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.
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
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.
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.
The New York Times: Love 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.
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.
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.
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.