Cartagena

Caribbean Paradise at Punta Faro Resort on Isla Mucura

Located about three hours away from Cartagena and accessible only by boat, this small island paradise is a way to get away from it all. The island itself is a national park and Punta Faro Resort has eleven acres and 45 rooms on the 24-acre island in the San Bernardo Archipelagos.

But don’t mistake its small size for thinking there is nothing to do. The island has a dive shop, kayaking, paddleboards and windsurfing. There is pretty good snorkeling right off the beach or you can take a boat out to other reef areas. Meals are all included and are served in the open-air restaurant on the property.  Down by the beach there’s a bar, hammocks and massage tables.

Most of the people who work at Punta Faro live on Santa Cruz del Islote, which is considered to be the most densely populated island in the world.  Boat tours are daily from Punta Faro to this tiny island that has less than an acre of land and is home to about 1250 people. Island residents only have electricity for a few hours a day, water gets delivered 3 times a week and they walk through each other’s kitchens to get to their own homes.

I could have spent days or weeks at Punta Faro just relaxing on the beach and swimming in the gentle sea. It’s easy to see why it’s a popular getaway for locals and I hope to return to this island paradise one day soon.

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Cartagena, the Historic Caribbean Walled City

An easy, short one hour flight on Avencia Airlines will get you from Bogota to Cartagena de Indias.  This walled-city is full of history and charm. Founded in 1533, it’s a Unesco World Heritage Site and people come from all of Colombia and the world to visit.  In fact, over 30% of the people in Cartagena work in tourism.

As a base of exploration here, the place to stay is inside the 11-kilometer walled city. The Hotel Charleston Santa Theresa is a five-star, top-notch hotel and one of my favorite hotels that I have ever stayed at.  You’ll know you’re surrounded in luxury from the rose petals in the bathroom to the top-of-the-line toiletries and sheets.

Then get out and explore!  Cartagena is a walkable city and it’s great to get lost and wander the cobblestone streets and squares. Simon Bolivar was very important to this city and there are several monuments, a square and buildings in his honor.  There is another part of Cartagena called Boca Grande, which you can get to by a short taxi ride from the historic area.  This area is the “new” part of Cartagena and from what I could see doesn’t really offer much.  It’s more condo rentals than anything else.

Castillo de San Felipe is the largest fortress built in America by the Spanish Empire in 1657.  It was built for protection against pirates while shipping gold to Europe. You can tour the fort on your own or take a guided tour.

A bicycle is another great way to get around the city and a bike tour by Cartagena Bike Tours will get you acclimated. Gerardo Nieto is a native Cartagenero and will provide you with the history of the city as well as point out film locations of movies like Love in the Time of Cholera and The Mission. You can ride your bike on top of the colonial walls. Stops include local squares, historic homes and getting coconut water from a street vendor.

Another way to tour around is to take a horse-drawn carriage ride at night.  Just ask the hotel or flag one of the carriages on the street who doesn’t have passengers. A catamaran ride at sunset is another great way to experience Cartagena from a different perspective.  Catamaran Maxicat provides drinks and appetizers while cruising along the shoreline of Cartagena.

I wasn’t overly impressed with a lot of the food we had in Bogota but Cartagena was a different story. My favorite was Don Juan Restaurant.  Chef Juan Felipe Camacho, studied in Spain at a Michelin-starred restaurant and combines that Spanish influence along with fresh ingredients to serve up some really good food.

Another local favorite was La Cucina Pepina, located in the Getsemani neighborhood.  Mama Pepina was a sociologist and doctor before she decided to publish a cookbook and become a chef.  They serve traditional Colombia Caribbean home cooking. Fruit juices are popular in Cartagena too and Mamoncillo and Corozo juices are native.

I wouldn’t recommend Cartagena for its beaches even though there are a couple of public swimming areas, as there is a lot of volcanic rock directly offshore.  Most locals go to the Rosario Islands for a beach day or to Punta Faro for a relaxing weekend.  We went to Punta Faro. Read my post on Caribbean Paradise at Punta Faro Resort on Isla Mucura.

 

Bogota, Colombia a Chic Capital City Nestled in the Mountains

This post is long, long overdue but better late than never, right?  This is the first of 3 posts on Colombia, South America.

I was graciously invited to visit Colombia earlier this year. Once considered the “bad boy” of South America, Colombia is trying hard to change the world’s perception of the country.  Where once drug cartels made the news and headlines, today’s Colombia is considered a safe, emerging global travel destination. From the capital city of Bogota, located high in the mountains, where history and cultural attractions are plenty, to the historic Caribbean city of Cartagena de Indias. Here are a few highlights from my trip and things not to miss when you plan your own visit to Colombia.

First stop was Bogota, the capital city nestled in the mountains. It’s hip, chic and full of culture.  Located at 8612 feet, it’s the largest city in Colombia and also the third-highest capital city in South America. The temperate here remains cool, an average of 57 degrees, even in the middle of summer.

As a base for your exploration, The Hotel Avia is a nice, clean, modern hotel that is centrally located in the main restaurant district.  It has an award-winning French restaurant, spa and gym along with comfortable rooms.

Unless you are an experienced driver in Latin American cities, I suggest either a taxi or use the Transmilenio bus system to get around the city. There are over eight million people that live in Bogota and a good majority of them use the bus system so it’s pretty efficient. Also traffic seemed to pretty heavy no matter what time of the day it was and roadways went in all different and crazy directions.

A must stop on the places to visit in Bogota is the Museo Del Oro.  This museum started in 1939 in the old Central Bank Building. It expanded in 1968 and now has an amazingly large collection of over 35,000 pieces of gold and pre-Columbian artifacts.  Ever heard of El Dorado?  Well this museum has El Dorado collections.

 

The Casa de Narino or Presidential Palace offers free tours seven days a week.  You must sign up online at least five days ahead of time and be prepared to leave all of your bags and cameras with the front guards.  It’s a great tour and worth the effort to set it up. The Palace boasts Baccarat crystal chandeliers, Italian sculptures and tapestries.  Tours are done in both Spanish or English just be sure to indicate your preference when you sign up.

Since 1640, this sanctuary has been a beacon atop Bogota’s eastern mountains. Cerro de Monserrate offers amazing views of Bogota and is accessible via funicular or cable car.  Once on top of the mountain, you can tour the church, eat at one of the two restaurants or just take in the sights.

A great area to just explore and walk around is La Candelaria.  This preserved historic site is Bogota’s oldest neighborhood.  There are pedestrian-only, cobblestone streets, centuries old homes and churches and is a burgeoning art community.

Of course since Colombia is famous for its coffee, with over 900,000 coffee farms, no trip to the country would be complete without experiencing a cup of java. At E&D Café not only can you order your favorite coffee concoction but they have a coffee lab where you can learn about and taste different beans and flavors.

Food choices range from ChibChomBia in the La Macarena Zone where the restaurant serves up typical Colombian food such as Arepas, which are sweet corn pancakes, Empanadas and Ajiaco Soup, which is a typical Colombian soup with chicken, rice, potatoes and avocados.  Fruit juices are very popular at lunch and you can order a variety of flavors made with either milk or water.

For dinner, Andres D.C., is a four-story restaurant and nightclub.  Dancing is on the ground floor with restaurants tables on the other three. It’s uniquely decorated with each floor named.  You could be in hell, earth, purgatory and heaven.

Keep in mind these are just the highlights.  There is a ton of things to do and see in Bogota.  I only had one day (yes, it was a very long day!) but I would suggest spending at least a couple of days to tour this magnificent city.

Next, we flew to Cartagena so read my post on “Cartagena, the Historic Caribbean Walled City” to continue the adventure.

 

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Colombia

A few weeks ago I had the opportunity to go to Colombia. No, that’s not Columbia, Couth Carolina but Colombia as in South America.  I have to admit that even though this destination had been on my “bucket list” for a long time, I was a little hesitant at first about the trip.  After all, I grew up in the 80’s where the only thing you heard about Colombia was the drug cartels and violence going on.  I have to say that I was pleasantly surprised. Colombia is a beautiful country and the people are friendly.  I never felt unsafe, even in Bogota.  That’s not to say that there aren’t neighborhoods that you shouldn’t go into, just like any other big city.  But for the most part it was a clean, modern, progressive city.  We toured around the city, visited the Museo del Oro, an amazing gold museum.  We visited the Presidential Palace, the La Canderleria neighborhood and I was introduced to different kinds of fruits and Arepas. Next we were off to Cartagena and it was amazing!  The old part of the city is surrounded bu a wall and is a great  blend of old world history and architecture.   Where highlights include sitting at an outdoor cafe, under the moonlight directly across from a hundreds years old  church.   From carriage rides and bike tours to just walking along the cobblestone streets, each turn leading to a new discovery.  Sign up for our RSS updates as we publish great articles on this amazing country.

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