We started off our day by taking the 4 hour bus ride from Santa Marta to Cartagena. It's amazing for us to see how many people stand in the middle of every single intersection trying to sell you drinks and snacks. We often wonder how it's possible for any of them to make a living, let alone all of them!
Our arrival in Cartagena was hot and humid, I mean you feel sticky from the moment you walk outside the door but that didn't deter us from exploring. We loved Cartagena, it’s a beautiful city that felt more like you were in Europe than Colombia because of the Spanish influence.
We started off touring around the city by taking one of the free walking tours, as we do in most new cities. We learned a lot about the history in the two hour tour. One thing we couldn’t believe was that the massive walls that extend around the Old City of Cartagena (4 km worth) is horrifyingly made up of coral. Yes you read that right- Reef Coral!!! Obviously now this is forbidden to use or buy/sell any coral but back then they used it because the material was so hard and made a great base for the wall.
While we were exploring through the streets, there was a big "football" match going on between Colombia and Bolivia. Everyone was wearing their bright yellow Colombian jerseys, crammed into pubs and bars and when Colombia scored it felt like the whole city started cheering! It was a pretty neat moment to experience. We loved walking up and down the streets of the Old City because you got to admire a ton of the colourful buildings, architecture and amazing doors. They have different sizes and types of door knockers and apparently back in the old days the more you have on your door the wealthier you were! The door below was rumoured to belong to the only man in Cartagena legally allowed to buy and sell slaves, so its no wonder he had so many door decals.
We'd heard rave reviews about The Cevicheria before we came and boy it did not disappoint. The seafood here was so fresh and delicious, it was probably our most favourite meal so far. We shared one of the Large Ceviche and we couldn't stop ourselves from commenting how delicious it was after nearly every bite.
We also tried some street food while we were here and we were so thrilled to see that pizza was not a street food option here! We tried the Arepa Con Queso which is basically this fried bread with butter and cheese in the middle. You can find small stands everywhere selling 1 for $1. We both found it pretty yummy for a quick snack on the go. We also tried a large variety of empanadas- stuffed with meat, egg and cheese in all combinations. I think the street vendor started laughing at us because we went up about 4 separate times to try out a new filling. For dessert we tried deep fried plantain chips (similar to potato chips) which was surprisingly tasty with a bit of salt on top. I think it’s safe to say we had more than our fair share of deep fried goodness for a while.
For anyone who has been following along on Instagram you may have noticed that we crossed off a bucket list item this past week! There has been this hostel in the water, I’m talking like it’s own private island that we have been dying to go to. It’s called Casa En El Agua and is located 2 hours off the coast of Cartagena in the San Bernardo Islands. It has to be booked 30 days in advance so we have been planning our trip in Colombia around this! We had been anticipating this part of our trip for a while, so as the boat finally neared the hostel everyone’s excitement grew. Surrounding the hostel is beautiful clear water with a bunch of corral reefs scattered all around so we immediately put down our bags and went for a swim. You could spend hours out there exploring around and that's exactly what we did. We were able to spot so many different kinds of fish, crab, starfish and sea urchins. It's amazing to take a peak at how life is under the sea.
So the first night we arrived I had the best idea ever! I suggested to Piet that we should take out a paddleboard (just one) so that we could paddle out during sunset and get some awesome photos. Piet having never done it before but seeing my excitement went along with the idea. Now picture us for a moment- Two people trying to balance on one board, after having a few alcoholic bevvies. Maybe not the best combo for Piets first time. Before we knew it, the waves had carried us out way to far. We ended up spending the better part of sunset trying to get sorted to get us back to the hostel. With multiple failed attempts which ended in us both going overboard, we ended up settling on me paddling on top while Piet kicked from behind. It didn't help our cause that we kept laughing hysterically at the whole situation. Unfortunately, I don't know if I’ll ever get Piet back on a paddle board because I'm constantly reminded of his war injuries from the sea urchins he made friends with on our way back.
At the hostel, Happy Hour was all day every day.. so we may have indulged in a couple over our few days there. They've got this cute little bar that has the perfect seats to watch the sunset. We spent most of our nights watching the sun go down from that spot with a drink in hand. The hostel offered a couple of options for meals some of which including fresh seafood from their own little fishing net below deck which kept live lobster and crab. Every day, we were able to watch as one of the workers tried his luck in capturing a few of these guys for dinner. They'd finally capture one and then they'd huck it up on deck, much to the surprise of all the guests who jumped a few feet back - I swear I saw Piet jump higher than anyone else. Since we are on a budget, and drinks seemed to rank higher than food, we chose to bring our own food and save a few dollars. I think it's safe to say that neither of us will be craving a peanut butter and jam sandwich or a can of tuna anytime soon.
One of the highlights from our time on the island hostel was the nighttime plankton tour. They take you out after dark into the mangroves where you get to go swimming with the plankton. It honestly felt like I was a fairy sprinkling gold dust everywhere. You are totally surrounded by black water, stars above you and then when you start moving the Plankton come alive. I loved just being able to swim down in the darkness and watch the water come alive as you swam through it. It’s definitely a magical experience that we both thoroughly enjoyed. I’d highly recommend this for everyone to try once in their life!
On our last day, the weather took a bit of a turn and we were told it was unsafe to take the boat back to Cartagena and that we'd have to take another route. No problem since we had nothing but time so they packed 22 of us into this small motorized boat with a plastic tarp over the top of us and we set off for land that was much closer. Well this storm ended up creating these enormous waves that kept splashing up into the boat and soaking each and everyone of us. We were all laughing at each other until all of a sudden our boat stopped in the middle of the water without warning. We all looked at each other and then at land which was probably a good 45 minute swim away and wondered what the heck we were going to do. Lucky for us the driver worked some type of magic with his screw driver and got the motor to start again and we were off! Off into the torrential downpour that started coming down, we were all ducking down low in our seats, life jackets covering us as much as possible to try and keep some part of us dry. Shortly thereafter we made it to our destination but this is definitely one boat ride we won't be forgetting anytime soon.
Next Stop: San Jeronimo