RSS feed for this section


Pssssttttt….. Cartagena. Check it out.

It’s frustrating, Americans’ xenophobia. Seems like everyone’s so quick to dismiss anyplace with a whiff of the exotic yet a vacation in Cancun at an all-inclusive resort is still met with cheers of approval.

Take Cartagena, for example. I’ve been reading articles about the international jet set flocking to it for years, but it seems like the other 99% of the U.S.  population — the group I hang-out with — think “Colombia” is synonymous with “Pablo Escobar.” They are horrified that I went to Cartagena and look at me with suspicion when I mention that it’s a UNESCO World Heritage Site (“a what?”), home to five-star hotels, fusion restaurants and baroque mansions.


I don’t have the words to adequately describe Cartagena (but fortunately Gabriel Garcia Marquez does: Cartagena was likely the setting for his famous novel Love in the Time of Cholera). However, I took some decent Cartagena photos that hopefully will change the minds of those still dubious of the city’s charms.

It’s difficult to miss the imposing Castillo San Felipe de Barajas from atop the Old City’s walls. I left the confines of the walls only once, and that was to walk (20 minutes) to the fortress.

I did have a bit of a “walk toward the light” moment exploring it.

Castillo San Felipe de Barajas Doorway

Below, a view of the outside of the castle.

Castillo San Felipe de Barajas

Afternoon heat and humidity aside, Cartagena is best discovered and appreciated wandering aimlessly by foot. I was rewarded with colorful surprises at every turn.


And my favorite of my Cartagena photos… The El Che Tienda y Refresqueria definitely seemed like more bar than store. Located kitty-corner from my hotel, I passed it frequently, and at no time of day — mornings included — was it ever quiet. Music, shouting, and laughter poured from its doorway. I caught this character by pure luck and didn’t notice until after I was home and glancing through my Cartagena photos that my El Che guy is a ringer for and aged Che Guevara (“el Che”).

Che Guevara

Walking the ramparts is a must when visiting Cartagena, although I recommend doing so in the morning or at dusk, as the mid-day humidity and glaring sun can be unbearable. Dusk is preferable, as you can cap off your stroll with a cocktail at Cafe del Mar, which draws a sophisticated crowd of locals and tourists.

Cafe del Mar Cartagena

This shot is of the tony Charleston Santa Teresa Hotel in the heart of Centro. However, if price were no issue I would have stayed at the Sofitel’s Santa Clara, which I made my midday refuge, curling up beneath the palm trees in the open courtyard with the resident toucan and Gabriel Garcia Marquez on my iPad.

El Hotel Charleston Cartagena


HEY YOU! Liked this post? Follow esme travels on bloglovin’, receive posts by email, or subscribe to the RSS feed.

Read full story · Comments { 0 }


During my stay in Cartagena I limited myself almost exclusively to the historic old town. The walled city includes the neighborhoods La Matuna, Centro, San Diego, and Getsemani.

La Matuna is modern and both Centro and San Diego are home to swanky hotels, restaurants and shops. I love luxury and prefer to stay in a city’s upscale neighborhoods, but I’ve found that when it’s time to explore, these glossy areas often lack the personality of the grittier parts of town. And I’ve noticed that where photogenicity is concerned, the working class districts always steal the show from the scrubbed-up tourist spots. Cartagena’s Getsemani Neighborhood was no exception.


Getsemani, the oldest part of Cartagena, is receiving some attention of late for its transformation from a dangerous area to a bit of a still somewhat-undiscovered (I spied no other tourists there) gem. I found it to be the most interesting part of the city, as well as the most photogenic, for the colorful glimpses it gave me of real people going through their everyday life. This post features my favorite Getsemani photos interspersed with highlights from others’ impressions of the neighborhood.

BBCA renaissance behind Cartagena’s historic walls

But just south of [Cartagena’s] ancient walls lies Getsemani, Cartagena’s hippest neighbourhood and one of Latin America’s newest hotspots. Once a woebegone district characterised by criminal activity and crumbling architecture, Getsemani is undergoing a 21st-century renaissance. A new generation is invigorating the barrio (neighbourhood), reclaiming public plazas and renovating 200-year-old buildings into privately-owned boutique hotels and killer nightclubs.

Below: Getsemani graffiti

Pedro Romero Mural

New York TimesIn Cartagena, Colombia, the Once Dangerous Getsemaní District Comes Into Its Own

Five years ago, we couldn’t sit here like this,” said one of the women, Diana Herrera Ordosgoitia. “It was just too dangerous. Most of the houses were in very bad shape; there were a lot of drugs and prostitution. Now this is becoming part of the past.

Marcel Reyes Mural

Whether or not Getsemani is safe is a question posed on multiple travel websites.


We stayed in Getsemani and walked all around at night to/from the old city. As the others said, don’t advertize your jewelry or carry a wallet. Otherwise, it’s a fairly safe city. I didn’t feel uncomfortable once and we went all over.


The neighbourhood is same as anywhere… there’s good and bad areas… like all places in Colombia you have to use common sense and maintain your street smarts at all times.

I did not feel endangered walking around Getsemani alone in the day. I ventured into it only once at night (to eat at Gaucha), but I wouldn’t have done so had the restaurant not been located on the outskirts of the neighborhood.

Front doors to homes open directly onto the sidewalk, granting me an unsettling intimacy with their inhabitants. With only bars separating me from peoples’ living rooms, I could hear sounds of their television sets, smell the scents from their kitchen and see the photographs on their walls.

Girl in Doorway

The New York TimesLove and Cartagena

Among the city’s most authentic and coolest nightspots is Café Havana in the Getsemaní district, where photos of legendary Cuban singers line the walls and the raw rhythms fill the room and spill out the open grated windows into the dim streets.

Indeed, it is in Getsemaní, a vaguely seedy, working-class neighborhood just beyond the walls of the walled city, where the gritty, rum-soaked Cartagena that Mr. García Márquez first fell in love with can most easily be seen. It has resisted thus far the gentrification that has come to the walled city.

The author is referring to the renowned author Gabriel García Márquez, who has a house in Cartagena.

Dog in Balcony Cartagena

Cartagena was likely the setting Gabriel Garcia Marquez’s novel Love in the Time of Cholera.

Love in the Time of Cholera:

Along the rough cobbled streets that had served so well in surprise attacks and buccaneer landings, weeds hung from the balconies and opened cracks in the whitewashed walls of even the best-kept mansions, and the only signs of life at two o’clock in the afternoon were languid piano exercises played in the dim light of siesta.

And yes, I read the book.

Cartagena Haircut

Colombia ReportsCartagena’s Getsemani neighborhood, alive with new transformations and old charms

Traditionally a gritty, working class neighborhood, [Getsemani] was once recently burdened with a reputation for thieves, prostitutes, and drug dealers. Recently however, the neighborhood has undergone a resurgence, and such unsavory elements have been pushed to the fringes. What remains is the grittiness of the locals, and the faded grace of the neighborhood’s worn out pastel facades, which still exhude a dilapidated charm into the lives of travelers who wander through.

Getsemani Alley

New York Times: Colombian Gold in Cartagena

In contrast [to other parts of Cartagena], there is Getsemani, whose low, small houses for centuries served as the city’s slave quarters. Few affluent Colombians ever venture into this part of town except to visit its dance clubs. There are not many renovated houses or fancy hotels here, but Getsemani has the liveliest streetscape — most evenings it’s like one big block party.

As urban renewal continues and the houses in Getsemani are buffed up into vacation homes and charming inns, the streets of the old city will still very much belong to the descendants of the freed slaves. They are the participants in the chaotic carnival that is quotidian in the developing world, the creative begging, the variably talented performing and the microcommerce of the poor and unemployed: women selling mangos and lulu fruits from baskets balanced on their heads; men hawking individual cigarettes; boys carrying thermoses, offering shots of strong coffee; sidewalk musicians and mimes with their hands out; vendors shilling everything from underpants to auto parts. In this way, the streets are a ubiquitous repository of an Africa-influenced culture and beauty that is one of Cartagena’s greatest assets.

HEY YOU! Liked this post? Follow esme travels on bloglovin’, receive posts by email, or subscribe to the RSS feed.

Read full story · Comments { 0 }


I didn’t like Bogota. I often felt unsafe, the place never “resonated” with me (whereas I settled right in to Mexico City and Cartagena that trip) and I was the only dork in the entire city wearing sandals (Colombians are a well-dressed bunch). Were I a guy going it with friends instead of a solo female traveler I probably would have felt differently.

Bogota’s dramatic — I’ll give it that — and my visit wasn’t *all* bad: I enjoyed the La Candelaria neighborhood and my field trip to Zipaquira was surprisingly refreshing. What follows: my favorite Botoga photos and some vignettes on my experiences in the capitol city (and beyond).


I asked the concierge at the JW Marriott for a map of Bogota, which she provided. I discussed some sightseeing options with her and she drew bold, straight lines across the map.

“Do not cross here. And do not cross here,” she warned. La Candelaria is a charming neighborhood, but the nearby areas not so much…

Below: I happened upon the candy striped El Carmen Church in La Candelaria.

El Carmen Church La Candelaria

Getting to La Candelaria wasn’t a problem: the JW Marriott valet summoned an approved car service for me. Returning was another matter. I had to hail a taxi from the street (which you should NEVER do in Bogota) which is easier said than done. Most wouldn’t stop for me, and the first few that did refused to take me to my hotel — either they didn’t know what I was saying or the distance/fare was insufficient. I finally got a ride there without being hijacked, harmed or robbed.

There’s a metal detector at the entrance to the JW Marriott — which I’ve encountered in multiple other cities — but only in Bogota have I walked past muzzled rottweilers to enter my hotel.

Below: the interior of the El Carmen Church.

Bogota Cathedral

Although the JW Marriott is located in the upscale financial district, I felt uncomfortable venturing out at night to nearby restaurants. My understanding of Spanish is basic (at best) but it was good enough for me to understand an article in the local newspaper warning that purse-snatchers in the area had graduated to using machetes: it wasn’t clear to me if they were using the blades on arms, straps, or both.

I openly guffawed walking down a random street in La Candeleria and stumbling upon the sight below. Unfortunately I was unable to capture how the watermelon pattern extended not only across the street, but up the walls of the opposing house.

La Candelaria House


A walk uphill through La Candelaria, past the university students lined-up at the restaurant doorways, led me to the cable car at the base of Monserrate, the mountain dominating over Bogota. A church, restaurants, tourist shops and an incredible city panorama awaited me at the top of it.

Bogota from Monserrat

As well as all these albino marijuana plants! Kidding. I don’t know what type of plants these are on Monserrat, but I like their stark, graphic whiteness.

Colombia Plant


One of the reasons I chose Bogota as a destination was to see the Salt Cathedral, a Roman Catholic church built within the tunnels of an underground salt mine, in nearby Zipaquira (and there is one in Krakow that I hope to see one day as well).

The JW Marriott quoted me a ridiculous sum for car service to and from Zipaquira, so I checked-out how other travelers had managed to get there on Virtual Tourist. The prospect of riding a local bus through the Colombian countryside — visions of gangsters overtaking and plundering our vehicle — was daunting, but in the past when I’ve pushed the boundaries of my comfort zone I’ve found that my conjectures were overblown (if not downright wrong) and I almost always ended up deriving a certain satisfaction afterwards for having faced my fears and successfully navigated the system.

I actually enjoyed the bus ride, just passively watching the countryside roll by and observing Colombians in their own surroundings. I also liked the walk through Zipaquira to the cathedral for the glimpses into small-town Colombia life it afforded me. I didn’t know where I was going, but the locals would point me in the right direction, sometimes without my even having to ask them. Clearly I was another confused tourist.

Below: Inside the Salt Cathedral

Zipaquira Salt Cathedral Guy

The ticket office tried to make me join a cathedral tour, but I insisted on going it solo, a practice they allow (which would never happen in The States) but obviously don’t prefer. Exploring it on my own was a lot of fun: I could explore the nooks and crannies, walk at my own pace, and play around with taking photos.

Zipaquira Salt Cathedral Guy

The JW Marriott was unavailable the final night of my trip. After researching a ton I had booked a purple room (I like being able to pick my color) at what appeared to be a charming, boutique hotel, the Hotel Casa Deco in La Candelaria. I chickened-out just prior to my trip, canceled my room and opted instead for a boring but highly-rated chain property in Bogota, thinking a “name brand” would be the safer choice.

That night I took an Ambien and settled in with my iPad to read myself to sleep. Dozing off, I nearly jumped off the bed at what felt like a needle piercing the side of my back, right where my skin had been exposed. I was bleeding. Rushing into the bathroom and looking in the mirror I discovered three red, angry welts, in a row. Bed bug bites! Bitten while awake, in the light, at 11:00 at night (the little bastards typically only come-out in the dark between 4:00 and 6:00 a.m. when people are sleeping their heaviest)! Guess I should have stuck with my first choice, the Hotel Casa Deco.

So I was never attached by machete-wielding purse-snatchers or hijacked by desperadoes but I *was* viciously attacked by a bloodsucking bug and those damn bites itched the entire trip. I know I shouldn’t hold the incident against Bogota, but I do.

I didn’t like Bogota.

HEY YOU! Liked this post? Follow esme travels on bloglovin’, receive posts by email, or subscribe to the RSS feed.

Read full story · Comments { 0 }