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Explore Cartagena

Find out why this seaside destination is sizzling for honeymooners.

By: Sandra Ramani

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  • Cartagena

    Cartagena

    Cartagena: the name alone conjures images of far-off romance, balmy evenings, colonial charm and an infectious Latin beat. Set on the northern edge of South America, on the sparkling Caribbean Sea, this Colombian gem has been a favorite among the jet set for decades (tourism helped it stay calm through times of political uncertainty). Now a UNESCO World Heritage city and just a short direct flight from many major U.S. gateways (JetBlue offers regular direct service from several east coast cities), Cartagena is enchanting more North Americans with its walled Old Town, scenic beaches, relaxed vibe and — for those in the mood— lively nightlife. Pack your dancing shoes and see what all the buzz is about.

    Photo courtesy of Proexport Columbia

  • Where to Stay

    Where to Stay

    For easy access to attractions and nightlife, stay within the Old Town walls. Set in a former 17th-century convent, with 122 rooms spread over a classic and a modern wing, the Sofitel Santa Clara is a true hideaway, with a large outdoor pool, a spa with locally themed services (like emerald- and cocoa-infused massages) and a French-influenced restaurant with a wine room and gar- den seating (room rates start at $340 a night; sofitel.com).

    A short walk from lively Santo Domingo Square, the Ananda Hotel’s 23 boutique-chic suites are housed in a recently renovated colonial mansion; some rooms have balconies or terraces. Property gems include the tucked-away pool, freshly made complimentary breakfast and the Mediterranean-inspired Carmen restaurant (room rates start at $385 a night and include breakfast; anandacartagena.com).

    Photo courtesy of Sofitel Luxury Hotels

  • Where to Stay

    Where to Stay

    A posh guest room at the Sofitel Santa Clara.

    Photo courtesy of Sofitel Luxury Hotels

  • Where to Explore

    Where to Explore

    Officially known as Cartagena de Indías (and nicknamed La Heroíca, or the Heroic City), Cartagena’s Old Town is the main visitor area. Get the lay of the land with a horse-drawn carriage ride, then wander the cobblestoned streets lined with colonial architecture, art galleries, sites like the Clock Tower and the Palace of the Inquisition, as well as trendy boutiques. The Old Town and adjacent Getsemani neighborhood (which has a hipper, funkier vibe) are very easy to navigate, so within a couple of days, you’re sure to have found some favorite hangouts and made some local friends. A top activity is strolling on top of the city walls, on which you can buy a drink and enjoy views of the water on one side, and the brightly colored historic homes on the other.

    Photo courtesy of Proexport Columbia

  • Cartagena Culture

    Cartagena Culture

    Coffee culture is big here — after all, it’s Juan Valdez’s home — so pick up a bag of whole or freshly ground beans; there’s a Juan Valdez café and shop on the Plaza de la Universidad. Emeralds are another hometown specialty, and the streets of Old Town are full of shops selling both loose stones (to create your own pieces) and fine jewelry. Prices and quality vary, so be sure to shop around. 

    With all the galleries in town, art is also a top purchase, but if space is an issue, opt for more packable items like mochilas, colorful, hand-woven bags sold along the streets, in the markets and (in upscale versions) in the boutiques.

    Photo courtesy of Proexport Columbia

  • Where to Eat

    Where to Eat

    Getsemani is home to many of the city’s most popular eateries, including Demente, a recently opened tapas spot with a funky vibe (think mirrors depicting popular figures — from Gandhi to Salvador Dali to Lady Gaga — lining the walls), jammin’ soundtrack and affordable menu. Come early to snag a rocking chair on the terrace overlooking colorful Plaza de la Trinidad. A few streets away, Da Silvio Trattoria is a favorite for pizzas and pasta; there are two locations next to each other, choose the one with seating in the courtyard, around a giant, light-adorned tree. And local legend La Vitrola’s multi-piece band, menu of fresh seafood and potent cocktails make it a special-occasion favorite with the city’s chic set.

    Photo courtesy of Proexport Columbia

  • Beach Scene

    Beach Scene

    The sun is almost always shining here, so cool off with a day at the beach. A cab ride from the center, Bocagrande is a modern area full of wide swaths of sand, restaurants and discos. From the Cartagena marina you can catch public ferries (or have your hotel arrange a private boat) to some of the islands that ring the coast, including Rosario Island, San Bernardo and Baru. Most of these are less than 45 minutes away and offer spots to swim and sun, as well as changing facilities and cafés; note that the wind — and waves — around the islands can turn at a moment’s notice, though, making for some rough rides depending on the season.

    Photo courtesy of Proexport Columbia

  • Beach Scene

    Beach Scene

    If Caribbean Sea views are on your must-have honeymoon list, the 192-room Occidental Grand Cartagena, the only all-inclusive resort in town, is set on the beach and just outside of the Old Town. Guests enjoy nightly entertainment, several pools, a marina, activities like beach volleyball and complimentary shuttles to the town center (room rates start at $114 per person, per night and are all inclusive; occidentalhotels.com).

    Photo courtesy of Occidental Resorts

Explore Cartagena

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