As the temperatures start to cool, New Yorkers looking for a warm escape might want to consider Cartagena. With its pristine waters, perfect weather year-round and thriving nightlife, the Colombian coastal city makes for an ideal destination during the fall and winter.
The old city of Cartagena de Indias is very walkable, with a 16th-century stone wall deemed a UNESCO World Heritage Site surrounding the cobblestone streets, colorful restaurants and boutique hotels. The Getsemani neighborhood just outside the wall is also a popular stop for lively bars and authentic restaurants.
WHERE TO GO
Start your exploration of Cartagena with a walking tour, perfect for soaking up the long, rich history of the old city. Next take a taxi (don’t forget to haggle) to the Convento de la Popa, perched atop a large hill and the highest point in Cartagena. Walk around the old convent and peek over the edge at the new part of the city below.
For a little mysticism, head out to El Totumo, a mud volcano that supposedly has healing powers. Climb to the top, take a dip in the thick mud, then try to wash it off in the nearby lagoon (good luck!).
If lounging on a beautiful beach is your thing, take a boat about an hour off the coast to one of the nearby islands (though Cartagena itself is on the water, the beaches aren’t the paradise you’d expect). Book a tour with one of the many companies that have beach access, including the Hotel San Pedro de Majagua or the more expensive Isla del Encanto. The tours come complete with lunch and a chair to soak up the hot Colombian sun.
WHERE TO EAT
Cartagena has many great authentic and trendy restaurants, but not many of them can boast a chef who has cooked at a three-Michelin-Star spot. Juan Felipe Camacho, who’s cooked at Spain’s Michelin-starred Arzak, helms Restaurante Donjuán (Calle Del Colegio # 34-60 Local 1). The food is simple but distinct, with hits of modernized Colombian fare. Try shrimp with lemon cream over vegetables and coconut rice (a Colombian staple), prawn risotto or ceviche with peppers and coconut milk.
At Vera (Calle Del Sargento Mayor N 6-21), a beautiful Italian restaurant inside the Tcherassi Hotel, sit poolside beneath a lit-up stone wall and impressive stone arches restored from a 250-year-old colonial mansion. On a recent trip, traditional dishes like penne Bolognese paired well with a peach salad with balsamic drizzle.
Take in the sunset with a drink at Café del Mar (Baluarte deSanto Domingo, El Centro), a bar atop the historic wall with stunning views of the ocean below.
For a sweet treat, cool off from Cartagena’s strong sun by grabbing a popsicle at La Paletteria (Calle de Ayos #03-86, Local 2). They are made with water, milk or yogurt and come in flavors like blackberry, Nutella, strawberries and cream, and passion fruit.
WHERE TO STAY
Cartagena’s old city is full of small, boutique hotels, including the Casa del Coliseo (Calle Del Coliseo #35-23), which has only 12 rooms. A small rooftop pool helps guests forget about the bustling city down below and free breakfast is served every morning at a long communal table in the bright, airy lounge area. For travelers wanting a less intimate option, there’s the Sofitel Legend Santa Clara Cartagena (Calle del Torno #39-29), which has more than 100 rooms. The hotel sits right on the wall and has a large outdoor pool.