Colonial Cartagena is on the northern coast of Colombia, neighbouring the Caribbean Coast.
Due to its location, the port town of Cartagena is popular for travelers to leave the Southern American continent and venture into Central America by way of sea through the San Blas Islands and arriving in Panama City.
At the core of the city is Cartagena’s old town, a Unesco World Heritage site. Hidden behind a historic stone wall bordering the entire perimeter of the town, protecting it from the chaos of modern Cartagena, lies a maze of cobbled alleys, colourful colonial architecture covered in bougainvillea vines, and churches that cast their shadows across plazas. The city’s romantic flare is further expressed by the silhouettes of embracing couples within the wall’s windows, amongst the setting sun.
Sightseeing slips off the agenda in Cartagena. Instead, days and nights were filled with endless strolling and wandering through the cobbled alleys, admiring gorgeous shops, cafe’s, restaurants and bars along the way.
We stayed at Casa de la Chicheria, a colonial boutique hotel in the heart of the old town. Hints of Moorish architecture are evident with high ceilings, horseshoe arches and plunge pools positioned under a bed of natural light.
When you’re done with endless wandering, there are many white sand beaches nearby to explore such as Santa Marta’s Playa Blanca. As we knew our voyage through the pristine waters and white sand beaches of the San Blas Islands awaited, we didn’t partake in any day trips to the surrounding beaches. Instead we visited some of the other surrounds, Tayrona National Park and Volcan de Lodo El Totumo (Mud Volcano!)
Tayrona National Park
Tayrona National Park is fairly remote. We were dropped off at the entrance and had to hike two hours through jungle, dirt tracks, soft sand, jump over mega ants and past yellow jungle snakes to finally arrive in Paradise – Cabo San Juan.
If you’ve got many bags, you can hire horses to carry the bags while you walk alongside them. Make sure you wear good hiking shoes!
We rented beach view hammocks for the night and slept under the stars. There is also the option of camping with beach views in tents but we preferred to do something we hadn’t done before. The campsite is surrounded by palm trees and mountains but it can get fairly crowded. There are other quieter camp sites, but these are further along the coast and some prohibit swimming due to dangerous conditions.
Hiking, swimming and snorkelling are some of the activities in Tayrona but be sure to bring a good book because this place is awesome for just relaxing.
El Totumo Mud Volcano
A popular tourist destination, well known for it’s healing mud bath, is a day trip from Cartagena.
I guess I was expecting a volcano so I was surprised when I saw a dirt mound in the middle of nowhere.
The mound itself raises at about 15 m and it is serviced by an accessible staircase that leads to the crater. There, you climb into a dense warm mud bath. And when I say dense, I mean really dense. You can tell by my face how surprised I was at the density as I lowered myself in. I sank into the mud up to my shoulders – I couldn’t sink any further. I tried. I performed the egg beater kicked and used my arms to pull me under deeper, but it was impossible. So I just let the mud hold me vertically. It was a strange feeling.
You have the option of receiving personal a massage from the attendants. We heard they charge you extra for the massage so we opted out. The experience is then followed by a bath to remove the mud in a nearby lagoon. Again there are ladies willing to wash you (and I’m sure they do a great job) but they charge for that as well so we cleansed ourselves.
It’s no surprise how mud makes your skin feel. The healing properties of mud have many health benefits:
- Anti-inflammatory properties – alleviates aches and muscle pains.
- Relaxes muscles and helps circulation
- Soothing effect on the skin, leaving a silky feel and glow.
- Good hair conditioner
Make sure you wear an old bikini for this adventure – one that you don’t care if it gets dirty or has mud residue – avoid WHITES!