Cartagena,  Colombia

Goodbye grey skies

Well I arrived in Cartagena with no issues at all. I said goodbye to my family in Bradford and my dad dropped me off at Brighouse station where I caught a train to London. I met up with my lovely friend Laura and her boyfriend, Ewan, in Kings Cross which was a wonderful last-minute surprise, not only to have a friendly face to see me off before heading to Heathrow, but also because I had someone to help me with my bags (thanks Ewan). It’s not easy packing the next 3 years of your life into a small space whilst trying to make it as light as possible.

Right now it’s the morning of the 17th February and Alex is due to arrive in Cartagena any time now. I’m just sat on my bed in the hostel writing this post before heading out to grab some breakfast and then seeing if I can find the marina where Alex will be arriving, I can’t wait to see him.

Cartagena is a wonderful bustling city, full of colourful buildings, friendly locals and a historic Spanish colonial feel, at least in the Old Town. Other parts of the city appear to be very modern with lots of high rise buildings, shopping malls and sky scrapers. The hostel I’m staying in is small but perfectly formed and seems very reasonable for the price. I’m ashamed to say that this is my first time ever staying in a youth hostel, but I thought at the ripe young age of 31 I would give it a go. It’s proved to be a fantastic place to meet new and interesting people and I’ve already made some fabulous friends. I was here for less than 5 minutes before I was invited to join a couple of girls on a free walking tour of the city, which of course I accepted. Cartagena is one of the oldest settlements in Colombia and has some beautiful buildings with some very interesting history. The tour was run by a local guy called Edger and because the tour is free, he relies heavily on tips to make an income – so he’s got to be good.

After the tour, we got some lunch and then had an afternoon trip to a small beach on the edge of the city. The beach isn’t exactly the tropical paradise you might imagine when you think of the picturesque images of beaches often associated with South America. Instead the sand is quite dark and grey (a bit like the sand you might find in Blackpool), the sea is therefore a bit of a muggy colour and there are a lot of locals trying to sell you things every 5 minutes. Still, the weather has been glorious and the sea is nice and warm to swim in. I’ve been told about a lovely beach called Playa Blanca which is a 2 hour journey from Cartagena and is supposed to be beautiful white sandy beaches, turquoise waters with restaurants serving freshly caught fish dishes. I thought I would wait for Alex to arrive before visiting there. After the beach, we all went out for a lovely dinner where I had sea bass civiche for 20,000 pesos – this might sound extortionate, but it’s actually less than £4.50. I love checking my bank balance at the ATMs in this country, I can pretend that I’m a millionaire!

Yesterday morning I met two lovely Argentinean ladies at breakfast who invited me along to another beach in a different part of the city, a place called Castillo Grande. This was a much nicer beach, the sand was a similar colour but it was much beach itself was much bigger, there were fewer tourists and less people hassling us to buy stuff. If you find yourself in Cartagena looking for a good beach that is within a 10 minute drive, the ones at Castillo Grande are the place to go. Having spent months and months in the grey, wet, cold climate of Yorkshire, I was more than happy to spend another day at the beach. The girls introduced me to a local Argentinean drink called terere; it’s made from a herb called yerba which is mixed with fruit juice and drank cold. It’s a lovely refreshing drink which tastes a little bit like green tea which I thought my mum would really like, absolutely perfect to have whilst lying on the beach soaking up the sun. I’ve also tried ‘arepa’ which is a local Colombian dish made from cornmeal dough and stuffed with cheese and meat, then deep fried to a tender, flaky perfection. It’s often served as street food, so really handy when you’re feeling a bit peckish walking around the town.

Anyway, it’s getting close to 9.30am and I’m keen to finish packing, have breakfast then find Alex.  We’ll check in with you again soon.

A few pictures of Old Town…

Old Town6 Old Town4

Old Town5

The main square and the Clock Tower

Main square by clock tower

Clock tower

The beach with Luli and Maria at Casillo Grande

Me, Maria and Luli Castillo Grande beach Castillo Grande beach2

Me drinking terere…

Drinking terere

Eating the local street food (arepa)

Eating Arepa

Club Nautico Marina where Alex is headed

Club Nautico Marina Club Nautico Marina sunset


  • Vicky Hamshere

    Fascinating blog Sarah! I feel like I am walking in the steps of my father (Alex’s grandfather), who was in Cartegena decades ago, while managing the Bank of London & South America, in Bogota…and spent time in Cartegena! He liked it too, but the beaches would not have been on his agenda because he disliked salt water drying on his skin!! Photos are great! Beautiful! And interesting to see that there is a Vilbrequin shop there (on left in street scene) so it must be a wealthy place. Those are expensive bathing suits, albeit really good looking and well made!!

    • Sarah

      Have you visited Cartagena Vicky? It sounds like you would like it a lot. Yes I thought it seemed pretty wealthy in the Old City in particular and it felt very Spanish. I guess Alex shares his grandfathers dislike of salt water – not a great trait for a sailor! 🙂

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