I just spent a week in Cartagena coinciding with New Years. It is the busiest time of the year in Cartagena, as it is the favourite place for Colombians to spend the holiday. It is becoming popular with foreigners, although it is still rare to come across European and North American Tourists in this beautifully preserved colonial city sitting on the Caribbean coast. Only those “in the know” are flocking to Cartagena, as it is fast becoming the “St Tropez” of Latin American Caribbean.
In terms of accomodation, there are wonderful fully restored and fully catered Villas in the historic centre; a myriad of small boutique hotels; and a staggering number of divine B&B’s with rooftop pools and miradors, impeccable service and delightful décor. Our favourite is definitely Agua, but there is Passion, Quadrifoglio, and the lovely hotels Santa Clara and Santa Teresa which I would recommend in an instant.
Cartagena’s New Years street party is amazing and quite unique. This lovely and lively coastal city really comes alive on New Years Eve when Cartagena literally becomes one single street party. All the plazas(of which there are many) are laid out for the party, each with a band, tables and chairs. In order to secure a place you of course have to book way in advance and it is not cheap. Some plaza parties provide food and drink while others require that you bring your own. The scene is filled with lots of merengue, vallenato and salsa; people of all ages; families with children…
What I really loved about Cartagena is that it is not “manicured” or too perfect. It still retains its authenticity and real local flavour. I would recommend to do what I did (well, I was particularly lucky to stay at my friends’ amazing newly restored home and had a week long house party) in order to enhance the Cartagena experience, and hire a historian who will take you around town and tell you the story of the city – which is fascinating. Cartagena was a metropolis in the 17th century as it was the collection and shipping point to Europe of all the gold, silver and treasure that came from Peru and Bolivia. And off the coast of Cartagena awaited pirates to intercept the galleons full of treasure. The entire city is walled in, and you can walk around on the wall at sunset, which is truly magic.
Marisol’s son on Cartagena’s wall at sunset
I would suggest adding a few days at the Islas del Rosario or Baru during a stay in Cartagena. These archipelagos of little islands have private villas that can be hired, as well as boutique hotels to spend a few days and relax. Agua Baru is again our favourite. Getting there is easy, it just takes a couple of hours by yacht which is easy to organise and not terribly expensive.
I would recommend Cartagena for visitors wanting to experience South America at its finest. A combination trip with Peru would be delightful, as it will provide relaxation, warm weather and beaches but keep you connected to the fascinating history of Pre Columbian and Colonial South America.
Apart from New Years Eve, during which Cartagena is packed but at its liveliest, any time of year is good to visit Cartagena and the islands, with the best weather being between December and May. April starts to get hotter and ranier, but it is still delightful.
Here are some links to recent press about Cartagena: