After our short stint in Miami, my boyfriend and I traveled to Cartagena last Sunday to enjoy some equatorial sun. One of Colombia’s most beautiful coastal cities, Cartagena had long been on my list of places to visit.

Yellow building in Cartagena old town

We arrived at our hotel, Casa El Carretero, at midnight. The three-room boutique hotel in Cartagena’s up-and-coming Getsemani district felt just like a private house. Luis, the staff member on duty when we arrived, took us on a tour of the hotel, including the amazing roof deck and pool. Afterwards he informed us that we were the only guests for the week, so in a sense it really was a private casa just for us.

Interior of Casa El Carretero in Cartagena

The next two days were spent exploring Cartagena’s old town. We woke up early and Alicia, the staff member on duty in the morning, cooked us traditional breakfasts, complete with delicious meat-and-cheese filled arepas and a cornucopia of fresh tropical fruit. The meals were great sustenance as we set out to explore the old walled city.

Candles in Casa El Carretero hotel in Cartagena

We spent our mornings walking through the narrow streets with their brightly colored buildings, climbing up the wall for views of the sea on one side and the city on the other, and visiting the Modern Art Museum, the Gold Museum, and the castle.

Colorful town square in Cartagena, Colombia

By the afternoon the equatorial heat had sapped our energy, so we spent time in the pool on the roof of our hotel and read the books and magazines that had been piling up for months on our to-read lists. It was great to have some time to do nothing but relax.

Roof deck of Casa El Carretero hotel in Cartagena

The evenings were filled with leisurely dinners at La Vitrola and La Cocina de Socorro, followed by drinks at Cafe del Mar, a bar on top of the city wall with great views over the sea.

Horse and carriage ride in Cartagena, Colombia

On the third day in Cartagena we headed out to the Islas del Rosario, a chain of islands off the coast. After an hour’s boat ride, we arrived at the islands, which are a protected national park. I was expecting pristine islets with no trace of human habitation, but was met with a hyper-developed archipelago brimming with resorts and illegal fishermen. Sigh.

Lounge chairs on the beach on an island in the Islas del Rosario in Colombia

At least the snorkeling was good. We saw all kinds of tropical fish, squid and huge crabs. There were schools of bright yellow fish, blackish purple fish, and tiny iridescent fish. There were over 200 different kinds of coral, some of which were sadly dead, but others that were bright orange and soothing mauve. We swam with the fishes for awhile, taking care to appropriately chastise our guide, who kept standing on the coral to teach a young girl how to snorkel. So sad.

Fish under water taken while snorkeling in the Islas del Rosario in Cartagena, Colombia

That evening we returned to Cartagena and discovered Casa de las Palmas, a little restaurant right by our hotel. It was filled with locals and decorated like an old Havana paladar. We loved it. The food was the best we had in Cartagena, and we were sad we didn’t have any more nights to return to try other dishes.

Colorful buildings in Cartagena old town

The next morning we were up early and off to the airport for the final leg of our journey and the wedding that prompted our entire trip: Bogota. Leaving behind the hot weather, the beautiful sea, and the colorful streets of Cartagena, we packed our bags and departed our casa with the hope of someday returning for more.

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