Our two-month trip to South America has begun! We’ve been in Cartagena, Colombia now for about 3 days and are having a great time. Our first views of the city were at night, with the high rise apartment buildings, lights on the cathedrals and old walls of the city, and the reflection from the lights in the water. A beautiful sight!
It’s pretty in the daytime as well, although we are not staying in the old town, but in Boca Grande, which is the modern part of the city with the high-rise apartments and busy streets. The apartment we chose (Los Delfines) is okay, but we’ve found it to be very overpriced compared to other hotels we’ve seen here, and there’s a lot of noise at night from the roads, even though we’re 16 stories up. We’ll be moving to another place Monday, which we’ve already booked. If we were to do this again, we’d probably stay right in Old town – a much better atmosphere. There are some great hotels here that don’t really advertise on-line, but that you just have to come and see.
The main thing we haven’t liked about Cartagena is being constantly bombarded with people trying to sell us things as we walk along the street. “Hey Amigo!”, they say, as they hold out their rack of sunglasses, wooden pots, paintings, cigarettes, hats, or boat tour fliers. We find ourselves repeating “No, gracias!” about every 5 steps or so, and it gets really annoying, especially if they’re persistent, which is most of the time, so I often have to repeat myself or ignore them.
I’ve considered donning a sign that reads something like, “I don’t need any more stuff. My luggage consists of only one small backpack, and it’s already full. Please leave me alone.” But I think it would just be ignored anyway. I think when you have white skin, you just can’t help but look like a souvenir-hungry tourist in South America. Oh well.
As for the backpack, yes, we decided to pack very light for this trip. We each have one small backpack, and that’s it. No suitcases this time. We’ve really enjoyed traveling light so far. It sure makes airport checks and stairs very easy.
Here are some of the highlights of Cartagena so far.
- Castillo de San Felipe de Barajas.
This is more of a fort than a castle, built to keep out invaders such as pirates in the 1600’s. Complete with look-out towers and canons, they also have a maze of tunnels underneath, which you can explore to see the different traps they had to prevent intruders from overtaking it. I highly recommend hiring a tour guide, since there isn’t really anything to read or explain how things worked. Our guide was also great at keeping the kids interested through what otherwise might be boring for them. I think we paid about $15 for the guide. So far this has been the most interesting part of the city.
- Convento de la Popa. A former fort and now a museum with a lovely chapel and great views of the city. We also met a guy at the entrance who had a pet sloth which he let us hold (for about $1.75). The girls especially found the sloth much more interesting than the convent, but it’s one of the “must sees” in Cartagena.
- Gold Museum. In the historic center, there is a gold museum where they have lots of pre-colombian artifacts, including gold earrings, nose rings, animal figures, and other objects that have been found. It sounds like there is still a lot of gold found in the rivers in Colombia, as well as silver and emeralds. There are lots of jewelry stores here as well. The museum is free of charge, and we chose the optional guide for about $2.75.
- City Walls.
You can actually walk up on the walls of the old city, which is great to do in the evening when it’s cooler, and is a nice place to watch the sunset from, which we did tonight. The sunset wasn’t spectacular today, but it was a peaceful evening (except for the guy who starting giving us a “tour” but which I cut short when the girls started getting tired and hungry, and when he wouldn’t give me a straight answer about cost.)
- Wandering around the city. We also enjoyed the cathedral, modern art museum, naval museum, and a horse carriage ride around the city. But most of all, we just enjoyed exploring it on our own. We had some fresh fruit juice (it’s so nice to have passion fruit again! They don’t offer that many places in Costa Rica), and rested in the park for a while. While there, Emily spotted a large iguana in a tree, along with several monkeys and squirrels. We had fun watching them. We also saw a cool pirate ship that we got to go on, and some interesting street dancers. There are plenty of nice restaurants in town in as well, but only one real ice cream shop that we could find called Alegría.
Tomorrow is Emily’s birthday and we’re leaving the itinerary up to her, but we think that part of it is going to include the beach, which she’s been asking us about ever since we got here. Happy 7th birthday, Emily!!
Watch the video below. Click the pictures to see a larger image.