CARTAGENA / Colombia
Although I've traveled a lot around the world, I've never been to Colombia. So far I associated the South American country with "dangerous, corrupt, uncivilized".
Scraps of words I picked up from the news that stuck like chewing gum. Nevertheless, I was now on the plane to Cartagena, which is located on the Pacific coast of Colombia. The American luxury department store Bloomingdales had booked me for a shoot there.
On Google Earth, Colombia is a big green, hilly flat land wedged between Ecuador, Peru, Venezuela, Brazil and the Caribbean Sea.
17 hours later I landed in Cartagena. With its 1 million inhabitants, the city on the Caribbean Sea is mainly known as a holiday resort. The list of his famous personalities is quite manageable. Footballers, boxers and the first billionaire who became rich by smuggling cocaine are from here. So much too dangerous and corrupt.. ;-)
Our Hotel Charleston Santa Teresa (5 stars) (https://www.hotelcharlestonsantateresa.com/#) served with a spa, pool, roof terrace and all-round view of the sea and the old town.
The hotel is grand, elegant, spoiled with delicious food and extremely helpful and friendly staff.
The hotel is located directly in the old town of Cartagena, which has been a UNESCO World Heritage Site since 1984.
Color is celebrated in this city. Most of the houses are built in the Andalusian style and shine in bright lime green, cobalt blue, azure blue, lime yellow, pink, purple, beige, orange. Everything colorful through and next to each other. There's no color that this city doesn't have. And the colors seem to spill over onto people.
Happiness, laughter, music, dance are all present, complemented by the lush green of the gum trees, hanging plants, palm trees and bougainvilleas.
Cartagena is one of the most beautiful and safest colonial cities in Colombia and is located in a rather rainy zone. The best time to travel is in the Colombian summer, from December to March. It's called the dry season, but by our standards it's still pretty muggy. The temperatures are usually between 30 and 35 degrees. I was there in December.
In the alleys of the old town you will find an almost perfect photo location on every corner.
It's a bit annoying that you're often approached by dealers. It triggers a bit of a Moroccan souk feeling for me. If you want to be left alone, it is best not to look the dealers in the eye, ignore questions and not stand still ;-). It's not really nice, but it's the easiest way to keep pushy salespeople at bay. Otherwise, the Colombians are extremely friendly and helpful.
On the search for typical, not too expensive souvenirs, I came across beautiful hand-knitted bags. They can be found on every corner in every imaginable color and pattern. They cost between 20 and 60 US dollars. In the end I actually had 10 bags in my luggage for my children and friends. Groaning and only with full physical effort, my suitcase could be closed.
Culinary I remember the many dishes with plantains and coconut. And of course the fresh fruits that are offered everywhere... mangoes, papaya, guava, dragon fruit and many others.
Among the exotics, I fell in love with the passion fruit "Granadilla". The orange peel hides a delicious, jelly-like flesh with numerous green, edible seeds. It tastes sweet and sour and slightly reminiscent of a gooseberry.
Although Colombia is one of the leading coffee-growing countries in the world, I give the thumbs down when it comes to the way the coffee is prepared. Which doesn't really mean much, because I, a philistine, love my coffee as weak as possible and with frothed milk. Apparently a no-go for Colombians. Here it is drunk strong and black.
But I still found a great cafe. I got a delicious latte macciato at Cafe Epoca by Sahir Santos (www.epocacafe.com).
Cartagena is not really suitable for beach life. The beaches are rocky and dark. Many therefore take the one-hour boat trip to Rosario Island. There, the typical Caribbean, white beaches and turquoise water lure.
Info: Currency: Colombian pesos. But you can also pay in dollars everywhere. 1 dollar is roughly equivalent to 3,300 pesos. In general, Colombia is not really cheap.