“It is not true that people stop pursuing dreams because they grow old, they grow old because they stop pursuing dreams.”—Gabriel Garcia Marquez
It is no accident that the father of magical realism, Gabriel Garcia Marquez, hailed from Colombia, only a few hours from South Florida, but solidly in the realm of early Spanish Colonial magic. People from here are always setting off for Rio or the Dominican Republic and Costa Rica but Cartagena, Colombia is an often-overlooked destination we think is well worth the vacation days.
Cartagena was founded in 1533 as a port city, and is now the fifth largest city in Colombia; its colonial walled city and fortress were designated a Unesco World Heritage site in 1984.
It is this old world charm that draws people here, the churches and plazas, balconied colonial buildings, winding city streets, outdoor cafes and the famous Castillo de San Felipe de Barajas, known as the “greatest fortress ever built by the Spaniards in their colonies.”
The award-winning Hotel Casa San Agustin (a member of Leading Hotels of the World) where we stayed in in the middle of the Old Town, offers the charm and authenticity of a historic inn, tempered by the luxury and service of a five-star hotel. The Aurum Spa is delicious, and the signature restaurant Alma in the hotel courtyard is a celebration of fine Colombian coastal cuisine.
Even out and about, the Colombian experience is as vibrant as it is warm and comforting. Its famous soups are a case in point, from the traditional white soup Ajiaco to Sanacco and more. There is plenty of fresh seafood, traditional arepas, empanadas, lechona (slow-roasted pig with yellow rice) and tamales. And that’s just for starters.
Shopping is fun, too—there are malls of course and designer boutiques but we recommend Las Bovedas, or ‘the vaults’ near San Diego Plaza, which specializes in native handicrafts.
In short, it’s a hop, skip and a jump to beautiful graceful Cartagena and the sumptuous Hotel Casa San Agustin. Next time you’re thinking of the usual getaways, put a little Spanish Colonial flavor in your ideas, and let the magic unfold.