Why Go

Cartagena In A Nutshell

By: Allison DiLiegro

Are all of your friends coming home from vacation humming Shakira and swiveling their hips a little more than usual? They’re probably just back from Cartagena. The Colombian coastal city makes for an easy and enchanting weekend getaway—especially when you hop a non-stop from New York, Miami or Ft. Lauderdale. Here are five reasons you should go.

The architecture is like a step back in time.

The Spanish built walls around Cartagena in the 17th century to protect their Caribbean port from overzealous pirates. As the centuries passed, the walls guarded the city from overzealous developers, too. Now, the UNESCO-protected walled city has a time warp quality, its colonial façades painted like tropical fruit, their balconies overflowing with bougainvillea. 

The sightseeing obligations are easy to satisfy.

The Museo del Oro and Museo Histórico are worth a peek, but days are best spent strolling, ducking into centuries-old churches and chic boutiques, and stopping in a leafy square to watch horse-drawn carriages trot by. Set aside a day for a boat trip to the Rosario Islands, home to the area’s best beaches. One beach day is enough—the energy of the old city keeps you close. 

The restaurants are proper vacation restaurants.

You know: the type with seafood and lazy ceiling fans. An evening at La Vitrola (Calle Baloco #2-01; +57-5-660-07-11) feels like a time warp to 1950s Cuba. Donjuán serves grilled octopus and lobster risotto in a gorgeous, leafy dining room. La Cevicheria is the spot for bright, citrusy ceviche and fresh mojitos.

The evenings grow more magical the later it gets.

As night begins to fall, the sun sets the sky ablaze and music blows through the air. Grab a cold cerveza from a vendor and sit along the wall with the locals, then head back into town to watch the dancers perform in the Plaza de Bolivar. In another square, the city’s best cocktails are mixed at El Barón. Dinner gives way to dancing, as locals and visitors flock to the bohemian Getsemani neighborhood for live music and salsa dancing at Cafe Havana and Quiebra-Canto. 

Fabulous hotels beckon when your feet get tired from dancing.

The best properties are set in historic buildings, like the Hotel Casa San Agustín, an impeccably designed boutique hotel that surrounds a courtyard oasis. The Sofitel Legend Santa Clara is housed in a former convent with a pool that even a nun could envy. The sleek Tcherassi Hotel & Spa is all style, designed by Colombian designer Silvia Tcherassi. Best of all, the hotels are all in walking distance from everything. Or you can always have a horse-drawn carriage take you home.