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Day 13 – Cartagena

Being the last day of the year, it was quiet morning in Cartagena, but walk around the town and you will notice hotels setting up stages, restaurants putting up extra tables and shops stocking up on booze. Yes, it was gonna be a party night!

Cartagena is known as the tourist and party town of Colombia, which was evident from the number of non-locals in the city. Most tourists stay in either Centro for its colonial style architecture, or in Bocagrande for its beaches and beach-activities.

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Staying in Gestemani gives you the budget option as compared to the expensive Bocagrande or Centro, and neighborhood has a storied and complicated past. This burgeoning barrio, just outside the fabled walls of Cartagena’s historic Old City (Centro), was formerly a haven of prostitution and drugs. But this has changed and now Gestemani is the most invigorating and authentic area of the town.

The Spanish colonial architecture, graffiti art, food vendors, plazas, hotels and dance halls make this an ideal place to walk around and experience the true Cartagena.

Getsemani shares the Old Walled City of Cartagena’s bright Caribbean colors, narrow streets, and friendly locals. You can find beautiful graffiti by a slew of artists on every corner, chess games being played by the locals and cats!

Walk up to the yellow, 17th-century church in Plaza de Santisima Trinidad, and try the empanadas, fruits and buñuelo that the local merchants sell on food carts. Take a slow stroll down Calle de la Sierpe, peppered with bright graffiti, colorful stories on a canvas of well-worn buildings. It’s an open-air art gallery that’s perfect for photography.

Beautiful colonial-style homes line up the streets of Gestemani

Beautiful colonial-style homes line up the streets of Gestemani

Known as the tourist plaza, this ‘mall’ has all the expensive stores where tourists shop

Colorful graffiti on streets of Gestemani

Metallic sculptures on streets of Gestemani

Colorful graffiti on streets of Gestemani

Colorful graffiti on streets of Gestemani

Street decorated with air-filled plastic bags for the holidays

Old and now defunct Teatro Cartagena

Plaza de Santisima Trinidad

Inside the church at Plaza de Santisima Trinidad

We stopped at the Red moon Hostel’s cafeteria for lunch, before heading to Bocagrande.

Donde Pepina is where foodies and locals hang and is well-known for its Caribbean-Columbia specialties – sweet local peppers stuffed with meat, fish ceviche, beef empanadas, baked tomatoes, and shrimp in a hot sauce with avocado. Of course, no meal is complete without crisp, delicious plantains and traditional coconut rice.

Break bread at dimly lit brick-exposed Demente (which translates as “crazy”), a sexy tapas joint with a rotating menu of Spanish and Cartagenian ingredients. The rehabbed space was restored and equipped with a retractable roof for dining under the stars. It’s a perfect place to sip a mojito or a glass of chilled 20-year-old Dictador rum.


The modern, high-rises neighborhood of Cartagena is Bocagrande (Big Mouth) that has the bulk of the city’s tourist facilities, such as hotels, shops, restaurants, nightclubs and art galleries. Located between Cartagena Bay to the east and the Caribbean Sea to the west, Bocagrande includes the neighborhoods of El Laguito (The Little Lake) and Castillogrande (Big Castle).

Bocagrande has long beaches and commercial activity found along Avenida San Martín (Saint Martin Avenue). The beaches of Bocagrande, lying along the northern shore, are made of volcanic sand giving the muddy appearance to the water.

Blessed with an average temperature of 27C and 2,500 hours of brilliant Caribbean sunshine a year, pretty much every day is a good day to go to the beach in Cartagena.

With 19 km of beaches in the metropolitan area, and another 100 km of beaches heading north to Barranquilla and the 43-island archipelago called Islas del Rosario (40-minutes by boat), Bocagrande has plenty of options for those looking to catch some sea and sun.

If it’s the Caribbean beach idyll you are looking for then you will have to venture further afield to the Rosario Islands or for a more authentic Colombian beach experience try Manzanillo del Mar.

The hill and convent of La Popa: The highest point of Cartagena where you can see the whole city at its top a beautiful 16th century church is located.






After spending the afternoon at the beaches, we headed back to Centro for an early dinner at Alli Oli where they had prepared a special 3-course meal for the new years eve costing COP 90,000 per person:

  • Entres (all three)
    • Pulpo Flambeado (Octopus Flambé)
    • Camarones al ajillo (Shrimp Scampi)
    • Tabla Iberica (Iberica Table)
  • Main course (choice of one)
    • Cazuela de Pescado (Fish Casserole)
    • Pernil de Cerdo Glaseado (Glazed Pork Pernil)
  • Dessert
    • Bizcocho de manzana con crema de coco y chocolate (Apple cake with coconut cream and chocolate)

Drinks are not included in the price.

Camarones al ajillo (Shrimp Scampi)

Cazuela de Pescado (Fish Casserole)

Pernil de Cerdo Glaseado (Glazed Pork)

Pulpo Flambeado (Octopus Flambé)

Tabla Iberica (Iberica Table)

Bizcocho de manzana con crema de coco y chocolate (Apple cake with coconut cream and chocolate)


We headed back to airbnb residence for a quiet night, celebrating the new year’s eve with other guests at the residence over wine. According to most South American customs, locals celebrate the ringing of the new year with family and friends in their homes, rather than partying out. But after an early dinner, we headed out to the bridge next to our ‘home’ to see the fireworks over the Bocagrande bay.


Cartagena is truly the perfect walking city. Don’t follow any rigid itinerary and just stroll the delightful streets, which are home to local families and visitors.


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Note: All values in USD, unless otherwise mentioned, are approximate and based on the exchange rate of USD 1 = COP 2200 at the time of publishing. Each cost is for one adult.

What Cost Notes
Cartagena Airbnb $22.50 Per person, per night for a single bunk bed.
Lunch $5.22 COP 11,500 per person at Red Moon hostel cafe.
Taxi to Bocagrande $2.27 COP 5,000 per ride from Gestemani.
Alli Oli Dinner $47.72 COP 105,000 per person. Three-course meal plus drinks.
Water & snacks $4.54 COP 10,000 per person.
Total Costs $82.25 Per person
Overall Costs $2,283.64 Per person


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Caribbean city highlights & Centro.

Day 13


Bocagrande, Gestemani neighborhoods.

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Santa Marta

Gorgeous beach town and beaches.


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