Cartagena, Colombia... be still my heart!
Updated: Sep 27, 2018
Go big, or go home! That was my brother-in-law's take in wishing to ring in his 30th birthday surrounded by his family and friends in his favorite destination - Cartagena, Colombia. Frankly, one does not typically consider Colombia a family destination, and when I heard we were vacationing in Cartagena (with a toddler!), I felt nervous and hesitant because of its dark, violent history. But the more I researched tourism in present-day Cartagena, the more at ease and excited I became to visit. Without a doubt, I had new notions to conceive about this fascinating city!
The last time I traveled internationally (excluding BC, Canada - it doesn't count because it's too close) was in 2015 for my delayed honeymoon to Europe, which got cancelled half-way through because I was sick with the early days of pregnancy... that's for another post. 😜 I'd been bit by the travel bug, but that itch hadn't been scratched (properly) for quite some time. I was ready for a new adventure, and to be honest, some countries I traveled that I, myself, would have never chosen to visit became my favorites, so I was optimistic Colombia could be added to that list. The furthest south I had ever been was Guatemala (one of those favorite countries!), so I was thrilled for the opportunity to step foot in South America. The cherry on top is that my husband and son are part Colombian, and I was eager to see them immerse themselves in their "homeland". With little expectation and a big sense of wanderlust, we were off on our first international trip as a family! (Successful travel with a toddler is also for another post. 😉)
Cartagena is a unique gem of a destination. The people are proud, warm and hospitable, eagerly welcoming travelers to their city. With the exception of a few boating excursions to tropical islands and staying in the hotel district of Bocagrande, we did not leave Old Town (the original walled city in downtown Cartagena) because there is no need! You can spend days leisurely wandering its narrow streets, getting lost in the charm of its colorful buildings, cascading flowers, horse-drawn carriages, and enticing aroma of indigenous food. Walking along the top of the city's fortress walls, however, you gain a different view of the modern Cartagena skyline, bustling city streets and the Caribbean Sea.
Cartagena is a foodie's dream destination. With fresh seafood and tropical fruit at the foundation, the local fare is influenced by an intoxicating mix of South American, Spanish, African, and Caribbean cuisines. Fruit stands are sprinkled throughout the streets, containing an array of the most heavenly fruit on Earth. My mother-in-law, who spent part of her childhood in Colombia, kindly gave us insight and instruction to the exotic fruit we were devouring. Of course, we could not pass the opportunity to snap a picture with Las Palenqueras (the women in colorful dresses expertly balancing bowls of tropical fruit on their heads), bathing suit hanging out and all. I enjoyed eating on this vacation more than any other, regardless of the fact we all got a food-borne illness that lasted longer than the trip!
Although we stayed in the hotel district with our parents, my brother-in-law teamed with everyone else on the trip to rent the coolest Airbnb in Old Town. Complete with two butlers servicing our every whim, two parrots (named Bruno and Tony - both family names!), four stories and a dipping pool in the center courtyard; this Spanish colonial home became our luxurious hub for the week.
Aside from the nuances of traveling with a toddler, our vacation was such a treat in that our schedule was perfectly planned by my brother-in-law and his friends, whom were well-versed in the city from earlier visits. The Airbnb butlers were also helpful in arranging reservations or even escorting us to destinations, making the trip effortless and thoroughly enjoyable. Cartagena goes from a relaxing, historic beach town by day to a lively, romantic city by night. Our trip had the perfect mix of venturing the Old Town, hopping tropical islands, and most importantly, making treasured memories with the family.
Furthermore, my in-laws were generous in periodically watching Lucca so David and I could enjoy a day in the city just the two of us (complete with a photoshoot in front of all the pretty doors!), and an evening of drinking and salsa dancing sans our third wheel. International travel with our toddler would not have been nearly as enjoyable without their support!
Just as I had hoped, Colombia has been added to my list of favorite countries. We scratched the surface of all there is to discover, and this beautiful country is as inviting as it is fascinating. So many cherished memories made in celebration of my brother-in-law's 30th birthday, and although we were fulfilling his wish of having family present, vacationing together was truly a gift for us all. Until next time, Cartagena!