyn of Cartagena." The historic part of Cartagena is very small and walkable, and I definitely recommend staying in—or at least exploring—Getsemani. The area is filled with murals, bars and restaurants and there were some pretty decent-looking hostels if that's your thing.
Founded in 1533, Cartagena is a port city on the northern Caribbean coast of Colombia. I had heard it compared in style to New Orleans, and I definitely agree with that assessment—even the cemeteries felt similar. Cartagena is a very colorful and joyful place, filled with beautiful hand-painted signs, rainbow-colored stucco buildings and vibrant nightlife. Our militant airport welcome wasn't very indicative of how I felt in Cartagena—I never felt unsafe or wary and generally found people to be very nice and welcoming.
We mostly just walked around the city and tried (rather unsuccessfully) to keep cool—Cartagena has an average temperature of 88°F year-round, with an average humidity of 90%. It rained periodically while we were there but mostly we were thankful for the cloud cover.
We couldn't not stop into the Palace of the Inquisition museum, which had some interesting examples of torture instruments and even if we couldn't read most of the informational signage, at least the rooms were air-conditioned. We also made a point to visit the Iglesia de Santo Domingo, allegedly the oldest church in Cartagena. In 1552 it was rebuilt in its present location when the original burned down, and a portion of the floor is paved with 19th century tombstones (!!).
I can't speak much about the local cuisine because at this point in our trip I had just begun to eat real food again and was even more cautious than usual in stepping outside of my culinary comfort zone. We had some good tapas but if I'm being totally honest the best meal we ate in Colombia was at a Subway—it tasted exactly like Subway should and it cost the same as it would have in America, which was actually expensive for Colombia but so worth it.
We drank mojitos while watching the sunset at Cafe del Mar; had a less-than-ideal beach day where I threw a tantrum and still got sunburnt despite spending the entire day in the shade; explored the coolest cemetery and saw an unbelievable amount of exposed human remains; walked on the walls; cooled down with fruit from a street vendor and I saw my very first paste-up funeral announcement (which was to take place at the same cemetery we visited!). I do wish that I hadn't been so travel-weary at this point in our trip because Cartagena was a really beautiful place, worthy of more attention than I had left to give. Even so, one of the very best parts about Cartagena was that after 14 days of travel and five flights between two countries, we had a five-hour, direct flight back to New York.