Celebrity City – Cartagena, Colombia

When you travel to Cartagena, Colombia you get more than just fabulous hotels, amazing restaurants, gorgeous architecture and living history. There are also chances for celebrity sightings as more and more actors, musicians and film crews discover Cartagena.

The Kathleen Turner and Michael Douglas romantic comedy “Romancing the Stone” was set in Cartagena. Though it was actually shot in Mexico, that hasn’t stopped the city’s emerald dealers–Colombian mines produce more than 70% of the worlds emeralds–from milking the perceived connection to Cartagena. One emerald shop in the city is even called Romance In the Stone. Get it?

Colombia emeralds Romancing the Stone cartagena

In 2013, Justin Bieber bought a $2 million 3,250 square feet mansion in Cartagena.

On a much, much cooler note, Mick Jagger, who’s been visiting Cartagena for years, is said to have a property in the city too.

Gabriel García Márquez house Cartagena Colombia

On an EVEN cooler note, writer and novelist Gabriel García Márquez, Colombia’s only Nobel laureate, kept a house in the historic center of Cartagena (pictured above) until he died in 2014, even though he was living mostly in Mexico. Cartagena inspired much of the novelist’s work, as did other locations in his home country. Find out how Colombia shaped it’s most celebrated literary son in this piece we did for Bio.com about Gabriel Garcia Márquez’s Colombia.

Javier Bardem bed Love in the Time of Cholera Casa Pombo Cartagena

If you book the main suite of apartment 201 at Casa Pombo, a chic and spacious apartment style hotel in one of the oldest buildings in the city, you can sleep in the bed (pictured above) used by actor Javier Bardem when he was in Cartagena filming “Love in the Time of Cholera” based on the novel by Gabriel García Márquez.

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Cartagena Travel Guide: 11 Great Eats in Colombia’s Sexiest City – Cartagena, Colombia

We arrived in sultry, steamy Cartagena at the end of our sail boat adventure through the San Blas Islands from Panama. After four days of travel on the boat, we were ready for solid ground and a solid meal and we got both. As the country’s most touristed city, Cartagena attracts some of the best chefs and top restaurants in Colombia. After more than a month spent eating our way through this amazing city, whose historic center has been a UNESCO World Heritage Site since 1984, we put together this Cartagena food guide including 11 restaurants to try (and one to avoid) so you can make the right choices about drinking and eating in Colombia’s sexiest city.

Cafe Cartagena

Cartagena, Colombia is bursting with restaurants and cafes.

Eating in Cartagena

With so much to chose from (and so much of it so good), eating in Cartagena is a major activity, not just an enjoyable necessity. Here’s our guide to the best things we put in our mouths.

La Cocina de Pepina is famous in Cartagena as the place to find creative interpretations of Caribbean dishes. Grab one of the six tables and order up vibrant sweet and sour corozo juice made from seasonal palm fruits, fish stew rich with coconut milk, refreshing ezcapacio (chunks of fresh tuna pickled with carrots and peppers) and more all served in a brightly painted space down an unassuming side street.

La Cocina de Pepina Restaurant Cartagena

Cut through the Caribbean heat in Cartagena with fresh juices and other tropical treats at Cocina de la Pepina.

Opened in 2013 in the bohemian Getsemani neighborhood, Demente is still one of the best bars in Cartagena. Originally serving tapas only, a new menu now includes tapas and larger plates including an octopus salad, fried fish and pork chops plus many of the most popular tapas offerings. Don’t miss the rich and nuanced ox-tail hamburger and plates of addictive fried and salted sweet green peppers accompanied by cocktails, aged rum, beer on tap and a small but well-sourced wine list. Real Cuban cigars are available too and you can relax in a stylish rocking chair and watch the smoke loft gently up through the retractable roof (one of only two in the city).

Demente - Cartagena, Colombia

At Demente you can pull up a rocking chair, order some food and get a cocktail served with hand made ice cubes. Did we mention the Cuban cigars for sale?

Though the historic center of Cartagena is jammed with ice cream and paletta (Spanish for popsicle) shops, La Paletteria stands out thanks to hand-craftsmanship with the freshest all-natural ingredients from fruits to nuts to chocolate. Don’t miss out on having your paletta dipped in chocolate before you dig in.

La Paletteria Cartagena

There are no wrong choices at La Paletteria.

Ceviche and other forms of raw fish are a staple of many menus in Cartagena. We had the best tiraditos (thin strips of raw fish, like a Latin take on sashimi) at La Perla.

Tiradito La Perla restaurant Cartagena

Ceviche is great, but the tiraditos at La Perla was our favorite way to eat raw fish in Cartagena.

Di Silvio Trattoria in the Getsemani neighborhood is well known for its pizzas though a full Italian menu is also offered. Over the years the restaurant has sprawled to include three adjoining locations. The roofless, crumbling, peeling façade of a gutted historic building serves as an outdoor dining room and it’s one of the most atmospheric al fresco dining locations in town. And the pizza is pretty good too.

It is widely said that Gregorio Herrera is the best maître d’ in Cartagena and he is securely at the helm of La Vitrola. Opened in 1994, La Vitrola has cultivated a gravitas beyond its ten years with an extensive menu (jerk chicken, rib eye, ravioli, ample seafood options and more) and skilled wait staff. There’s a live Cuban band most nights set up in front of La Vitrola’s inviting long bar. Reservations are a must and there’s a city casual dress code.

Cuban band La Vitrola restaurant - Cartagena, Colombia

La Vitrola easily channels an old school Cuban vibe and that’s a good thing.

Best on a budget

Even after a recent price hike, La Mulata is serving up the best value lunch in Cartagena in a stylish setting to boot. Local workers and tourists looking for an affordable meal fill the place for seafood, pork, beef and chicken dishes served up with Caribbean style and sass. All meals are prefaced with a soup (for around 15,000 COP or US$6) and should be washed down with one of La Mulata’s three varieties of ice cold, homemade lemonade. Ask for their frequent diner card. You will be back and you might as well eat your way toward a free lunch.

La Mulata restaurant Cartagena, Colombia

The city’s best value lunch can be had at La Mulata.

Even cheaper (and less inspired) is Totopo where 10,000 COP (about US$4) gets you a passable set meal. In Getsemani, Corocoran serves up set meals for 6,500 COP (about US $2.50) and draws a massive crowd. Be prepared to wait for a table, though the harried waitresses seem to take pity on foreigners.

Worthy splurge

Opened in 2014 in a narrow, five level townhouse style building, Frank & Frank delivers a distinct speakeasy feel from the discreet doorway to the parquet floor, chandeliers, leather banquettes, intimate lighting and masculine colors and materials. If you were seated next to F. Scott Fitzgerald you would not be surprised. You also wouldn’t notice once the food arrived. The signature grilled octopus appetizer, marinated in miso and white wine, was nuanced and beyond tender. The rack of lamb with mint and star anise was bright and decadent. And just say yes to the cheesecake dessert topped with smoky, sweet eggplant. It works.

Frank & Frank Restaurant - Cartagena, Colombia

Frank & Frank, splurgy but worth it.

New

At the end of 2014, Colombian celebrity chef Harry Sasson debuted his sixth restaurant and the first one outside of Bogota with the opening of the 200 seat Harry’s Restaurant & Bar inside the landmark Charleston Santa Teresa Hotel. The menu is seafood heavy to take advantage of the local bounty and the bar has a fabulous view.

Harry Sasson - Cartagena, Colombia

Chef Harry Sasson on the site of his new restaurant in Cartagena in the days leading up to its opening.

Avoid

You will be told that you must have sunset drinks at Cafe del Mar, a bar that’s located on the wall that encircles the historic center of Cartagena. You don’t. Prices are sky-high, it’ll be packed, service is poor and the ambiance is lack luster. Instead, buy a cold beer from one of the many vendors who walk around the wall with coolers, claim a seat on the stone and coral wall (built by Spanish conquistadors to keep marauding pirates at bay) and enjoy.

street food Cartagena, Colombia

When in doubt, eat on the street.

Get even more Cartagena eating options in this piece we did for TheLatinKitchen.com about foodcrawling in Cartagena

To get the full Cartagena Travel Guide, check out our top hotels in Cartagena and our top things to do and see in Cartagena.

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Cartagena Travel Guide: 6 Top Hotels in Colombia’s Sexiest City – Cartagena, Colombia

We didn’t know it at the time, but our very first destination in Colombia turned out to be Colombia’s sexiest city. Cartagena has drawn us back again and again with its languid Caribbean vibe, intense history and gorgeous restored Colonial architecture in a sprawling historic center which has been a UNESCO World Heritage Site since 1984. Cartagena is also home to most of the best hotels in Colombia, from budget to boutique. All that choice can be overwhelming, but we’re here to help. After spending more than a month exploring Cartagena we’ve put together this hotel guide so you can make the right choices about sleeping in Colombia’s sexiest city.

Plaza-de-la-Aduana-Cartagena

Restored Colonial architecture like this is part of the reason Cartagena, Colombia was made a UNESCO World Heritage Site.

Hotels in Cartagena

Here are our stand-out stays after spending more than a month in Cartagena.

Cartagena is full of hotels crafted in the renovated remains of very, very old buildings. Casa Pestagua, in a mansion built in the 17th century, is not the fanciest or slickest of them but it is the most authentic, full of antiques, elaborate frescoes and original carved wooden ceilings. There are only eleven guest rooms, all of which are set around a double interior courtyard and garden with a reflecting fountain, a recently renovated al fresco restaurant, an outdoor bar, small spa and a large swimming pool shaded by a massive mango tree. The free 15 minute foot massage is a brilliant touch in a city that requires so much walking on cobblestones.

Casa Pestagua Hotel - Cartagena, Colombia

One of the antique-filled rooms at spacious, serene and authentic Hotel Casa Pestagua in Cartagena, Colombia.

We have never felt as welcome as we did when we checked into Hotel LM thanks to a flawlessly hospitable staff (Spanish only) and a private home feeling. Room #2 is the winner with a small patio that is the perfect photographic vantage point for capturing Cartagena’s famous Colonial architecture spooling out along the street below.

IMG_6056_Cartagena

The view of gorgeous Colonial architecture from the balcony of room #2 at Hotel LM in Cartagena, Colombia.

Though the decor was not our style (a bit like a prom dress exploded in every room), we did appreciate the lovely daily breakfast and the dehumidifiers in each room. And the suite at Tcherassi Hotel & Spa, created by Colombian fashion designer Silvia Tcherassi, is a stunner with multiple levels of space, private patios and even a private plunge pool. In the works now is a brand new project around the corner from the hotel which will add 42 rooms, two restaurants and a boutique. Those additional elements are currently set to open in 2016.

Tcherassi Hotel & Spa - Cartagena, Colombia

The decor at Tcherassi Hotel & Spa in Cartagena wasn’t our style but the hotel has much else to recommend it.

No hotel in Cartagena does a better job of combining architectural heritage with modern design than Casa Pombo. Five incredibly large, thoroughly sleek and modern apartments have been accommodated within the walls of one of the oldest buildings in Cartagena. Parts of the foundation date back to 1533 and teams of restorers spent months carefully revealing and preserving original frescoes and other treasures. There’s no sign for Casa Pombo and the atmosphere is private and casual, like being at home only much, much swankier. The entry way features one of the most breathtaking decorative lobby pools we’ve ever seen.

Casa Pombo - Cartagena, Colombia

Casa Pombo in Cartagena, Colombia where foundations that date back to 1533 meet sleek, modern design.

Best on a budget

Hotel Villa Colonial in the Getsemani neighborhood of Cartagena (not to be confused with its nearby, slightly pricier sister the Casa Villa Colonial) does not have dorm rooms but its prices for clean, comfortable private rooms (doubles or  triples) with A/C are the same or even cheaper than area hostels and there’s a kitchen for guest use. The helpful host, Martha, has a delightful “Glenda the Good Witch” personality and optimism that’s free of charge.

Plaza trinidad -  Getsemani Cartagena, Colombia

Plaza Trinidad is the heart and soul of the Getsemani neighborhood of Cartagena and just a few steps away from Hotel Villa Colonial, a true budget find.

Worthy splurge

Hotel Casa San Agustin opened in 2012 after a 15 month renovation which turned 14 luxury apartments in three adjoining 17th Century buildings into one stunning boutique hotel. Frette sheets, remarkably fast Wi-Fi, iPads, gourmet mini-bars, lovingly restored architecture (including original frescoes and tiles and remnants of a 400 year old aqueduct that now forms part of the hotel’s commanding ground floor pool), elegant furnishings, marble bathrooms that redefine the word spacious, fresh-cut flowers, streaming sunlight, impeccable staff…you get the picture. Since you’re splurging anyway, go for one of the premium rooms which have private jetted plunge pools on spacious private patios.

Room - Hotel Casa San Agustin - Cartagena, Colombia

The lap of luxury in a guest room at Hotel Casa San Agustin in Cartagena.

Pool - Hotel Casa San Agustin - Cartagena, Colombia

The commanding pool, built around massive original walls, at Hotel Casa San Agustin in Cartagena.

New

There are solid rumors that a Four Seasons will be opening in Cartagena soon…

Avoid

We had high hopes for a recently opened hostel called The Roof. Then we checked in and got locked inside the hostel when the staff mysteriously disappeared leaving us stranded and discovered that the shared bathroom was pretty much always out of toilet paper and often occupied by a staff member who liked to bring his tablet in which him…

Cartagena, Colombia

Beauty is everywhere you look in the historic center of Cartagena.

To get the full Cartagena Travel Guide, check out our top places to eat and drink in Cartagena and our top things to do and see in Cartagena.

For clued-in, up-to-the-minute information about hotels, restaurants, bars, clubs and events in Cartagena, check out Ti Cartagena.

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Photo Essay: Sunsets and Landscapes of the Galapagos – Galapagos Islands, Ecuador

When people travel to the Galapagos Islands in Ecuador they assume they’re going to get great photos of wildlife–we took thousands of them (which we kindly edited down to this 21 shot selection of gorgeous Galapagos animals). But even when there are no critters in sight, the epic daily sunsets (and sunrises) and the only-in-the-Galapagos landscapes will keep your camera busy. Proof: our favorite sunsets and landscapes of the Galapagos Islands.

Wolf Island, Galapagos Islands

Wolf Island, at the most northerly end of the Galapagos archipelago, is rarely visited except by dive boats.

Pinnacle Rock Bartolome Island, Galapagos Islands

Pinnacle Rock juts up from mostly barren Bartolome Island.

Bartolome & Santiago Island, Galapagos Islands

See a larger version of this panoramic shot of Bartolome Island

Dragon Hill, Santa Cruz Island, Galapagos Island

Dragon Hill on Santa Cruz Island is home to a large population of land iguanas.

South Plaza Island, Galapagos Islands

Spring time color in foliage just off the beach on South Plaza Island is in deep contrast with the starkly blue water.

Darwin's Lake, Tagus Cove, Isabella, Galapagos Island

Darwin’s Lake, in this dormant crater on Isabella Island above Tagus Cove, provides life-giving water and breath-taking views.

Galapagos sunset

We spent 24 nights in the Galapagos Islands and pretty much every single one of them ended like this.

Darwin Arch & Darwin Island, Galapagos Islands

At the far northern end of the Galapagos archipelago lies Darwin Island and Darwin Arch and some of the best scuba diving in the world.

Port Egas Santiago Island, Galapagos Islands

Port Egas on Santiago Island offers a sandy arch of beach and dramatic volcanic rock formations and is favored by sunning sea lions.

Ecuador Volcano Punta Vicente Roca, Galapagos Island

The Punta Vicente Roca Volcano on Isabela Island is one of our favorite destinations in the Galapagos, providing dramatic topside scenery and some of the best snorkeling we’ve ever done in the bay at its base.

Galapagos light

Good morning, Galapagos.

Galapagos beach

A beach is never just a beach in the Galapagos Islands. This one offers creamy sand, jagged lava and lapping waves.

Punta Vicente Roca, Galapagos Islands

A wave of lava, from the volcanic eruption which formed Isabela Island, sweeps down to the sea near Punta Vicente Roca.

Rabida-Island-Galapagos

Rábida Island’s red sand beach and scrub cover are begin rid of invasive goats so that natural vegetation and endemic species can return.

Los Gemalos, Santa Cruz Island, Galapagos Islands

There are lush parts of the Galapagos Islands as well, including the Los Gemalos twin craters in the highlands of Santa Cruz Island.

Galapagos islands color

Galapagos color, all natural and unfiltered.

Galapagos sunset

Good night, Galapagos.

Check out the epic animals of the Galapagos

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