Arriving in Cartagena it was obvious we were going to struggle with the temperature. It was 33 degrees and extremely humid. Thankfully we had a few days here to relax and unwind – nothing too stressful planned.
Our hotel was just outside the old town and in the popular Getsemani neighbourhood. In our first foray into the old town we didn’t last more than an hour half walking around and seeing the colonial buildings due to the heat and humidity. We retreated back to the hotel and the air conditioning.
In the evening we found a local restaurant and then headed to the popular Cafe Havana. We arrived early when it was quiet but it soon got busy, packed in fact. Local musicians came in and played and it turned out we had the best seats in the house at the bar. After a few too many drinks we stumbled out and back to the hotel.
The following day we took the city sightseeing bus. It took about an hour half to go round the city and you could hop on and off as often as you liked. We got off first at the Castillo San Felipe de Barajas. A fortress built by the Spanish in the 16th century.
It was an imposing structure which dominated the area. After getting tickets we entered and wandered around in the heat. The fort is mainly outside and offers views of the city. Several original canons stood on the fort and an enormous Colombian flag. We explored in some of tunnels that they use to keep ammunitions in and discovered they were quite a maze.
After an hour we boarded the bus and continued the tour. We took it around the old town and down the spot where the beaches and high rise buildings and hotels were. This area was the modern Cartagena and where most people stayed when visitings. The. Reached were busy in the heat and we continued the tour around the spit of land, past the naval base and back towards the old town.
We got off at what we thought was another fort but turned out to be a glorified Marina car park. Walking around we found something to eat and then as the hotel wasn’t far, walked back.
The Getsemani area was packed full at night. In front of the church people gathered and danced to loud music copying dance moves from various people up on the steps. A group of guys danced and did break dancing/gymnastics on the street and after people sang with their guitars and busking for money. The area was buzzing with life and people sat in the bars and cafes or getting food from the street vendors. We enjoyed some pizza and beers and the atmosphere.
We planned to go the beach the following day but grey clouds and torrential rain put a dampener on that. The rain cleared up and about 4pm we took a free walking tour of the old city. The guide explained the old buildings and their uses and some history about the Spanish and the various groups who attacked and conquered the city. Including Sir Francis Drake who became enraged at being called a pirate and destroyed several buildings containing books which referenced him as such.
The following day the weather wasn’t sunny but it was hot and we decided to try the beaches. We took the hop on off bus and got off first for some lunch. We found a part of the beach we liked and rented some loungers and umbrella. Sellers roamed the beach trying to flog various items so we were never left alone. Not very relaxing. Several women approached wanting to give us massages. We politely declined but they wouldn’t take no for an answer. They called it a promotion but spoke no English and began massaging our feet and then arms. Before we knew it we each had 3 people massaging us. They slopped oil all over us front and back and after 10 minutes claimed they were finished and demanded an inordinately large amount of money. What we had feared. We argued and paid what we thought with them shouting at us for more. In the end we had to threaten them with the police and had to leave our beach spot. A shame and not a nice way to finish our last day in South America.
In the evening we made up for it by finding a nice restaurant and some pasta and wine. Despite the massage experience Cartagena had been a relaxing break. Next stop was Panama 🇵🇦.