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Yeah, I should have posted a long time ago about Cartagena, Colombia, but life happens… So better (a little) late than much later, plus- its nice to revisit Cartagena and sift through the many photos I have.

Cartagena was a last minute plan, and for a family of parents, teens and grandparents, I was worried that it’ll get boring after a few days, but connecting my imagination along with my good friends: Tripadvisor, Lonely Planet Guide, and some googling, I built a blueprint that would work for us all.

As a general rule, I always seek to find activities that involve the local community and encourages sustainable tourism, while trying to leave a minimal environmental and social footprint.

Without further ado, here are my recommendations for Cartagena, especially during Christmas.

Getting Around and what to do in Cartagena

The best would be… by foot. Not only is it free, but losing yourself by walking in the smallest alleys, allow you to discover the old beauty of Spanish colonial old city, the crumbling walls, the wide variety of door knockers, the colorful graffitis in Getsemani, the vibrant dresses of the fruit basket ladies- Las Palenqueras, and that’s just the feast for your eyes, not to mention sounds and real tastes that you may find. Going further to other neighborhoods, use a local taxi- they are cheap and convenient. Also- read about the tours we took to really go out the beaten track.

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Beautiful ladies of Cartagena, Las Palenqueras. Don’t take a photo without buying a fruit. Fruits are yummy, cheap, and you’ll be helping by paying.

old walls

Deteriorating buildings are so beautiful. Be sure to look up.

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Door knockers are Cartagena’s thing

COLLAGE

Look where you step- you’ll be rewarded

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Walk on the walls that encircle the Old City, and be sure to gaze out into the sunset

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Enjoy the many vendors

Hat Vendor

I had to add the hat guy

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Ahhh… the colors all around make it so hard to return home to our “regular” (non) hues

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Xmas in Cartagena means dances, and lots of them, in the main square

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Stroll outside the walled city, in the vibrant neighborhood of Getsemani. Observe graffiti

Responsible Tourism in Cartagena

Responsible Tourism is, among other things, to be aware and have meaningful connections with local people, and a greater understanding of local cultural, social and environmental issues.  That’s the kind of travel we usually try to conduct. That is why we chose to experience a few tours with these companies, which allowed us to be exposed to local traditions, away from the beaten path, while supporting locals by spending our $$. This was a win-win.

We toured with Alex Rocha of ​Experience the Real Cartagena in the further neighborhoods of Cartagena, learning of the zones system, that reflects the different poverty stages. Alex explained about life in Cartagena, and it’s historical aspect dating back to the afro-Colombians, brought in as slaves. We got to talk and dance with the locals (remember, it’s Christmas time, and locals are eating and dancing in the streets). We visited the colorful Bazurto Market and tasted different fruits and juices, and bought a local hat (this IS the place for cheap buys). .  We ended up in Alex’s neighborhood, and were invited to his home, where we met his beautiful family, and his wife made us an amazing lunch. We enjoyed so much, that we took Alex again to the Aviary (the wonderful relaxing bird reserve) and Playa Blanca, while visiting a small fishermen village on the way.

Be aware, Playa Blanca is full of vendors trying to sell, sell, sell. I suggest you walk all the way to the far right, as you enter the beach, to get away, as much as possible from the crowds.

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Outside the touristic city- into the hoods. Notice the recycled Xmas decorations. Also- visited Convent of Santa Cruz de la Popa- the highest point in Cartagena

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 Bazurto – Cartagena’s bustling food market

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A beautiful day at the Aviary, and Playa Blanca

Two more tours were exceptionally joyful, and those were led by Lorena Salgado of Insider, who’s an ethical travel company, that gives back to the community. We took their Africa in America tour. We visited the village of San Basilio de Palenque, where we met and learned about the Palenqueros, who were the first free Africans in America. In this village, they are the only ones in the world speaking ​Spanish-Bantú, and they have maintained their musical traditions, mainly the Champeta. We met with music legend Rafael Cassiani, who was born in the Palanque, and started his Champeta musical career there. Of course we feasted on a traditional Palenque lunch served on banana leaves. Later that day,  we visited ​San Jacinto​, which is the small village of knitting crafters.

The other tour we took with Lorena of Insider, was the evening Salsa tour, where we hopped from one salsa club to the other. It was amazing, as we didn’t only get to watch and dance to the Salsa beats, but learn of how the Salsa came to be, it’s historical and cultural connections to present times and to the people of Cartagena. It was one of the highlights of our Cartagena visit. Highly recommended!!

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Top left: statue of a man breaking free from his chains and reaching out for his motherland, West Africa. This is the statue of Benkos Bioho, San Basilio de Palenque founder. Bottom left: hair braiding goes far beyond a hairstyle- it was used by Palenque’s slaves to braide intricate maps and codes. Today it’s a social gathering- kind of a street spa.

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Beautiful people of Basilio de Palenque

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With Champeta legend Rafael Cassiani. Watch a short clip

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Weavers of San Jacinto

Where to eat and sleep 

Allow yourself to eat from street vendors some of the fresh fruits or local pastries. Some really good restaurants, though, are these:

Cafe Stepping Stones. We loved their breakfast and coffee. Also love the idea that they are partners of not-for-profit foundation, FEM, who focus on sustainable local projects.

Moshi. Though in local terms, this would be an expensive restaurant, relatively to NY it is so reasonably priced, and yet, the service, food, tastes and look of the dishes, are so attentive and delicious. They even surprised us with little dish samples that they shared with us. It is so good, we went there twice! Highly recommended.

Ganesha. Loved this little place in Getsemani, quiet with good, tasty small plates of Indian food, when you had enough of plantains and arepa 🙂 Loved having chai, or cold lassi, as well as some Indian delights.

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Refreshed in Ganesha

Caffe Lunatico. Ate here twice, great ambiance, food, and selections of wines. Tasty, unique food, good professional service, in Getsemani.

For kids- Choco Museum. We left our 3 teens for the chocolate workshop, for a little over 2 hours. They had so much fun, learning and creating with chocolate. They took samples back, and we all enjoyed tasting.

For adults- El Rincon De Getsemani. As we lazily strolled in Getsemani during the evening, we heard live music emerging behind a door. We hesitantly opened the door, and peeked inside, just to warmly be invited inside. Oh wow- a band of at least 8 musicians played the salsa, and folks were dancing enthusiastically. We joined. We came back another evening (without kids), and had so much fun learning some basic salsa steps by nice locals. This is a local salsa club, didn’t see any tourists there. Get a glass of beer and enjoy trumpets and salsa.

Hotel Capellan. Beautiful rooftop, nice little chilling pools, and some nice views from the roof. Grab a beer and ceviche, and relax. Everyday they had an afternoon tea time served with cakes- complimentary. Conveniently located in Getsemani, in walkable distance from the walled city.

Hotel Capellan

Hotel Capellan, chillin’

more photos (as well as in my Instagram):

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sound as a bell

I am so happy to have been exposed to Asaf Avidan and the mojos. It was by a mere chance that I crossed an article about them, and listened to this piece- Devil’s Dance-  where Asaf sings and plays the guitar and Hadas Kleinman plays the cello, and was blown away by his voice.

Luckily, I found out they will be performing in NYC’s City Winery on March 3rd.

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No need for too many words. Pure delight. Thank you Nir, for sending it to me.

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