Arriving in the old port city of Cartagena we were pleasantly surprised with the vibes and richness of the tourist hub. Once a Caribbean slave trading city exporting gold and facing sieges from pirates, the colourful old city of Cartagena screams history. It’s Colonial architecture in every shade of pastel, adorned by hanging flowers and crumbling fort walls makes for snap happy strolls around the town, with people bustling all hours of the day and night.
We were more than happy to have some chill time here, as the 5 month travel mark hit us and with it some need for relaxation. We definitely managed that, treating ourselves to a super central air bnb apartment for a break, enjoying a beer and people watching in Plaza Trinidad at night with amazing street performers, stumbling into little collective boutique shops or finding a mellow cafe to enjoy some tasty cold brew coffee and escape the melting heat. Cartagena’s old town is really touristic, with over priced souviner shops selling mass produced imitations of local tribal bags, and street vendors calling out with everything from tours to fedoras. That being said, I really enjoyed the bustling streets with everyone feeling a bit more laid back on the sea side. Catching back up with travelling amigos Liam and Jasmeen, fellow kiwis from the Inca trail, we sampled some tasty spots the city had to offer and headed out to the famous Cafe Havana for a night of salsa dancing. We can confirm that Phill and I do not win any applauds for our two left feet attempt, but with the comical help of some smiling locals our gang were up and enjoying the Cuban rhythm till the early hours.
Volcán de Lodo el Totumo
Taking a day trip out of the city, we headed to Volcan el Totumo, a mud volcano with alleged therapeutic properties to leave your skin feeling lush. We knew this was going to be one of those funny days, after waking up at 8am with 10min to leave the apartment and sprint through the 30degree heat to catch the tour. Not really knowing what to expect, I can only describe the experience as hilariously weird. From the dense floaty mud, stuck in a tiny pit with randoms feet going everywhere, being massaged by some middle aged men and finally rinsed off by giggling old ladies in the nearby lake who had zero personal boundaries what so ever. Definitely an experience I’m glad I had others to laugh with, although my skin did actually feel pretty silky afterwards!
San Andrés Island 🌴
Expecting to enjoy 5 days of sun, beach and snorkelling, we headed to the raved about San Andrés island. The island is a Colombian territory in the middle of the Caribbean, although closer to Nicaragua or Cuba.
I got a sharp lesson here about keeping expectations neutral for exploring a new place, which we had done the rest of the trip in South America. But everyone we met locals and travellers alike, couldn’t go on about the place enough with its crystal clear water so we were expecting big things. If you can get past the weather being either downpour rainy or scorching hot, insanely muggy all the time, coupled with a depressing concrete town complete with rows of massive duty free shops and the most unfriendly service we’ve experienced in multiple restaurants, you will also rave about San Andrés. While the island didn’t get off to the best start with us, a couple of sunny days (sunny as in scorching hot, the weather report said “32 degrees, feels like 39…”) and fun adventures explored with our rented orange scooter “Ron” got it back in the good books. In our opinion, the serenity and uncommercial nature of the beaches back home or in the Cook Islands rate higher, but as a Colombian getaway hotspot it’s not all bad for some relaxation. There are heaps of really touristic attractions on or around the island, with day trips to nearby snorkelling and diving spots with turquoise super clear water, or locals commercialising the natural foreshore on both the white sand beach east side or the rocky reef west side. We headed to a couple of these spots including an alligator filled lagoon and a snorkelling spot complete with dive board and water slide. Accompanied by our American amigos from the Lost City we all rented a golf cart for the four of us to hoon around on. Hoon is a definite over exaggeration, as our golf cart “Musty” was required to be pushed up the last few metres of hills or chugged along the ocean road which encircled the tiny island. Navigating the roads with all the local scooters and buses was definitely an adventure in itself!
Rather than continue paying for foreshore or beach walkway entrance fees surrounded by tacky drink shacks, Phill and I perused the island for a snorkelling spot we could have all to ourselves with our trusty scooter. This was really what made us appreciate the chill potential of San Andrés, escaping the crowds and floating in the pristine clear waters with only the fish life to distract you.
The highlight of our island time was definitely the two sessions of kitesurfing, with the most perfect conditions for us humble beginners. A few hundred metres off shore in waist deep water supported with tips from two locals and a JetSki to come rescue us, a few mouthfuls of water and some good face plants later we were riding along enjoying the breeze. Tip for young players; I highly recommend wearing shorts for this activity as a victim of crashing to a halt and loosing the bottom halves to the amusement of my instructor!
Next stop (and last on our trip!!) 🔜 Cuba 🇨🇺🏝💃🏻