CARTAGENA: Home of Warm Beaches, Good Food and Mud Volcanoes

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If there is any town that embodies the quintessential vision of romantic, colonial-style Latin America, it is Cartagena. When you’re inside the old town, it’s hard not to imagine horse-drawn carriages and women in hoop skirts strolling past the colorfully painted buildings with their flower-filled balconies. Merely steps away at all times is the ocean. It’s like a page out of a Gabriel Garcia Marquez novel. (Perhaps because Cartagena is the inspiration for his work with the theme of magical realism.) Oh, and the horse-drawn carriages are still there, actually. That part you don’t have to imagine.

The old city is a lot of fun to explore. There are plenty of little stalls selling candy, quiet side streets where you can sneak a peek into the homes of the locals, and breezy squares where you can watch the colorful people of Cartagena pass by. I don’t recommend souvenir shopping in the old city, unless you see something you absolutely must have. Most of the prices are jacked up because of the regular glut of cruise ship passengers.

Instead, I suggest exploring the city’s amazing restaurants. Like many other prominent Latin American cities, Cartagena is getting into its foodie side. We ate marvelous meals at pricier restaurants like El Santisimo and Peru Fusion, but we also had a delicious, cheap, and quite generous meal at a locals-only lunch spot.

CartagenaWomanOutside the old city, Cartagena begins to resemble Miami, particularly in the beachfront section of Boca Grande. Full of hotels, condos and other high-rise buildings, Boca Grande is a good place to hit the beach. There’s no place to swim in the sea around the old town, but in Boca Grande the water is warm and the waves are gentle enough that many families swim with their kids. Since there are so many people using these beaches, there are lifeguards on duty, making your swim even safer.  For even more beach time, you can spend a day out in the Rosario Islands, which has some great snorkeling areas and a fun outdoor aquarium.

A short drive out of Cartagena, there’s one of the weirder spa treatments I’ve ever experienced. Yes, even weirder than those tanks with fish that eat the dead skin off your feet! It is…the mud volcano!

I went to the mud volcano for the first time on my second visit to Cartagena. On our previous trip,  I missed it due to a cold and heard about it from my mom. It sounded more like a muddy hike than a fun activity, but I figured I could always see for myself and decide whether to participate or not.

I don’t know what I expected (perhaps something that actually erupted, but with mud instead of lava?), but when we arrived the mud volcano just looked like a small mountain of dirt. I walked up to the top, still a bit apprehensive, and was met with a large hole full of people frolicking in the mud.

COLOMBIA GRADUATION PV 010Yep, the mud volcano, is actually more like a mud pool and spa! Complete with masseuses who rub you down with mud as soon as you step down the ladder and into the muck. Once you’re done, you climb out, get the mud wicked off of you, and go down the volcano to a little lagoon where local ladies help you wash off. Then you can walk back to a little open- air shack where you can snack on a delicious, freshly-made arepa to complete the experience.

Despite the oddity of it all, I can vouch that the mud treatment works on your skin. For days afterward visiting the mud volcano, my usual skin problems were nowhere to be seen and my skin felt baby soft. It was a great deal considering everything we did at the volcano, arepas included, cost us less than five dollars. You really can’t get that kind of bargain, let alone the memories of dipping yourself in a mud volcano, at a regular spa!

Our  adventure ended with a relaxing lunch on a quiet beach a few minutes away, where we splashed around in the warm Colombian waters to wash off any lingering dirt. As a Southern California gal who is used to the cold Pacific Ocean, the bathtub-like beaches and the magic of Cartagena are really the only excuse I need to go back to Colombia for a third trip.

For more on our trips to Cartagena and Colombia, starting at $599 per person double occupancy, please check out our website!

Happy Traveling,

Daniella

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