You’ll also encounter many colorfully dressed women balancing impossibly large bowls of fruit on their heads as seen in many postcards and travel brochures. Most of the ladies are very friendly and welcome picture snapping or selfies with them but be sure to tip at least a few dollars.
Culinary tours can also be arranged for an authentic taste of Cartagena beyond the hotel’s own acclaimed restaurant. A few top restaurants around for ceviche inspired menus include hole-in-the-wall La Cevicheria and more expensive 25-seat El Bolchie, but if you want something a little more chef-driven, with wine or cocktail pairings, try Carmen.
Chef Carmen Angel graduated from UC Santa Cruz before studying gastronomy at Le Cordon Blue in San Francisco but has lived in Columbia for almost a decade with her husband and you’ll be happy she relocated once you try her food. Expect seabass ceviche with coconut tiger milk shrimp, black miso soup with Columbian yam and local cheese, grilled seabass with honey and passion fruit on a bed of coconut rice, bibimbap with foie gras sauce and truffle.
After a long lunch and more shopping or site seeing, you want to watch the sunset over the sea, Café del Mar is a top spot for cocktails but get there early to avoid a wait. If you prefer a view over the city, try the Charleston Santa Teresa, which is a more upscale 5-star hotel with a rooftop view Italian themed eatery, La Terraza, over the city and a few cathedrals.
You can also arrange for a high-end rum tasting at El Barón Café & Liquor Bar at Plaza San Pedro Claver in Old Town via Galavanta Taylored Travel or a private estate style property where chocolates will be paired with your libations.
For a lighter casual meal, try tapas at Don Juan but for something a little more-lively with serious food portions, try Cande with live dancing and a Creole influence. You’ll find many restaurants like this in town that feature rice dishes, seafood stews, and plantains as cornerstones of the main meal.
After all your excursions, book a treatment back at Casa San Agustin at the newly opened AURUM Spa which was is filled with gold and natural elements, paying homage to Cartagena’s pirate tales of buried treasure. The spa holds four treatment rooms, a hammam, soaking tub, nail salon room, and a relaxation room. The spa offers massages and facials that use local ingredients and mystical practices for relaxation. Try the Pure Gold Massage, the Wild Lime Scalp Treatment or the Cartagena Coffee Body Scrub. Some of the ingredients you will find in your treatment include Colombian coffee, pure tobacco, volcanic mud, horse chestnut and sea salt. The spa’s oils, lotions, and aromatherapy are sourced from Naturopathica, an organic, botany-based skincare line inspired by traditional Naturopathic medicine.
After a few days of wandering the streets of the old town sightseeing, you might want to get out of the city. While surrounded by a body of Caribbean water, one major misconception is that Cartagena is a beach town. The local beaches are, well, mostly for locals and not the picture postcard imagery one might expect. If you’re looking for that island vibe, you’ll need to get on a boat and head out to one of the islands which will take about 40 minutes on a good day. The hotel can arrange an excursion for you that includes diving and fishing, or you can just relax one more day by that stunning pool eating lobster empanadas and drinking top-shelf rum. If you don’t make it on your first visit, relax. You’ll be back and can venture further afield next time.