Cartagena
Overview

A long ago party spot for raucous pirates, the first South American settlement of the Spanish colonists, the mystical setting of many a Gabriel Garcia Marquez novel, a vacation retreat for cartel drug lords - over the years, Cartagena de Indias, or Cartagena as it’s known, has been a lot of different things to a lot of disparate people - and now it tops 2017 lists of chicest holidays. Colombians realized the beauty of their Caribbean coastal jewel when the beau monde (Yoko Ono, Greta Garbo, Mick Jagger) started sniffing around. Politicians, artists and expats began pouring love and cash into restoring its traditional dwellings (many now worth upwards of $10M USD) and refurbishing its landmarks (the 1500s Castillo de San Felipe de Barajas, the church of San Pedro Claver and the Adolfo Mejia Theatre among them), gaining the city UNESCO World Heritage Status in 1984. It went through a brief cooling when a 2001 US travel advisory to the country was issued, but warnings lifted, Cartagena is now Colombia’s top tourist destination. This year, 300,000 foreigners are slated to visit, seduced by lovely weather year-round, a couple of direct JetBlue flights, the rumored opening of properties by Ritz-Carlton and Four Seasons, and more restaurants per square foot than the trendiest parts of London and NYC. Recent sightings run the gamut from Keanu Reeves and Clive Owen to Eva Longoria and Shakira to Prince Charles and Camilla. It is also home to the Cartagena International Film Festival and the Hay Festival Cartagena, a literary meeting of the minds frequented by authors like Julian Barnes and Jonathan Franzen. Despite the uptick in interest from abroad, the Caribbean’s most beautiful city still retains a quaint charisma, due to its cozy, walkable layout - narrow streets lined with a kaleidoscope of colored colonial homes, dignified plazas, and mom and pop shops (offering everything from coffee to ceviche to emeralds), all cocooned within a walled old town. Romance is an intrinsic part of Cartagena’s DNA, as aside from being the setting for the heartbreakingly passionate Love in the Time of Cholera, its where real life Mr. Darcy (AKA Colin Firth) fell for now wife Livia, and the site where former Vogue editor Lauren née Davis staged a lavish fairytale wedding to Andres Santo Domingo, as close to a Colombian prince as they come. Who knows what amorous adventures await you on your first trip?

There are loads of stylish accommodation options, from fashion designer owned Tcherassi Hotel + Spa to Andalusian-inspired Casa San Agustin. For a small city, Cartagena has a pulsing energy that comes alive at night. Outlying, graffiti-filled neighborhood Getsemaní is the place to see and be seen, and Demente, on lively Trinidad Square, is its most in-demand venue - think a historical house serving up fusion tapas and wine, complete with a bulldog mascot. Back in town, you can decide from a plethora of excellent dining choices, perhaps a sidewalk table at Juan del Mar, the actor’s eponymous restaurant known for its heavenly pizza, or La Vitrola, an old school establishment frequented by the creme de la creme of Colombian society, who flock here nightly for a taste of their lauded carpaccio, complete with Cuban house band. Finish your evening at Café Havana, a salsa spot where Hillary Clinton even let her hair down (figuratively, of course) on the dance floor. Although beaches can be found near town, the superior sands lie a short hour’s boat ride away in the Rosario Islands National Park, a coral reef archipelago mixed with private homes, small hotels, and uninhabited land that is a must day trip or even overnight sojourn for those looking for true R&R.

Cartagena allows you the kind of trip where you can pack light and stock up local style during your stay. Leave room in your bag for OndadeMar swimsuits, kaftans from concept store St. Dom and pieces from Silvia Tcheressi’s boutique, as well as home accessories found at Casa Chiqui. The bag to carry is a mochila, crafted by the native Wayuu Indians - but the fashion set will order a version by Muzungu Sisters ahead of time. For a sundowner at seaside Cafe del Mar, slip into a breezy The Great cotton maxi dress and keep the look cool and casual by adding a Figue Tuk Tuk clutch and Soludos slippers. The afternoons get muy calor, therefore we recommend sporting a shady hat, say from Helen Kaminski, with a simple tank and an airy Missoni wrap skirt, then ditch the headwear and switch to a Cedric Charlier fringe mini for after dark hours. You’ve managed to take South America’s most stylish city by storm - where to next?

Stay

Where to stay

Indulge

Indulge

DINING

Restaurant Erre de Ramón Freixa is an exclusive Spanish restaurant run by Spanish chef, Ramón Freixa. The Michelin star winning chef has created three different dining experiences in the Hotel Las Américas to the north of Cartagena, Colombia. La Vitrola is one of Cartagena's superior restaurant experiences at this A-list, Cuban eatery in the heart of the Old Town.  The ambiance is top notch with the place always filled with the most beautiful people and is still the “hot spot” after all these years – so make sure to book a table well in advance and put on your Joanna Ortiz dress for a fab night out on the town. The delish Peruvian spot Cuzco Cocina Peruana offers up beautiful and authentic décor complete with a live Cuban soundtrack. La Perla is famed for its tiraditos - thin strips of fresh tuna or sea bass cured intiger milk (Peruvian marinades with a Capiscum or yellow chilli kick) - La Perla has managed to stay one step ahead of the Andean pack by freshening up its menu at least once a year. Nestled in with other culinary favorites, El Bistro and Oh! Lâ Lâ, these contemporary Peruvian specialties have established themselves as one of the first stops for “foodie” dinners. Those lucky enough to have tasted one of the Aqua de Mar’s popular 15 different gin and tonics or the enticing tapas menu will appreciate why the owner moved from Spain to make her dream come true in Cartagena. Restaurante Club de Pesca is set up on Fort San Sebastian del Pastelillo, in front of Bocagrande's beautiful skyline with majestic views of Cartagena and top seafood dishes for six years.

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A great place for an oyster and rose lunch or a full romantic dinner overlooking the city away from the hustle and bustle of the Old Town. Make Carmen your first call after you solidify where you are laying your head at night as a table here is equally as important.  Occupying in Hotel Anandá, the owners (who are also a couple) have crafted an intelligent menu that fuses Asian cuisine with the freshest local ingredients prepared with an impressive array of contemporary culinary techniques. Owner Juan Felipe Camacho serves up his particular take on the new Basque gastronomic phenomenon at his understated restaurant Don Juan, which not only has gone on to become a staple amongst locals, but also the president of Cartagena himself loves to entertain his out of town guests here… so do like the politicos do! For those times you want to have a special meal (especially seafood), in special surrounds, with special service, Marea by Rausch is a top selection. The restaurant has a killer location (with the food to match) right beside the water of the Bahia de Animas with enviable views of the historic centre and the impressive San Pedro de Claver dome. It takes guts to name to your restaurant after Cartagena's favorite dish but its secret is simple. But La Cevichería offers a cute, casual setting with a creative menu that includes Colombian's finest ingredients at reasonable prices, wow globe-trotting gourmand Anthony Bourdain with your talents and, hey presto, you're a fixture on Cartagena's seafood scene.

NIGHTLIFE

La Movida is where the beautiful people go to shake it like a polaroid picture. Make sure to reserve a table for some amazing people watching… It also is coveniently located directly across from hot spot La Vitrola. Raising the bar for bars in Cartagena, El Barón has added a touch of nobility to the colonial splendour of Plaza San Pedro with its wonderfully crafted list of alcoholic concoctions. Setting a new standard for killer cocktails, this petite 1920's-style speakeasy has taken its mission to become the purveyor of the best cocktails in Cartagena. At Mister Babilla things start to get crazy at this colourful bar from midnight onwards when busloads of chicas come a-calling and locals arrive to get their wiggle on. Fragma is a club/discoteca located in the old walled city of Cartagena. It is near to Café del Mar, and upstairs from Restaurante Plaza Las Armas. They have 3 rooms that play 3 different selections of music; house/techno, reggaeton, vallenato (this is personally one of our faves where you can really get to hang with the locals). Since Cafe Havana opened its doors it has been luring a ritzy crowd off the beaten track with the joys of a live salsa band and seriously potent mojitos. Sitting pretty on the historic walls, Café del Mar, has been a landmark of Cartagena's nightlife scene for more than a decade. It's privileged position atop the Baluarte Santo Domingo allow for unbroken sea views and a refreshing breeze make Café del Mar the undisputed king of Cartagena sundowners and attract an international chic crowd.

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Explore

Explore

Walk through the old city during the day and take a horse and carriage by night, you will see two very different (but both magical) sides of the city. Visit Castillo de San Felipe de Barajas, a huge fortress dominating the town started in 1639, but was not completed for 150 years. Rent a boat and spend the day (or the night) at the gorgeous Rosario Islands, located south of the Bay of Cartagena, only one hour away by boat. Its crystal clear waters and multicolors are great for recreational diving and kinda makes you feel like you are in Bora Bora for the day. Unfortunately, Cartagena’s town does not have the best beaches but in you want to lay out at an upscale beach club Playa Blanca is your place. You can reach it overland or by boat and it’s a great way to fit some R&R into the trip!  Mud bath up your alley?!?! Going to El Volcan is an hour from the city and is basically a volcano, or mountain of mud. You climb up the hill and there’s this natural swimming pool of mud at the top, which you can float in and cover your whole body with…your skin will thank us later. Now for the real deal, the Mercado de Bazurto is a whirlwind adventure that takes you into the belly of Cartagena and gives a raw, no frills view of the locals who live there. The market is an odd mix of beautiful and ugly as you’ll likely find the most colorful, image-worthy fresh fruits being sold steps away from barefooted fishermen standing over tarps of freshly caught fish, as pelicans hover nearby. Mercado de Bazurto is for the culinary daredevils of the world to see where the local food really comes from! (Tip: get there early and wear closed toed shoes). Limonada de coco: don't leave the city without trying this Cartagena specialty: a frothy, icy blend of coconut water, lime juice, and sugar – the perfect refresher after a day of sightseeing. You can find the sweet-tangy concoction all over, but we like the versions in El Centro's wonderful Mila CafeLa Mulata and La Paletteria.

SHOP

Where to Shop

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There's nothing quite like Casa Chiqui, the best and most interesting interior design store in Cartagena's historic centre. The store is filled with treasures shipped half way across the world from Morocco, Mexico, Indonesia, Thailand, Vietnam, Bali and a few choice picks from Colombia including the only works of Jorge Lizarazo's design house, Hechizoo in Cartagena. Bettina Spitz's extremely colorful frocks are beautiful and very much what your chic Cartagena best friend would be wearing. Elegant one-pieces, stylish bikinis and head-turning accessories that range from chic hats to vibrant beach bags are turning heads on even the most packed of playas. Lucy has built an amazing reputation as the go to for the best emeralds set in sleek and creative designs that carry the kind of elegant price tags that will keep you coming back to Cartagena just to buy more.  Split across two levels, Glory Ang's space is divided into three spacious sections, unapologetically feminine and fabulous in their execution.Clothes wise, all designs are handmade and inspired by florals, flushes of pink, prairie girl fabrics and lady like cuts. St Dom is hands down the crème de la crème for any fashionista. They have a carefully curated collection of cutting edge Colombian designers whic makes shopping for your self and for luxury gifts in Cartagena all too easy. You will fall for the trendy concept store's collection of designer togs from the fashion labels and finest purveyors of Colombian haut couture currently setting the catwalks of Medellín and Bogotá. 

Shop the Destination

Alix Bennet off-the-shoulder stretch-jersey bodysuit $245.00
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Oscar Tiye Caroline Heel $680.00
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Solid & Striped Jennifer Ring Detail One Piece Swimsuit $168.00
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Ashley Pittman Muziki Chunky Link Bracelet, Multi
$495.00
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Dolce & Gabbana Printed cotton-gauze pareo $445.00
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Missoni Mare Striped One Piece Swimsuit
$695.00
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Lazul Tassled Triangle Printed Bikini Top $120.00
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Lazul Tasseled Side Tie Printed Bikini Bottom $120.00
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Aquazzura Tropicana suede sandals
$850.00
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Norma Kamali Mio one-shoulder studded swimsuit $525.00
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Ranjana Khan Raffia Hoop Earring $308.00
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Álvaro Anna pompom-embellished leather sandals
$322.00
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Ettika Pom Pom Choker $39.00
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Mara Hoffman Cutout Tie-Front Romper $195.00
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Kisuii Maia Lace Shift Dress $350.00
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Nannacay Margarida Woven Tote $325.00
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Cecilia Prado Daciana Triangle Bikini $218.00
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Gentle Monster Love Punch aviator-style gold-tone sunglasses $290.00
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Isolda Carmen Ruffled Wrap Skirt $640.00
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Adriana Degreas Ruffled silk crepe de chine maxi skirt $695.00
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DANNIJO Ipyana woven, oxidized silver-plated and Swarovski crystal earrings $295.00
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Self-Portrait Asymmetrical Ruffle Blouse $410.00
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Adriana Degreas Floral-print bikini $295.00
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