Cartagena, Colombia: A Gem on the Caribbean

You’re standing atop a hundreds of years old stone wall, looking out over waves of the Caribbean Sea crashing into the beach. The city is relaxed, cosmopolitan, and tropical. It is a foodie’s, and a history buff’s, paradise. Low key and luxurious. Very old and very new.

What it isn’t is a drug war zone, but that’s what people might think when you tell them you’re going to Cartagena, Colombia. Blame it on lingering news images from the 80s. While Colombia has rebounded generally, people in Cartagena told me their city was never quite like that.

I spent 5 fantastic days in mid July in Cartagena. It’s full name is Cartagena de Indias, Cartagena of the Indies, and that accounts for why I felt like I was right at home among the Caribbean people my West Indian family came from – because I was.  The city has a dual personality, split between an old town – La Ciudad Antigua – defined by 16th- century fortress walls and a new city, soaring up from a peninsula with highrise hotels and apartment buildings. Construction is booming on the peninsula, with several new hotels going up.

The night I arrived, a wedding party was being held on one of the galleons that are docked in the Las Ánimas Bay. Fireworks from the reception lit up the sky.

Fireworks over Cartagena

Fireworks over Cartagena

 

Cartagena is on the rise as a destination wedding location, but note that if you are not Colombian, your civil and legal marriage would have to take place in your home country. Still, Cartagena opens its doors to you – even the nearly 500-year-old Castillo San Felipe fort that overlooks the city is available as a venue for your special celebration.

Dancers, Castillo San Felipe fort

Dancers, Castillo San Felipe fort

 

Same sex marriage is legal in Colombia, so a same-sex couple should expect a welcoming environment for their wedding festivities. The Cartagena Chamber of Commerce will be launching a program to help couples plan weddings in their city in the coming months.

You and your party would certainly be well-fed. The food in Cartagena is delightful. Given its Caribbean location, I was on a mission to eat as much fried fish and ceviche as I could. I tried both at several restaurants. My favorite fried fish was served at Pizza & Pasta in the Old City. For the bargain price of around 11,000 pesos (about $6 USD), not only was I served an entrée of fried fish, rice, salad, and lentils, but the meal was preceded with a banana and a delicious bowl of ajiaco, a soup with beef, chicken, corn, and other veggies. I washed it all down with agua de panela, a light, refreshing, not too sweet drink made from sugar.

My favorite ceviche restaurant was the aptly named La Cevichería, also in the Old City. I tried a sampler of various flavors of ceviche, made of shrimp, fish, and octopus, as an appetizer, and had a wonderful paella for my entrée. La Cevichería, despite being nestled among high-end hotels, was incredibly inexpensive.

What else to do while in town? The Old City is the place for historical and cultural explorations. The Gold Museum showcased the intricate and beautiful jewelry of the ancient indigenous people of Colombia. Next to the Church of San Pedro Claver sits a museum dedicated to his memory, housed in the house where he lived and worked. San Pedro Claver was the patron saint of slaves, who fought a dedicated fight throughout his life for the rights of enslaved people. The Church has beautiful courtyards, an impressive collection of religious art, and – during my visit – was showcasing a collection of Afro-Haitian art. I took a private walking tour of the Church and the Old City, which I highly recommend, and learned about Cartagena’s history as a major port during the time of Spain’s conquest of the Americas.  The Old City is also host to public events such as concerts and festivals throughout the year.

 

Concert in front of San Pedro Claver Church

Concert in front of San Pedro Claver Church

 

Colombia is known for the quality of its emeralds and gold jewelry, so come prepared to shop, as well.

Far more beautiful than the city beaches are those in the Islas del Rosario off the coast. It takes about an hour to reach the islands by ferry from the Cartagena city pier, and a round trip visit package including lunch is easy to book from tour operators throughout the city. The water is clearer and the sand is softer than that of the beaches in the city, so a trip to the Islas del Rosario is a must during any trip to Cartagena.

If you enjoy nightlife, the bars and nightclubs are located in Getsemaní, an older area of town located right next to the walled city. Whether you enjoy spending late nights dancing and drinking or not, make the time to catch a Chiva party bus. For 30,000-40,000 pesos ($15-$20 USD), you will be treated to a live band playing rumba music, a tour of greatest hits, tour of city monuments (which look all that much more intriguing in the moonlight), and unlimited mixed drinks. The liquor served is what is called the national rum, but unlike other rums it is made with anise and has a distinctive flavor. Most chivas get going around 8pm, and will take you to a nightclub if that’s your thing at around 11:00pm – or return you to your hotel if it’s not.

In fact, it was from my seat on a chiva that I witnessed the wedding that punctuated the night sky with fireworks.

Cartagena was high on my bucket list of places to see.  But I found that it wasn’t just a place to check off my list and then move on.  I cannot wait for my next trip to this beautiful city.

 

Choosing Your Wedding Paradise- 10 Reasons to Think of The Cayman Islands

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The wedding is over and you both said I do.  The last of all the vendors are paid, your TSA friendly bags have been packed and you are honeymoon ready.

So why should you choose the Cayman Islands?

Located in the western portion of the Caribbean Sea, the British territories are made up of three islands: Grand CaymanCayman Brac and Little Cayman. The population is approximately 56,000 thousand people, a mix of African-European descendants. The area is said to have about 120 nationalities, with English the primary language.

The islands are governed by the Queen of England, with an appointment every four years. The people on the island depend totally depend on tourism from the ships, hotels and visitors to support the economy. George Town, once a swamp territory, has quickly become a destination playground for the well-to-do.  Not known for party scene, the capital represents relaxing and pleasure for those looking for peace away from fast city life.

While visiting the main island, we had the pleasure of being taken around by one of the locals, Miss Babeth Shelley, our fiery Jamaican entrepreneur who filled us in on what’s what on the islands.

 From politics to beaches and to news we got an ear full.  We heard the back story of how the town of Hell received its name and saw it up close up and personal.

Aside from lounging in our resort air conditioned room, pool side bar, full service restaurant, beach side water activities include kayaking, jet skiing, sailing we also enjoyed good old fashion snoozing on the hammock by the sea. The property is on the 18 hole golf course club ran by the Ritz Carlton if your looking to relax or work on your swing, while tanning in the heat of the sun.

So if you seek a honeymoon hot spot, the Cayman Islands may just be the cure the doctor ordered for your winter blues for those who endured this last torturous season.

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Seven Mile Beach

 

Here are our top 10 reasons to go:

1.  Based on your origins of travel and preferred airlines, there is a flight everyday. Many of them are from Miami, which is just over an hour away, and many airlines also fly direct.

2. There are over 120 nationalities on the island. English is their primary language because it is a British colony.


3.  They accept foreign currency if you don’t have time to exchange your money.  

4.  Access to hotels range from luxury 7-star hotels to affordable resorts that are all-inclusive and family friendly for every wallet size.

5.  The food is magnificent.  Fresh fish from this island makes for healthy eating.

6.  The beaches, specifically Seven Miles Beach, is rated number four in the world.

7. If you’re a golfer, the courses are groomed just right for your next game.

8.  If you enjoy water activities, you have your choices of snorkeling, surfing, diving and swimming with dolphins.

9.  Night clubs and DJs are plentiful from the traditional restaurant and bar scene to a more planned list of seasonal activities (check your calendar or the tourism board).

10. The beaches are perfect for laying in the sun with a drink and do nothing.

As a bonus to your list of of things to do, Cayman Island Fashion Week for all you fashionistas courtesy of  Guavaberry Marketing-Cindy Rosan-Jones and Terry Donovan. www.caymanislandsfashionweek.com

 

For more information visit: Websites: www.caymanislands.ky | www.caymankind.com www.divecayman.ky

All images are courtesy of Victor Amos.

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Holiday Inn Resort Grand Cayman

Seven Mile Beach

Seven Mile Beach