Cartagena – beach break
With all that traveling and covering not so many kms over the hilly coffee corilleras of Colombia, we need break from the travel pace as we land in hot and humid Cartagena. Our first stop is an Airbnb to land for 2 nights and get our bearings / get organised. The local beach is close by, so the better part of the day in between is spend on the beach playing with the local kids and being amazed about the temperature of the water and the number of pelicans floating by all the time.
True relaxation however can only come from island life and bright blue seas, so we get up early 2 days later and pull an uber to the local harbor to get a fill of true Caribbean island life. Which of course start already with the chaos at the harbor trying to squeeze everybody and their mother on to the boats to go to the islands. Harbor fees are paid in cash, wristbands are handed out, and then you wait in the stifling morning sun…. and you wait…. and you wait…. And while plenty of boats come and go you wonder if you will ever by going? But then almost one hour in almost magically your name gets called and you forget all your irritation and happily hop on board – on to paradise!
We have opted for a small resort called El Hamaquero, to enjoy the local vibe and be on the not so touristy side of the island, which we got almost right. Turns out there is a hipster ‘dayclub’ next door, which means people come there during the day to enjoy loud music and drinking, but as of 4pm when the last boats leave it goes quiet again… very odd! As we arrive our room is not ready yet (there was some miscommunication, so there is a bunkbed being build as we speak), so we enjoy the view and wait for our bedroom with a sea view to put our stuff down. But with the ocean at your feet there is no need to get bored, so the boys put on their swimming gear and pick up a snorkeling set (including skippyball ‘buoy’) and head out for a few hours of fish gazing.
The small resort has plenty of things to offer, and with 3 nights ahead of us and no moon we decide to tackle the ‘bioluminescence’ tour the same day. The trip is a short walk to a canoe that takes us across several lakes and a lagoon to a corner of the lagoon where algae live that light up as you slowly move through the water. The trip in itself is already a great adventure in the dark, but jumping into the dark water and then seeing a wave of little lights around you when you move through it is really magical. We really can’t get enough of this ‘Tinkerbell’ experience, and the guide has a hard time getting us back in the canoe as we continue to splash around. The day was quite exhilirating and after a quick dinner it is time to go to bed.
The room we have is great, one floor up with a view of the ocean. The only downside to it is that it has no door towards the ocean… which is nice if you need some fresh air, but as we realize that night with the wind picking up and some rain finding its way to us not so great then! As we try to keep our stuff dry, Bo wakes up in the top bunkbed as he gets drops on his head as well, hahaha, quite the adventure. Thankfully these bursts of rain and wind are over very quickly as well, and we can all go back to sleep again.
Exploring the island
To be fair, there really is not that much to explore as the island has a very limited size, but the small town in the center of it is something we could visit so we went out for a stroll. An island with only trails, which means the police only passes you by on very old bicycles, and there are not that many things to watch out for as you walk. Closer to the town we hear loud music, and as we turn the corner we find a few dozen people hanging out around a pile of enormous speakers playing the loudest music you can think of (we have been to concerts, this was another level)! Yet they sit there as if nothing is really happening… must have lost their hearing a while ago? This seems to be the weekend entertainment, and everybody is either here, or at the other place 2 blocks down with a slightly different music genre.
We decide to opt out of the local fare today and walk by the back edges of the resorts (most traffic comes from the water) to find a place for lunch. We are intrigued by a submarine style door, which leads us to an empty backyard, but we are directed to a patio with some tables and yes, lunch is served. Lunch is quick as the boys are dying to get back to their new friends at the resort, two British boys who are traveling with their family as well, and so we head back and enjoy the rest of the afternoon in the ocean again.
Action day – Kayaking the islands
After another lazy morning we decide to get our muscles going and get one of the resort’s kayaks out on the water. There are a few smaller islands in the neighborhood and a sunken plane that attracts fish, so we head out and get our arms pumping. Being used to our inflatable kayak the start is a bit wobbly, but as we get the hang of it we have a really nice ride around the island. Arriving at the sunken plane is hilarious as we were worried we would not be able to find it, but it turns out to be easily found – just find the horde of cocktail selling locals on their kayaks :-).
We get our snorkel gear out and take a few stabs at the plane, but it is soon clear that better snorkeling is to be had around the rocks near to the plane. Hungry from the kayaking, swimming and snorkeling we head out to a lunch spot along the canal, where we all have a hamburger to fill us up. The kayakride back is a short one and the rest of the afternoon is again enjoyed in the water in front of the resort. The house cat, another new best friend, checks in once in a while and retires to its new found spot in our room as we all go to bed…
The next morning we still have plenty of time to relax as our boat back does not go until midday. As we are waiting for the boat we are informed that we will not be picked up because of rough seas, so we need to walk to the community pier. This means the luggage is tossed into a wheelbarrow and the strongest crew member pushes the wheelbarrow on the trails as we merrily make our way to the other side in a 15 minute walk – only on an island… The ride back is bumpier due to the weather, so mom is very happy to get off an hour later and enjoy steady land again.
Back to Cartagena – Downtown
In Cartagena we are staying in the old town this time, as we have booked 2 nights in the Getsemani neighborhood known for its street art and vibrant atmosphere. Having tried the local fare for a few weeks now we have however become intrigued by Colombia’s haute cuisine scene and decide to go to one of the best restaurants it has to offer – Carmen. Now normally we would not put our 2 kids through a 7-course dinner at the rates we have in the Western world, but here we decide to give it a go and see where we end up. Turns out they did really well and while Bo did not like everything we had put in front of us, he did try everything which is most important.
Luc really enjoyed the experience and took the whole food tasting thing very serious, while mom and dad were especially keen on the wine pairings ;-). All jokes aside, the restaurant serves an incredible array of local flavors that really give you a taste of all the ingredients that are found here, but served through techniques worthy of a Michelin star. It was a great way to introduce the boys to fine dining without breaking the bank, and while it was very long, they do look back at it as an extraordinary experience!
Old town & Getsemani tour
Walking off the wine is the plan for this day, and we tackle the old town through what is known as a ‘free tour’. It basically means you do not have to pay the guide that takes you around, but you decide what you felt the tour was worth, and pay that instead. We have had several of these by now and they have proven to be a great way to explore and get a summary of the local history. The tour of the Cartagena old town is no exception, and we immerse ourselves in the city’s history and its landmarks. Arturo the guide is a great entertainer, and we quickly learn about slavery, pirates and the Spanish rule.
The old town is a beautiful place, with alleyways and city walls, while there is a lot of tourist oriented development in nice restaurants and hotels as well. After the tour we zig zag through the streets again in search of a nice lunch stop, before rolling back to the really nice hostel we are in for a bit of downtime. As the tour was this good, we decided to take the late afternoon tour of our neighborhood as well so we take some time to unwind and give the legs a bit a breathing space.
The Getsemani tour starts at the park around the corner which to our surprise turns out to have little monkeys and a few sloths in it! Locals are more than happy to point them out which is quite a strange experience to us as we hope to see most animals in a natural habitat. From the park we head into the streets and alleys with all the art and artistic people, and learn about its history. The area is brimming with color and people, and is getting ready for another night of entertainment. We end the tour at the big square where we have some street food and head into the ‘cocktail alley’ for some drinks before it is time for bed. Cartagena is a truly beautiful city and we highly recommend anyone to go there and explore it!
Flight back to Bogota
The next day it is travel day again, with a flight back to Bogota. We have a late breakfast, laze around the hostel and say goodbye to our new British friends and turtle Juanita one last time, before we go to the airport of Cartagena. The flight is short and easy, and we get to Bogota at the end of the day and find our hotel close to the airport. A few blocks down is a great Asian restaurant we have sushi and noodles at and then call it quits with another big travel day ahead of us.
Next week: The Amazon jungle!