My first impression of Cartagena, Colombia was literally “wow I need to move here!” The airport was really nice and new, the city was clean and colorful, and the all around vibe was just amazing. I truly could see myself existing here for a while, unfortunately awhile only meant five days. Mike and I were fortunate enough to spend new years 2017 here and let me tell you, it was the best new years celebration to date.
ANANDA Boutique hotel
Price: SPLURGE $$$$
Located right in the heart of beautiful Cartagena, across the street from this fabulous little coffee shop. Upon arrival you are greeted with refreshing cold towels and once in the room, they bring you fresh delicious mojitos. Mike and I were celebrating our anniversary (which I told them upon arrival) and the ANANDA hotel went above and beyond for us. Once in the room, there were fresh rose petals scattered around the bed with candles lit everywhere and music in the background. It was a fantastic surprise after a long flight and it was very romantic.
The hotel itself is beautifully decorated and they have two pools, one downstairs in the courtyard and one on the roof, along with a huge jacuzzi. The service is impeccable. We also enjoyed a couples message at the spa, but for the price I have definitely had better and would not recommend using the spa services here. All in all the hotel was a gorgeous hidden gem in the middle of the beautiful city and I would definitely stay here again.
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New Years Eve Dinner:
Price: SPLURGE $$$$
Mike and I indulged in an exquisite 7 coarse meal with wine pairing for our new years dinner celebration. For big holidays like this you have to make reservations pretty far in advance, I think we called ahead about 3 weeks before coming to Colombia. The restaurant was beautifully decorated and the service was grand. They gave each table new years hats, beads, and noise makers as well as a glass of champagne for the toast at midnight (we left before that to celebrate somewhere else). The food was to die for, definitely in my top five best food experiences for sure!
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New Years Eve Celebration:
San Diego Plaza
After our fine dining experience at Carmen, we met up with some new friends we made at the hotel and celebrated midnight in the local square with live music, locals dancing salsa, and fireworks over head. It was a magical night. I would go this route next time. They have tables and chairs you can rent for the evening and you bring your own food and booze. It was awesome to get the local experience of ringing in the new year.
Marzola Parrilla Argentina Steakhouse
We went here on the first night. The restaurant itself is decorated so whimsically with stuff floor to ceiling. They set up tables and chairs in the middle of the street and have lights strung up over them. We of course ate outside so we could people watch and watch all of the street performers. We shared this massive slab of steak that came out on a butcher block and indulged in a bottle of Argentinian melbac.
Le Casa de Socorro
A little off the beaten path you will find this delicious local spot. The wait was long but oh so worth it! We would have never found this spot if it weren’t for some of Mike’s employees who live in Colombia. This was some true authentic Colombian cuisine. We got to try Aguardiente which is a Colombian alcohol that tastes sort of like tequila and black licorice. At first I was not a fan, but after a few shots you start to like it!
Obviously street food is a given when in Colombia. It is everywhere you turn and it is freaking tasty. I think we just about tried it all from fresh mango to arepas and everything in between.
Mike and I rented bikes for an evening and cruised all over the city. It was a little intimidating sharing a cobble stone road with so many cars, but it was very bike friendly. It was such a good way to see a lot of the city in such a short time. We took the bikes up to one of the fort walls and sat and watch the sunset, it was truly magical. I would seriously recommend doing this at least one day while in Colombia.
Another day we rented a sketchy little moped for half a day and ventured outside of the walled city and found ourselves at the beach. The drivers in Colombia are a little crazy and so is Mike, so mix that together and you feel my pain! (haha) I was clinging for dear life the whole time but it was certainly an experience. The water wasn’t my favorite, but coming from a Caribbean island I am pretty hard to please. The beaches were packed full of people having a blast. We tried some authentic Colombian ice cream and had a couple of drinks. There are ladies that walk around giving massages. *Definitely get one! For 30 pesos you can’t go wrong, they have strong hands too.
I have very mixed feelings on the mud volcano outside of Cartagena. First of all I would go the route Mike and I went and get yourself a private car and driver for $100 USD for the entire day. All of the tours are around the same price and you are packed to the brim with tourists (no fun). We had a bilingual tour guide to ourselves and got to stop a long the way at some street vendors and shop too. The volcano is about an hour drive outside of the city.
Once you get there DO NOT, I repeat DO NOT let anyone touch you or your belongings. We learned this the hard way. I get the people there hustle and they are good at it, it was so smooth I seriously thought it was a part of what we paid for. We had guys offer to hold our clothes, because where else are you going to put them? Once you get in there are guys there to help you in a rub mud on you, that seems normal right? When you get out there are ladies at the river to help wash you off, also pretty normal because you need to wash off…NOPE DON’T DO IT!! When we were dressed and heading back to the car we were literally swarmed with everyone that put there hands on us or our stuff, It went from a safe 1 to an escalated 8 in a matter of seconds. Mike and the driver pushed me into the car and locked me in and Mike handed everyone a few pesos and tried to get into the car. Apparently a few pesos each was not enough and things got heated, thankfully our driver was there and got us out of that situation quick.
Aside from the craziness that tends to happen when you have a language barrier in a new place the mud volcano was pretty freakin’ cool. It was a sensation I had never felt before. You climb these really sketchy steps up to the top where you have breathtaking 360 views of the Colombian country side. You are helped in and covered with mud (which is really good for the skin). The sensation of being covered in warm mud from this big volcano was indescribable, there’s really nothing to compare it to, you need to go for yourself! On the way out you have to climb down these stairs of doom. I was actually a little scared for my life because everyone is covered in mud, the stairs are covered in mud, the railings are barely hanging on, and these things are steep as hell and slippery. But hey we made it down and survived with a pretty amazing travel story to tell! If you take my tips into consideration then I would recommend going to the volcano, it was a great experience.
Cartagena, Colombia is a gorgeous city full of beautiful, kind people. The vibe and energy were spectacular and it has become one of my favorite travel destinations. Mike and I both fell in love with the colorful streets, delicious street food, and helpful and kind people. I think we will be returning very soon to explore more of this amazing place. I hope our itinerary will help you plan your future travels here, and if you are lucky enough to ring in the new year here you have to celebrate in one of the squares in town with the locals!