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Queen of the Caribbean

The queen of the Caribbean

Narrow streets, intimate city squares and charming balconies overgrown with colourful bougainvillea; Colombian Cartagena de Indias is a magical destination brimming with romance and history. Read our article on this brand-new KLM destination.

Discover charming Cartagena
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Cartagena de Indias is one of the oldest colonial cities in the Americas. For centuries this was one of the most important and wealthiest seaports in South America. The rustic wooden gates with ornamental door knockers conceal magnificent 17th and 18th-century villas. Thanks to a revived interest in Colombia, these monumental buildings have been lovingly restored to their former glory. Lively restaurants, jazz clubs and numerous outstanding luxury hotels have opened their doors here.

Destination: Cartagena, Colombia
KLM flight: 3 times a week, outbound flight via Bogotá, direct return flight to Amsterdam
Population: 972,000
Location: on Colombia’s Caribbean north coast

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Stroll the rampart

To get a quick feel for the city, start out with a walk along the rampart. On one side lies the Caribbean Sea and the impressive fort that has guarded the city for centuries, on the other side you will see the historic city centre with its winding narrow streets. Couples in love look out through the embrasures or over the crenellated wall to the sparkling ocean. 

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Conclude your walk at the patio of Café del Mar, where the beautiful late afternoon sunset creates a festive atmosphere. The antique cannons serve only a decorative purpose. Feel free to grab a seat next to one. 

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The colonial villas in the centre of Cartagena now house some of the most beautiful boutique hotels in town. Even if you are not a guest, stop in for lunch or dinner, or sip a tropical cocktail in one of the lush courtyards.

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Alma, the courtyard restaurant of Hotel Casa San Agustín, is one of the most charming spots in Cartagena, boasting live music and a modern cocktail bar. Another great option is restaurant Amadeus, tucked away in the courtyard of Hotel Casa Pestagua, a splendid palace packed with original frescoes.

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Take it to the roof

Seen from above, Cartagena is an impressive jumble of church spires, palm trees, bright bougainvillea and red roof tiles, perfectly bound together by a string of 17th-century city walls. This panorama is the perfect setting for a sundowner on a rooftop patio.

The rooftop bar of Movich Hotel Cartagena in the historic city centre has an unparalleled view. If bubbly cocktails and a trendy vibe are more your scene, then the rooftop of bar Alquímico is the place to be. This is where the Mulberry Project (a New York cocktail bar) pop-up has set up shop for a year. 

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Castillo San Felipe de Barajas, the fort just outside of the historic centre, provides a sweeping view over the city. The fort itself is best admired from the rooftop bar of the nearby San Lázaro Art Lifestyle Hotel. 

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Wayuu bags and authentic woodcarvings

Cartagena abounds in street vendors plying everything from colourful carnival masks and wayuu bags to traditional hats and dress shirts. The latter two are known in local Spanish as sombreros vueltiaos and guayabera.

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To make sure your purchases are fair trade,visit El Centro Artesano, a small but delightful boutique shop that sells jewellery, woodcarvings and textiles. An added attraction is the cosy coffee bar in the back of the store run by local culinary celebrity, chef Julian Calderon. 

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Drinks and dancing

Getsemaní, Cartagena’s younger and trendier district, is the perfect destination for a night on the town. The restaurants and bars are budget-friendly, just like the accommodations, which include a number of hostels. The most famous one, Media Luna, is known for its happening Wednesday evening parties.

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Nearby, you will also find the lively bars around Plaza de la Trinidad. Bar Demente serves not only tapas but also the best Colombian craft beers. For upbeat live music, head to Havana — the city’s most popular and liveliest salsa bar.

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Chefs Jaime Rodríguez Camacho and Sebastián Pinzón Giraldo, the local pioneers of ‘New Caribbean Cuisine’

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Gourmet search

Countless street vendors sell deep-fried corn buns with egg (arepas de huevo) and cassava rolls with cheese (carimañolas de queso). But the Colombian Caribbean offers many more culinary delights. Chefs Jaime Rodríguez Camacho and Sebastián Pinzón Giraldo, the local pioneers of ‘New Caribbean Cuisine’, delve deep into the regional kitchen on their explorative road trips along the coast. 

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Every Thursday night they present the results of their findings, with a gourmet twist, in their pop-up restaurant ‘Proyecto Caribe’. The eatery is housed in a beautiful apartment overlooking the central Plaza de los Coches, with a view of the main city gate.

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Tropical paradise

To escape the hustle and bustle of the city, you can choose from an entire archipelago of coral islands. Isla Mucura is a small tropical paradise, home only to iguanas and a handful of people. Swaying coconut palms and scraggy mangroves frame the white beach; the crystal-clear water teems with tropical fish and sea turtles. Backpackers can rent a hammock at Hostal Isla Mucura. For a more upscale experience book a stay at the Punta Faro resort, a relaxed 4-star accommodation with a private beach, restaurant and dive centre. During the new moon, the surf glows with luminescent plankton.

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