Cartagena, Colombia: Where to eat, drink, stay, and shop
Queen of the Caribbean
Once upon a time, Cartagena was the most prosperous town in the Americas, a vibrant port city which attracted pirates and European colonialists to its shores. The Spanish colonial architecture found in the ancient walled city is a constant reminder of this Golden Age. Unfortunately, after the period of prosperity came ages of neglect and decay, and modern-day living was comparable to images taken from ghost movies, with murky streets, abandoned homes and closed businesses. Nonetheless, a municipality blessed with so much splendor had to shine again and these days, Cartagena has returned to its former glory — holding the title of ultimate hotspot in Latin America.
Partly due to Gabriel García Márquez's literary talent and the Colombian regeneration efforts, Cartagena became again a trendy vacationing destination for the rich and fabulous. Boasting an abundance of designer hotels, fine eateries, sultry bars and an impressive shopping scene famed for promoting local talents, the Colombian port city is a must-see place for both high-end and budget travellers.
The name of this luxury hotel has become something like a buzzword, as most socialites and influential businessmen visiting Cartagena stop at this authentic jewel. Located inside the old city, the building is a glaring reminder of Cartagena's past. The striking façade, arched colonnade and the patio are in line with the colonial architecture but then again the interior design is modern and contemporary. All of the 51 rooms merge aristocratic, Spanish colonial elements with fashionable and current characteristics. The hotel offers one of the most exquisite dining options in Cartagena, thanks to its very own restaurant El Gobernador by Rausch. This is the place where the celebrated Rausch brothers — a duo which became synonym for excellence in gastronomy — collaborated with Chef Viviana Lievano, proposing some of the most sophisticated culinary options.
This charming boutique hotel is located in an Andalusian-colonial style mansion in the San Diego district, inside the walled city. It showcases the perfect location for those who want to stroll down cobblestone streets, being just a short walk away from the most important monuments and touristic sights. The interior design blends Caribbean elements with Spanish and French characteristics, creating an eclectic mix which is both up-to-date and traditional. Each of the rooms is personalized and with names like: Preciosa (Precious), Esperanza (Hope), Libertad (Freedom), Viajero (the Traveller) or Alegria (Happiness) — and its interior design is tailored specifically to the title. For example, Viajero is the perfect escape for the adventurous world travellers, showcasing a refined assortment of cultures, while Alegria features Baroque elements.
Havana lovers will enjoy La Vitrola due to its eclectic design which incorporates old-school Cuban elements and Colombian features, creating a space that is both distinctive and sensible as it evokes memories from a bygone era. The place feels like a livable Caribbean escape where strong Mojitos and fish specialties are served while the band is playing Latin jazz music. The clientele is made of the super-wealthy socialites, well-known local celebrities and some lucky international travellers.
Guests will enjoy Chef Alejandro Ramirez's recommendations. His menu offers various creative seafood dishes and an excellent cocktail selection. This lively restaurant was built with an extreme attention to detail, and its swanky design has a modern appeal which fits in with the millennial generation aesthetic. The clientele is made of top influencers, wealthy businessmen and jetsetters vacationing in Cartagena.
If there's a science behind mixing drinks, Alquimico has found it. This bar really masters the art of making award-winning cocktails and the atmosphere inside the establishment isn't bad either. The rooftop bar located on the top floor is the perfect retreat for the hipsters vacationing in Cartagena.
This bar is another hotspot for lovers of the Cuban vibe. Café Havana is a local hit as it combines all the key elements found in great Latin American bars: excellent drinks, a great food selection, music played by a live band and a sensual, very Latin ambience. It surely isn't the place for guests who are on the lookout for relaxed cafes with a chilled atmosphere as the dancing does get quite wild. Occasionally, the place becomes overcrowded — but that's the only downside to this cool café.
Cartagena has everything, starting with designer shops where famous local designers like Silvia Tcherassi sell their eponymous clothing brands, to concept stores or small boutiques where you can find locally-produced jewellery pieces or accessories.
This is a quintessential retail space in Cartagena and it comes close to something like a luxury platform where the collections of acclaimed Colombian designers are offered to a wider public. This curated boutique offers an exceptional mix of merchandise, presenting not only apparel from award-winning designers like Johanna Ortiz but also artisanal art pieces, accessories, Colombian mochilas (bags) and jewellery.
The Barranquilla native is the Queen of effortless elegance and the go-to designer for the Colombian and Latin American elite. Her eponymous boutique found in the heart of the old city offers both couture and prêt-à-porter pieces which are an authentic ode to the Colombian and Latina aesthetic.
About Adina Laura-Achim
Adina became a storyteller after a 10-year PR and marketing career. Today, she spends her time between writing books, freelancing for magazines and travelling to distant corners of the world. She's a polka dot and stripes aficionado who can't live without red lipstick, silk pajamas and her Audrey Hepburn movie collection.