For the past five years, I have spent my birthday in a new place. For thirty-two, since I knew I wanted to be relaxed and somewhere warm, I had my eye on the Caribbean. So I looked into cruises and found an MSC one that had the best itinerary I have seen on a cruise in a long time. Its first stop was Cartagena, Colombia, a place I have wanted to visit for years. Even though we didn’t have all that much time, we’d at least have a morning in Cartagena. It was enough time for me to fall in love and dream of heading back.
After two days at sea, we arrived in port as the sun was rising. Mistakenly, we woke up before our arrival and found ourselves up on deck in the pitch black of morning. We hadn’t realized the time change, so we laughed as we headed back to bed for another hour. The next time we headed upstairs was perfect timing as the sky was lit up from the rising sun. We were greeted by Cartagena’s skyscrapers.
It was a tough to figure out if we wanted to explore the islands, beaches, or the city, since we only had a few hours in port. Since I like to explore a place on my own, I knew I didn’t want to take an excursion, but beyond that I didn’t have plans. Eventually, we decided to head into the city and wander around. We also picked a nearby beach to hang out at in case we changed our minds.
From the cruise port, we took a taxi to Old City. The cab was twenty dollars, so we decided to split it with another couple to save some money. We got dropped off at Parque de la Marina and took off from there, starting along the city walls, which offered beautiful views of Cartagena, as well as the ocean.
From here, we just let the streets and sights lead our way. We had no idea where we were going or what we wanted to see and that was okay. We turned down streets that interested us, admired the colorful buildings, and popped into churches and shops. This is my favorite way to explore a new place.
We continued wandering until we found our way to Plaza Santo Domingo. Here, we just sat under the shade of a tree to take a break from the heat. After some water and rest, we made our way to nearby Las Bovedas. These shops were once dungeons, and although they were rather touristy, they were still fun to look around in.
Just as we were getting ready to leave and walk to the neighborhood of Getsamani, the skies opened up and it began to downpour. As we waited for it to clear up, I started to look up restaurants. All that walking around had us craving some authentic food and local beer. With no end in sight, we managed to catch the attention of a taxi. The streets were flooding, and although I had been looking forward to more walking, it was nice to be in the dry space of the cab.
We arrived at La Cocina de Pepina, unsure of what to expect. It was a small, simple space with the chalkboard full of choices in Spanish. We were given an English menu, but asked what the best dishes were. We decided to split two and get two different kinds of local beer.
We got camarones en salsa aquacate, which are shrimp in an avocado sauce, and boronía, mashed up eggplant served with plantains. The dishes were simple, but flavorful, and remained our favorite from the trip. We wanted to stay longer and come back for dinner, but we had a cruise to catch. Since the rain had cleared up a bit, we decided to wander a little more and check out the street art in the neighborhood.
I started to fall in love with Cartagena, as I fully expected myself to. With only a morning in the city, we didn’t have nearly enough time to get to know the Colombian city, but it was enough to get me wanting more. Hopefully, I will make my way back to Colombia one day soon to see more of Cartagena, as well as the rest of the country.
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