We arrived at the Cartagena airport and grabbed a 8500 pesos taxi ride to Hotel Vienna in the Getsumani district (backpackers ghetto) just outside the old city. The hotel was booked, so they called Hotel Villa Colonial. A guy arrived and insisted on carrying both our large packs (a good 50lbs worth of luggage) as we followed him through the suffocatingly hot, narrow streets. After spending one night there, we discovered that everything is made out of adobe bricks, including beds and pillows. So we found a small, hot, cave-like room at the Hotel Marlin for $14. Here the bed was actually too soft and out of 5 displayed speeds, the fan only functioned on two: Hurricane and “Holy shit, is the fan on? It’s really hot!” Did we mention that Cartagena is really hot???
Cartagena is probably South America’s best preserved example of Spanish colonial architecture. It is a walled city whose walls (ten’s of feet thick at points) took about 200 years to finish. It was an important shipping center for looted gold and the slave market. We spent the first day and a half just wandering the narrow streets admiring the architecture and marveling at the fortifications. We stumbled upon a huge stage being built in a square for a national cinema festival which included live performances. We stopped to watch some rehearsals. We didn’t brave the crowd the night of the event, but we did walk to a smaller outdoor square in the Getsumani district for a movie viewing.
The following day we checked out the touristy part of Cartagena, Bocagrande, with its beach resorts, high-rise condos and hotels. The beach is narrow at first, but widens at Calle 4. There didn’t seem to be much wind which might have been OK for sitting still on the beach, or in an air-conditioned room, but made moving about rather unpleasant. Did we mention that Cartagena is really hot? At least the entire stretch has lots of beach cabanas (a shelter consisting of a tarp over a frame) for rent to keep you out of the sun – you just have to be prepared to be constantly badgered by touts. It is amazing the variety of things you can buy at the beach. Who needs to shop when the shopping comes to you?
Our last full day in the city, we visited the Castillo San Felipe de Barajas, the largest Spanish fort in the Americas. We paid our 14,000 pesos ($6) entry fee and we walked the entire fort, including the low-ceilinged interior tunnels where there were living quarters and offices. We got some great views over the city from the top of the hill and reveled in the all-too-brief moments of the sporadic breeze. Did we mention how hot Cartagena was??
Anxious to get to our little fishing village on the Caribbean, we found a door-to-door, AIRCONDITIONED bus service. Instead of getting a local bus (unairconditioned) to the station, then finding a bus (unairconditioned) to Santa Marta, then another local bus (unairconditioned) to Taganga, we booked two seats on MarSol bus line for 40,000 pesos (about the same price) which picked us up at our hotel and delivered us directly to Hotel Techos Azules (Blue Roofs) where we will spend the last of our travels relaxing, beaching, and diving. For some more pics of Cartagena check out the gallery.