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7 Perfect Days in Cartagena

Ahhhhh!!! Not since our visit with our family in Cuenca, Ecuador have we been spoiled so much.

A few years back Lindsay’s dad, Rick, mentioned that he wanted to go to Cartagena, Colombia. We sort of shrugged our shoulders and didn’t think much of it. Never did it cross our minds that we would have a family vacation there – and that is exactly what we had. Funny how things work out.

We had spent the last few months – almost since Bolivia back in May – at high altitude (2500 meters +) and in mild to cold weather conditions. We had to load up on a bunch of cold weather gear for our trek to Machu Picchu thru the Salkantay Pass & didn’t even come close to dressing appropriately for the 40 degree temperatures, heavy rain and brutal winds at the top of Cotapaxi mountain in Ecuador. Needless to say we were so ready for warm weather and to top it off Lindsay’s parents we’re coming down from Chicago for a good ole fashioned family vacation.

For the last month or so we have been texting back and forth figuring out where we were going to stay, what we wanted to do and getting the trip organized. I have been on a few sailing vacations with Lindsay’s family and lived with them for longer than I like to admit to anyone I really don’t know well. (For the record I have lived with Lindsay’s parents for more than 2 years total over 2 different periods – both while being a grown adult. The last stint was while we were married. And we’ll probably go back when we return to the states!)  But anyways – the point here is that we have spent a ton of time together -the 4 of us – but I had never been on a traditional, land-based vacation with them. We’d always been on a boat, so this was going to be a new experience!

And holy crap. Wow. We absolutely creamed Cartagena. The 7 days we were here flew by. It seems like yesterday we opened the door for them at our beautiful Airbnb apartment in the old walled-city of Cartagena to have a cold beer on the rooftop.

I am not entirely sure where I should start, I don’t want to do a “Day 1, Day 2, Day 3..” kind of thing, but I will tell you it’s much easier to organize this in my head in chronological order.  If anyone is genuinely interested in learning who we booked our tours thru, what cooking classes and exactly the restaurants and routes we took to the surrounding islands – just shoot me an email, I’d be happy to share. Otherwise, here are some the many highlights from the last week.

If you’re wondering where to start check out Lonely Planet Colombia (Travel Guide) for some ideas. The book is really helpful in generating ideas and having a reference that doesn’t require an internet connection.

I crack up every time I think of our first night together. Lindsay bought everyone tickets to attend the Cartagena Mixologist Finale to find Cartagena’s #1 Mixologist. This event was SUPER swanky. Ha. I had shorts and flip flops (so did Rick) and just about every other dude was in jackets, pants, shiny shoes and sick button-down shirts. The ladies at this event we’re dressed to the max. I wore a backwards hat. We were very out of place. But we had a blast. We tried 4 (mediocre at best) drinks and finally said “f this” and headed to the bar and bought a real drink: Ron Zacapa 30 year rum.


I had been pushing off cutting my beard for a few weeks. Lindsay had almost stopped nagging me about it. Almost. We finally passed a barber shop and I agreed to go get a trim. You don’t realize how close I was to keeping that mustache. I have to admit though I am glad that I got rid of that beard for things like eating guacamole and drying off after the shower.


The Monday after Lindsay’s parents arrived we spent the afternoon getting a private tour of Cartagena. Behind us in this picture is the fort of San Felipe. I love this picture because this is exactly what our group looked like for 5 hours. Rick loves history and had a bazillion questions. It was really nice to sit back, relax and enjoy the history lesson. Usually I am the one asking all the questions but not this tour.


Yes we lived like a King and Queen for 95% of our stay in Cartagena. But we also mixed it up a bit. On Tuesday we took the less-traveled path to Playa Blanca via a local boat we boarded at the back of a flea market in the industrial part of town. We were the only gringos on this ride. But it beats the heck out the way we got back home (via taxi). This boat ride was a beautiful 40 minute cruise while the taxi back home was 90 minutes of non-stop bumper to bumper traffic. But don’t judge a book by it’s cover – this is actually traveling in style, believe me.


This was the destination after the boat ride – Playa Blanca. We had heard pretty mixed opinions on this beach. Our guide from the day before said to avoid it, some fellow backpackers said it was “alright” but I thought the place was gorgeous and we had an entire area almost to ourselves. Unfortunately the beers were so dang good we lost track of time and forgot to take the last boat home – hence the taxi back. Whoops.


Sometimes the best way to get an understanding of a country is thru it’s cuisine. We paired up with a local Colombian chef and spent the morning shopping for ingredients at Mercado Bazurto (so effing gross) and the afternoon in the kitchen making some traditional Colombian food. Lindsay was in charge of the patacones (plantains), Rick & Joan were on all things fruit (juices and dessert) and Jeff took care of the fish sauce and onion soup.


Both Lindsay’s Mom and her Dad were pro negotiators on the streets. Joan got the group off to a good start by patiently shopping for a Panama-style hat. The price began in the $15 range and she walked away with a hat a few vendors later for about $6. Rick is representing Kits in Lake Zurich which is sweet too. Bulls.


The parental units weren’t too excited when we told them we signed us up for a beginner’s salsa dance class. But they’re good sports and went with the flow. Turned out to be a lot of fun and we all learned something new. We also realized that none of us have any rhythm. Not the best photo in the world, but’s all I got. If you look closely you can see everyone including me poking out with my phone to take the picture.


This is the view from the rooftop. The sun is setting over the Caribbean. This was the start of an epic evening for Rick and I. At this point we hadn’t any clue what was in store for us.


Fast forward a couple hours later and you can see the excitement on our faces as we just realized the restaurant offers and all-you-can-drink option on the menu for 2 hours. Notice how close we are to the bar behind us. Yikes.


This is what two beautiful women look like that opted NOT to indulge in the all-you-can-drink special.


Here’s what a couple of half-in-the-bag guys look like that have begun to order straight rum on the rocks look like. After a few of these babies we were both in pretty rough shape. After dinner we dropped the girls off at the apartment and caught a cab to the casinos in Bocagrande. We did not win. But boy did we have fun!


After a night of drinking heavily we weren’t moving too well the next day. Perfect for the spa. Family hand and foot massages (with plenty of cold water to re-hydrate) really hit the spot.


It took me an entire day to start to feel better, but once I did we were back on the boat. This time heading towards Rosario island. We booked a day at a private beach and hotel resort to get one last day in the sun. The boat ride there was smooth, but by the time we left around 3pm the winds had picked up making for a bumpy and wet ride back.


The island was perfect. White sand beaches, kayaks to take out to a reef to snorkel, cold beers delivered to your lounge chairs, a great grilled fish lunch, plenty of sun and the refreshing ocean water made for a great last day in Cartagena.


As the saying goes, all great things must come to an end. And just like that we were enjoying our last dinner together in Cartagena. But we went out in style having a great meal at 1621 in the Sofitel Santa Clara enjoying a few glasses of Champagne and a delicious Tannat from Uruguay. Lindsay had lobster, I had duck, Rick had oxtail and Joan had a filet. We finished it off with a shared all-American dessert (to ring in the 4th of July) of warm apple pie with vanilla ice cream. By the way, you can tell I was “kissed” by the sun in this picture – make you sure you do a better job applying sunscreen
than I did!


Thank you so much for the awesome week!

They are our friends, our roommates, our parents, our cat’s babysitters and parents-in-laws — and we miss them already. It’s only been a few hours but Cartagena isn’t the same without them.  Thank you so much for spoiling us. It’s crazy, we’re 31 years old and married and our parents are still taking care of us. Ha, some things just don’t change, huh?

We leave shortly for a 5-day sail from Cartagena to Panama. Shortly after we’re meeting my parents for a 9-day vacation on the west coast of Costa Rica, near Manuel Antonio national park for round 2 of vacation with your parents! We’re super pumped. 🙂





2 thoughts on “7 Perfect Days in Cartagena

  1. Anne

    Hi there! Great tips on Cartagena! Can you tell me where you rented your house from in Cartagena and send the contact information? Keep on writing. Your blog synapse was fun to read!

    Thanks so much!


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