Colombia has it all. From the cities to the jungle to the mountains to the beaches, there’s something for every kind of traveller. Now I’m the the type of traveller that likes a bit of everything, but who in particular loves all things beach. Naturally, then, visiting Cartagena was on the top of my list of places to visit in Colombia.
I came here once before, but I was only a few months old so it’s safe to say I have zero recollection of the trip. Luckily, my cousin Elena’s family (on the other side of my own) owns an apartment by the beach here. They invited me to join them for a vacation of just over two weeks, so here I am in paradise!
Cartagena itself is fascinating. It was founded in the 16th century by the Spanish, and the old town is impressively preserved. It’s also surrounded by old fortification walls, built to protect the city from French and English invasions. This colonial area was actually named a UNESCO World Heritage Site!
Nearby the old town there is the San Felipe castle, another site where the Spanish army defended the city. It’s a cool place to visit with lots of tunnels and a great view over the town. Additionally, with a guided tour you can learn a great deal about Cartagena’s history.
Besides visiting this colonial part of the city and learning a bit about the history, I’ve been doing a lot of lounging on the beach. The apartment is perfectly located right along the beach, so most mornings we go down to read, swim, and tan for a few hours.
The Cartagena beach experience is something unique; there are dozens of vendors walking along selling all sorts of different goods. You can buy jewellery, beach shawls, water toys, drinks, and lunches. You can get a temporary tattoo, or have your hair braided, or get a massage. But of course, if none of that appeals, you can just say “No, gracias” firmly and wait until they pass by. It’s a bit overwhelming at first, but after a while you get used to it.
Ringing in 2017
Additionally, I got to experience New Years festivities as they happen in Cartagena. First, we spent the night at the house of some extended family of my cousin. We ate dinner there, and spent a mellow evening chatting and drinking. At midnight, we cheered and gave each other new year hugs, while watching the distant fireworks.
There are some wacky, fun Latin American New Year’s traditions too, though, and I got to participate in a few of them. Here’s what we did:
Burning the negative of the past year.
A cousin of my aunt spent the evening sewing a little doll. Little did the doll know that it was destined for a short life – it was burned just before midnight. Along with it went pieces of paper on which we had all written things we would like to leave behind in 2016. Setting it all aflame offered a satisfying sense of release of negative energy from the past year.
Sending hopes for the new year to sea.
We also wrote on a separate piece of paper our hopes for 2017. Things we want to achieve, or change about ourselves, or see happen in the world. We put them on a little handmade boat, and after midnight we walked to the beach and sent it off.
Running around the block with a suitcase.
After wishing everyone a happy new year, my cousin and I headed off down a nearby bicycle path with some suitcases in tow. It’s supposed to mean that we’ll travel lots in the new year! Some people in an apartment across the street cheered us on and wished us happy travels. We were pretty winded at the end – perhaps running more should be a New Years resolution?
Dance, Dance, Dance
After the midnight excitement and these rituals, my cousin and I headed to the centre with one of her cousins and we danced the new year away. At a party in an outdoor plaza, we swayed along to the rhythms of merengue, salsa, and champeta. Well, they did – I just did my best to not step on people’s feet! However, my skills increased substantially in concordance with my rum intake – or at least the rum made me think they did. 🙂
When we left the party and were heading home, we came across a bunch of people dancing in the street to someone’s music. It was a makeshift afterparty, and it was amazing. We stayed and danced until the police came to clear everyone away.
The New Year in Cartagena was definitely a blast. I hope you had a good time wherever you were and whatever you did as well! Cheers to an awesome upcoming year. 🙂
Til next post,