Falling in love with Cartagena

“He allowed himself to be swayed by his conviction that human beings are not born once and for all on the day their mothers give birth to them, but that life obliges them over and over again to give birth to themselves.” 

– Gabriel Garcí­a Márquez, Love in the Time of Cholera

I fell in love with Cartagena. My introduction to South America, after an amazing two and a half months in Central America, did not disappoint.

Cartagena is such a beautiful, romantic city. You feel like you’re stepping inside the pages of Gabriel Garcia Márquez’s ‘Love in the Time of Cholera’ simply walking around the old town.

El Portal de los Dulces, on Plaza de los Coches, is an arched walkway lined with sweet vendors selling all sorts of delicious, sticky confectionery. It’s also famous for being the most likely location for El Portal de los Escribanos, the fictional place mentioned in Love in the Time of Cholera where Fermina Daza finally meets her suitor Florentino Ariza and heartbreakingly “instead of the commotion of love, she felt the abyss of disenchantment.”

I spent most of my time strolling around with my camera and taking it all in; the refreshing shade of the leafy Plaza de Bolivar, the striking architecture, cobbled squares lined with horse drawn carriages, the streets of brightly painted buildings, beautiful women selling fruit dressed in colourful flowing skirts.

And at night, they seriously know how to party! I stayed in Hostel Mamallena just across from Media Luna, another quite popular hostel, and the night I arrived there was a huge street party. People were flooding out of the bars, dancing, drinking rum and there was a live salsa band blaring latin beats into the early hours.  It was SO MUCH FUN. I also spotted some Colombian surgically enhanced bums, which are something of a phenomenon here!

Food wise, there are plenty of options, ranging from budget to blow-out. I (obviously) opted for budget, choosing to eat in some local eateries and take advantage of the great value ‘menu del dia’, which usually consists of soup, a main course (meat, rice, vegetables, salad) and a juice. I also grabbed a bite to eat from a street food vendor just up from the hostel, and tasted my first arepa – this is a Colombian delicacy, a cornmeal patty fried with butter and filled with cheese. Yum! They have them everywhere here and you can get various fillings like egg, chicken, meat, and lots more. The arepa I had in Cartegena is definitely up there on the list of the best in Colombia. Que rico!

Cartagena airport is about a ten/fifteen minute taxi ride away from Mamallena hostel (5000 COP) and an 8 bed dorm room in Mamallena’s hostel Cartagena costs 23,000 COP per night including breakfast of pancakes and coffee. 

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