Monday, November 20, 2017

48 hours in Cartagena

Tiny Pirate CartagenaOn the top central coast of Colombia, Cartagena’s historical and political heritage is undeniable. Founded in 1533 by Spanish commander Pedro de Heredia, the city quickly established itself as the leading trade and governmental seat of the Conquistadors in the New World. Gold tombs and Indian reserves were immediately pillaged by the invaders, and the city soon became a huge bank vault for the precious jewels, silver and bullion that the Spanish were ripping from the heart of Colombia and neighbouring Peru, and shipping back to Europe. Seven miles of fortified walls- the largest in Latin America- were built to defend against the many Pirates, English Privateers and a host of nefarious characters who frequently tried to ransack the plundered wealth stored within the imposing fort.


Governed largely by the Spanish, they have left their fingerprints firmly in the aesthetics of Cartagena’s architecture. The stunning city was granted World Heritage Site status by UNESCO in 1984 and remains one of the most authentic and well maintained Spanish period colonies in the world. The French, Dutch and British also invaded and ruled over brief periods of time, and Cartagena became one of only two slave trading ports in the Americas- the other one being in Mexico. Such a mixture of influencing cultures through incredibly tumultuous times has therefore given Cartagena a unique and special identity; part African, a tot of Pirate, a dash European, significantly Caribbean, a smidgen of Native Indian but one hundred per cent Colombian, with all the colour, passion and vibrancy that runs through the veins of the country. Music, aromas and pulsating rhythms will greet you are every corner of the city.

Such is still the importance of Cartagena’s opulent past, that a row has broken out over the recently discovered sunken galleon- the San Jose- who has lain beneath the sea off Cartagena for the last three centuries. The vessel, laden with what is now valued at billions of dollars worth of treasure, was discovered by the Colombian Ministry of Culture and Navy, and the Spanish government has issued a statement laying claim to the find. It’s akin to a burglar bizarrely demanding the homeowner return their stolen loot to them, yet a timely reminder of Cartagena’s unsettled and disputed past.

A truly exceptional place to visit, 48 hours is just enough to give you a taste of the wide- ranging pleasures you can experience. Buckle up in your best Pirate garb and come join me on a swashbuckling adventure…


Tiny Pirate Cartagena

Sunset at Café del Mar

For over a decade this chilled and iconic bar has provided visitors with an uninterrupted view of the glorious blood-red sunsets that are bestowed on the city. Located on the Westernmost point of the fortified walls, sunset drinks from 5.30 onwards will kick start your weekend off in the style it should be - an exciting, colourful and dramatic manner. Ambient DJs provide the perfect soundtrack as you sip skilfully mixed cocktails, and lead on to hotter sounds as the tropical night draws in. A full menu is available for those hankering after any pre dinner nibbles, otherwise grab a daybed and lounge over the sundowners whilst catching a few kiteboarders showing off their skills in the Caribbean sea.

ADDRESS: Centro, Baluarte Santo Domingo, Cartagena.

TELEPHONE: +57 5664 2945


Tiny Pirate Cartagena

Rum tasting & dinner at Agua de Mar

Absolutely no visit to such a Buccaneer- infused city can be truly complete without a lesson in the art of tasting their liquid of choice. Agua de Mar is a gourmet tapas restaurant with a dash of Colombian flair, where they also run one of the best cocktail bars in town. The pre-dinner tasting seduced us with the history of rums- the product of raw sugar cane alcohol that slaves used to hide in the barrels of the ships they were incarcerated in. The quality of each rum depends on the cask, and how many times the sugar cane is strained- the containers giving the rum it’s rich dark colour. Even if you are not a fan of the pirate’s favourite drink, this experience should not be missed, as the restaurant is an eye catching beauty and retains a great ambience. In any event, the liquors proved to be extremely palatable and the history sublime. Dinner afterwards was a revelation of delectable flavours and textures; the salmon with Hendricks gin and tonic ice cream was one of many highlights, in addition to the coconut pacific lobster, Toro Bravo (melt-in-the-mouth slow cooked beef), and truffle oil mash.

ADDRESS: Calle del Santísimo No 8-15 Cartagena

TELEPHONE: +57 5664 5798


Tiny Pirate Cartagena 

Post dinner drinks at Demente, Getsemaní

Getsemaní, a short cab ride away or less than a leisurely fifteen minute walk from the centre of the walled city, is a newly gentrified area in Cartagena. Originally the home for freed slaves, merchants, tradesmen and those who fought- and won- against the Spanish to gain independence in 1821, this charming neighbourhood retains the small town appeal of somewhere that is still a little secret. Mostly inhabited by bohemian artists, writers, musicians and other imaginative locals, the neighbourhood’s creative heart is represented in the multi-hued, intelligent graffiti art on its walls, the nightly organic live music and dancing displays in the main square, and the handful of adventurous travellers that are fuelling the rise of boutique hotels and other cool establishments in the area. Demente, a Cuban-inspired tapas bar, offers a fine selection of food and exceptionally talented and friendly bar staff in a quirky, speak-easy setting. Relax in the rocking chairs and lose yourself in the eclectic music played as you sip from a selection of interesting and potent cocktails ahead of the night to come.

Tiny Pirate Cartagena

Address: Getsemaní, Plaza de la Trinidad, Cartagena

TELEPHONE: +57 5660 4226



Salsa until dawn in Café Havana

Once you have gathered enough Dutch courage to get your dancing feet on, have a quick try of one of Colombia’s favourite pastimes at the Plaza de Trinidad, which is directly en route in between Demente and your next destination. Watch as locals and foreigners of all ages dance to the sultry Latin beats, copy their moves then practice them in Café Havana, a long established staple in the vicinity. Stepping into this joyous sweatbox is like being transported into the pages of a Cuban song. Sensual, heady, sexy and packed, the only thing that was missing was the smell of fresh Cuban cigars. World class live salsa bands will infect you with their beats, and even the most novice of dancers will channel their inner Latinos as the best mojitos in town will help to loosen up the stiffest of limbs. Highly addictive and a great way to make new friends you can get deliciously sweaty with!

ADDRESS: Getsemani, Corner of Calle de la Media Luna, Calle Guerrero, Cartagena 

TELEPHONE: +57 314 556 3905


Tiny Pirate Cartagena


Coffee- flavoured ‘hair of the dog’ at San Alberto Café

Like rum, coffee in Colombia needs an expert hand to guide guests through its delicate processing and flavourings. The San Alberto Café was borne of its namesake plantation in the heart of Colombia’s Coffee Triangle, which has been producing high grade beans for the last 40 years. The hacienda has won the most number of international awards for it’s product, so aside from a unique tasting experience, you will enjoy top quality coffee that will help you to shake off the previous night’s sins. Expert baristas will take you through the fascinating steps of planting, harvesting, classifying, and producing the country’s top brew. Team this with a freshly made pastry to clear your head, and get you through the preceding early-hours-of-the-morning-antics in addition to charging you up for the long day ahead.

ADDRESS: Calle de Los Santos de Piedra Cra. 4 #34-1 a 34-91, Cartagena

PHONE: +57 318 7 964 457


On-the-go brunch and romance with Gabriel García Márquez

“Gabo” as he is affectionately known in his natal land, was a long term resident of Cartagena, and used the city for inspiration in his novels, amongst them the classic ‘Of Love and Other Demons.” His home is located next to the Santa Clara hotel and is still a highlight photographic stop for visiting tourists. The multi-million selling author and Nobel Prize winner can be evoked through a personalized city tour which you can download on to your phone, and which offers the opportunity to conjure the sights, sounds, smells, period and romance of Cartagena though captivating audio guides which are cleverly intertwined with passages from Gabo’s magical realism literature. Stop off for a mouthwatering ‘arepa with cheese’ from a street vendor by the clock tower square, and get truly lost in the fairy tale that is Gabo and the exquisite city he portrays in his unique writing style. Unlike most city tours, this is something that can be tailored to individuals, and as such makes for a far more potent adventure. Be sure to take in the celestial charm of the San Pedro Claver Museum and Cloisters, an homage to San Pedro’s patronage of slaves, then walk a few moments away to the market square where the poor souls were once sold.


Tiny Pirate Cartagena

Late lunch at Boliche Cebicheria

All the walking and fantasies will wake up your appetite, so no better place than Boliche to experience the scrumptious local seafood. This 16 seat eatery was launched in 2011 by chef Oscar Colmeranes, who had honed his trade by working in no less than a three Michelin star restaurant in San Sebastian. His ceviche skills are equally matched by his insistence on freshly caught seafood from artisan fishermen. The tiny bistro offers diners minute attention to detail alongside local fruit and herb combinations, and leaves palates satiated yet not weighted down by heavy fare. Focusing on quality over quantity, the short menu is perfect for those willing to try a handful of ingredients but executed at a supremely high epicurean level.

ADRESS: Calle Cochera del Hobo 17, Cra. 8 #38, Cartagena

PHONE: +57 5660 0743


Tiny Pirate Cartagena

Post lunch Historical and Naval tour

The beauty of Cartagena is that the city is made for walking through its cobbled and culturally impactful streets. A visit to San Felipe Castle will include enthralling tales of adventure, love, acts of heroism, barbaric rituals and defining glory. Walking along the fortress will instill a very real sense of history, as will a visit to the local Naval museum, whose artifacts and stories continue to have a global effect today. Cartagena’s history was dramatic, colourful and sometimes brutal, as seen particularly in the Palace of the Inquisition- the visits making a worthwhile and captivating couple of hours. Highly recommended is also a peek into the colonial houses of old, which open up to magnificent tardis-like proportions from their unassuming exteriors.  Private tours can be tailored to suit and will fill up the photographic and instagram bank.


Pre Dinner Cocktails at Movich Hotel

Once you’ve had a chance to relax and change for the evening’s entertainment, there is nowhere better to view Cartagena’s historic sites juxtaposed with the Miami-esque skyline of its contemporary architecture, than from the rooftop of the Movich. Design buffs will marvel at the contrasting buildings on display, offset by the sheer beauty of the vivid sunset colours. Gorgeous cocktails will get you in the mood for yet another intoxicating night, and are in the perfect setting for a look at the scenery from a bird’s eye view vantage point. The bar offers ambient sounds, competent mixologists and creative pre dinner nibbles which fuse Asian and Mediterranean flavours for the mostly international crowd.  

ADDRESS: Calle Velez Danies 33 #4-39, Cartagena:

PHONE: +57 5660 0133


Dinner at María

Take a short stroll to the popular María, a culinary haven created by Bogotá born but internationally trained chef Alejandro Ramírez. Having worked at Old Trafford’s restaurant and with Gordon Ramsey in the UK, Alejandro’s cooking methods are ‘traditional and honest’, and these are reflected in the hearty flavours of the food we delighted in. A firm believer in local and sustainable eating, Alejandro works with native fishermen and suppliers, ensuring a daily supply of fresh produce. Added into the mix is a good selection of wines and liquors, so the bar is as full as the restaurant, which helps to create a buzzy and jovial atmosphere. Recommended dishes include the salmon with apple and jalapeños, plus the prawn and chorizo risotto.

ADDRESS: Calle del Colegio# 34-60 Local 2 Cartagena

TELEPHONE: +57 5660 5380


Tiny Pirate Cartagena

Late night revelry at La Movida

Time to work off yet another sumptuous dinner, this time alongside the chic and the beautiful at La Movida, the closest club to an Ibizencan experience the city has to offer. The outside terrace attracts an international crowd grooving to electronic DJ vibes, as the somewhat ecclesially-inspired bar inside hosts the Latin sounds of salsa, merengue and the odd raggaton curveball to get hips shaking on the floor. Fun, flirty and ferociously full, this is yet another brilliant place to lose yourself in the heat of the tropics. Strong pours, cool music and a mixed audience make an enticing temptation to dance under the stars until daybreak. Again. You have been warned!

ADDRESS: Cl. 33 #2-14, Cartagena

PHONE: +57 5660 6126



Tiny Pirate Cartagena

Island hopping hair-of-the-dog

A second night of shenanigans will likely take it’s toll, so no better way to wake up your senses than with some fresh sea air. Hire a small launch or bigger boat depending on your playmate numbers and head over to the crystalline waters of Islas del Rosario. Only 45 minutes away from the city, your captain will provide necessary coffee and refreshments as you cruise along the aquamarine sea, glide over white sands and pass by outlandish homes on the private islands dotted in the Caribbean. A cooling dip in the warm bays will have you ready for lunch in no time. Slower public boats can also take you around the islands, however to really get to special secret places and hidden coves a private vessel is the only way to travel.


Tiny Pirate CartagenaTiny Pirate Cartagena

Lazy lunch at El Pescador de Colores

Sail to the southern point of the Baru island, where moorings can accommodate private boats. ‘Pescador de colores,’ means ‘fisherman of colours’, and this beach club (the first in Colombia!) captures many hues in a beautiful setting. Owned by a Colombian and British female duo, the spot is a veritable Disney of wildlife, with blue crabs, myriad butterflies and vibrant fireflies in residence. The menus are designed as a sharing concept and wonderfully executed by Ibizencan/Colombian chef Silvestre Cortazar. International influences combine perfectly with local ingredients- the maracuya ceviche was a party on the tastebuds, with the right mix of flavours and spice. Coriander aioli was a revelation, as was the unique aguardiente and lulo house cocktail- the ONLY way to drink the normally odious national liquor! Produce and even decorative materials are bought locally to help native communities; the chalupas- traditional fisherman’s boats- a darling place to lounge. DJs playing chic tropical beats entertain guests from Cartagena- the restaurant can be reached in 15 minutes by taxi or a scenic 20 by boat, which the proprietors can arrange through your concierge. The absolute perfect way to spend the last few hours of your stay.

ADDRESS: Via Baru, Cartagena

TELEPHONE: + 57 315 394 2374


 Tiny Pirate Cartagena

Pre-flight shopping and art at Las Bovedas

Work off the gastronomic feast by taking a walk around the one-time vaults and prison barracks, where local artists display their traditional oils and contemporary masterpieces in a uniquely history setting. Conveniently located en route from the dropping off port and walled city, the 23 arches host a wonderful variety of fashion boutiques, artesan workshops, emerald and other precious jewels and metal merchants, and the aforementioned art galleries. The compact but complete parade is the ideal place for gifts for loved ones back home, and to enjoy a little self indulgent retail therapy of your own. Fashionistas will delight in the exquisite designer clothing available, in addition to more the more quirky and traditional souvenirs available.

ADDRESS: Calle Zerrezuela, Cartagena


 Tiny Pirate Cartagena

The Santa Clara has been the classic hotel choice for selective clients for over two decades. Formerly a monastery and a convent, the property’s architectural 17th century heritage has been carefully incorporated to dazzle guests with its spectacular appearance. Suites are spacious and provide a vintage feel with contemporary amenities. Gourmet dining and a well-stocked cellar, lux spa services and personal butlers are just some of the facilities on offer to make visitors feel pampered and well attended. Located in the heart of the city, walking a few steps in any direction will open up a veritable selection of history, culture, gastronomy and fun, making this an ideal place to base yourself for the many adventures Cartagena has to offer. Wandering inside the grounds will bring you face to face with intriguing artifacts that were recovered from pirate attacks, original architectural features or priceless religious artworks.

ADDRESS: Calle del Torno #39-29, Cartagena

PHONE: +57 5650 4700


Tiny Pirate Cartagena


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