Cartagena is the amazing place you won’t believe you’d never heard about when you were in

college. And when you get back, you’ll be asking yourself why you’ve never been before!

A mere 2 hours from Miami and 4 ó hours from New York City, it’s one of those destinations

that you can always count on to be warm and pleasant all year round, with disruptive weather

almost unheard of, even when hurricane season makes traditional Caribbean destinations risky.

Sadly, it’s no longer a hidden gem and you should carefully research when and how to go and

where to stay in order to get the best value because now, everyone is flocking there.

Cartagena is often referred to as “Cartagena de Indias” which distinguishes it within the Spanish

empire from the coastal city Cartagena in Spain when it was founded in 1533. Its rich history

shows its importance as the main port for trade between Spain and its overseas empires, where

it was the major imperial port for exporting gold, gems, and silver to Spain and importing African

slaves. The largely preserved fortifications, including the truly awesome walls of the colonial city

and the remnants around Getsemani, allow for days of fascinating historical tourism and have

inspired countless works of art, music, novels, and movies.

Cartagena is the one of the largest cities in Colombia and the second largest in the region, after

nearby Barranquilla, 2 hours to the northeast along the coast. It has an approximate population

of about 1 million. An important fact to note is that it suffers from perhaps the most extreme

wealth disparity in Latin America, exacerbated recently by the Venezuelan refugee crisis. So for

those interested in “voluntourism,” it offers many rewarding opportunities. Still, it reigns as the

crown jewel of Colombian tourism, which has blossomed in recent years, and offers

opportunities for an unforgettable vacations for everyone and in one of the most welcoming and

family-friendly cultures I personally have ever experienced.

From its colorful streets, breathtaking sunsets, and fascinating flora and fauna that will entrance

any photographer, amateur or professional; to its exciting nightlife and day excursions; to

fascinating island beaches with mansions, restaurants and hotels literally floating in the water, it

is ideal for a long weekend or extended stay vacation. Cartagena’s authenticity is one of its

main attractions, so go soon because that is slowly changing as international tourism explodes!

I fell in love with Cartagena 15 years ago. After traveling to other cities in Colombia frequently to

visit my husband’s family, we finally arranged a vacation by swapping a relative’s timeshare

week at the unparalleled Santa Clara Hotel (Sofitel)1 for our apartment in New York. I was

1 A converted 16th century convent, there is nothing austere about the interior of this full service

luxury hotel which is a gold standard for weddings receptions in Cartagena. Large kid friendly

pool, with poolside bar and restaurant service, gym, various restaurants and a wonderful

cocktail bar. A little known tip, while you can reserve regular rooms through the hotel, the

weeklong high floor suite timeshares can be rented directly for significant savings through word

of mouth or private brokers. Or, can be exchanged through the Interval network. We bought one

ourselves and often offer to rent it (last Saturday of August to first Saturday of September) when

we can’t use it.

immediately smitten! By the end of our week, we had spent several days looking at properties

throughout the old city to buy. We ultimately purchased a new condominium in the beach

neighborhood of La Boquilla within a few weeks.

Cartagena can do that! It’s crazy, chaotic, and reminded me nostalgically of a mix of two

beloved cities I had lived in previously: New Orleans, for its style, charm, and tropical vibe and

Cairo, for the chaotic, informal street-life and the intense pride in their heritage that radiates

from locals.

We spent most of my children’s preschool and early elementary years spending the entire

summer there, in lieu of New York City day camps, and never went back to the Hamptons

again! Best decision ever. Later, when my children were in middle school, we moved to Bogotá

and spent about a weekend a month, and many additional long weekends during Colombia’s

approximately 18 annual holidays (In 2019 there will only be 9 long weekends, as opposed to 11

in 2018).

Since moving back to New York, I have focused on renting our apartment in the

vacation rental market and marveled at the changes in demographics of my renters. And,

especially in the past 5 years, the changes in the city itself. Now, in addition to working trips

alone I take my now-teenage kids to visit with their boarding school friends a couple times a

year. So my suggestions are best for a family vacation with kids - out of diapers and


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