101 Reasons to love Cartagena

1. It is impossible to eat too much coconut rice.

2. I’d barely taken one step outside the airport before wondering why I’d ever owned a coat.

3. I’ve never seen a Cartagenero rush – not even when crossing a busy road.

4. No-one likes getting up early. But it’s easier knowing you’re going to buy a fish from the very man who caught it.

5. Tropical bats fly past your head with a wingspan twice the size of your hand. It’s unnerving but exhilarating.

6. Sancocho soup.

7. Weirdly, rain is a relief.

8. Everything – from maize and lentils to fruit juice and coca-cola – is available in a bag.

9. There are still conductors on the buses who scream the various destinations to potential customers. This so-called ‘sparring’ keeps life interesting.

10. Blow drys are expensive. No-one bothers.

11. Hecheno jodade uuuna… erm, what?

12. When sea air is that bracing it can cure almost anything.

13. There is always a wedding on a Saturday night.

14. Bottles of the spirit aguardiente are three times the size of the ones you find in Bogotá.

15. Kola Roman. It’s pink but it grows on you. I promise.

16. Everyone shivers at the Inquisition Museum.

17. Bollo de mazorca is probably the world’s greatest street snack.

18. It is impossible to get bored of watching the pelicans.

19. Everyone knows the way to a free outdoor pool.

20. Pale foreign skin is attractive. Just ask the otherwise choosy mosquitos.

21. Suddenly, siestas are the best invention ever. Even my gym wouldn’t think to open its doors in the early afternoon.

22. I went to peep at Gabriel García Márquez’s house on my very first day. Not sure what he’s done to the wall though.

23. The mud volcano. It’s the weirdest day out ever.

24. Those enormous tropical butterflies also like to hang out in the streets. The blue ones are the best.

25. Forget the silver screen, Cartagena has immortalised decades of the nation’s beauty queens in its pavements.

26. A cheeky smile and regular purchases of Milo cookies will guarantee you constant credit at the corner shop.

27. The novel Love in the Time of Cholera. It’s not set in Cartagena, but it so is.

28. Most cities erect statues for great men, occasionally women. Cartagena has erected one in honour of its seabirds.

29. It is okay to walk in the street without shoes.

30. A colectivo taxi bundles you in with anyone going your way. It’s cheaper then a normal taxi, quicker than the bus.

31. They’ve forgiven us for Francis Drake, but do we have to insist they call him Sir?

32. Cartagena’s not a collection of islands, but it feels like it. There are beaches everywhere.

33. Cartageneros don’t pronounce the letter ‘d’ unless they have to. Neither do the British.

34. Bikes can be hired and cycled through the old city. It’s better for you than a horse and carriage – and cheaper too.

35. The tunnels at San Felipe castle could have been written by Enid Blyton.

36. The doorknockers in the old city are doing their best to outdo one another.

37. There are enormous iguanas everywhere. One came into the house. It was longer than my arm and hid behind the fridge.

38. You might just eat the best pizza of your life in Getsemani. Try the apple special at Cafe de la Trinidad.

39. There is always something going on; the musical festival, the film festival, the horse festival, the Hay festival…

40. It is okay to take a really long lunch.

41. There’s a little man who sells cheap cans of beer to anyone who can’t afford Cafe del Mar. He throws in the sunset for free.

42. Everyone has succumbed to the temptation to peer through the shutters of an old city home. They won’t arrest you.

43. A bottle of Costeñita beer is always refreshing and costs COP $1,100 (39p)

44. Forget the museum. At Mila’s bakery, in the old city, you can buy cake that looks like it’s made from gold.

45. There are tame parrots in Pedro Claver’s garden.

46. Every fruit cart has been lovingly named. You can buy watermelon from The Beauty or avocado from The Love of God.

47. Drinking a cold beer in the warm sea is the height of decadence.

48. The planes will raise the hair on your head when you walk past the runway on your way to Blas el Teso beach.

49. You can eat Mongo Mongo pie at Zebra cafe in the old city.

50. The ‘romantic’ old city street names get lost in translation. Think Street of the Deathtombs or Street of the Wooden Slats.

51. The Naval Museum. It has to be haunted.

52. You can buy a trilby or a panama hat in every colour under the sun. I have my eye on purple.

53. There are fruits you’ve never heard of – try zapote, nispero, caimito and corozo. In a smoothie.

54. It’s perfectly acceptable to eat your way through the Crepes and Waffles ice-cream menu.

55. A single mojito and a moonlit walk along the wall will sate you for a night out.

56. You can gorge on fat cheesy arepas, baked in sunshine.

57. They can make anything from an old coconut shell. I like the lamps. And the sugar bowls.

58. I LOVE CARTAGENA t-shirts are not limited to tourists.

59. Mime artists are funny. Admit it.

60. The little boutiques are essentially just treasure troves, filled with funky bits of jewellery and colourful print dresses.

61. When was the last time you sat on a cannon?

62. There’s a real book row in Centenary Park; stall after stall stuffed with nothing but books. Heaven.

63. Champeta music puts Dirty Dancing to shame.

64. The flowers. They’re stunning.

65. Geckos in your house. It’s a pet you don’t have to feed.

66. The gorgeous old houses in the El Cabrero district make for the perfect Sunday afternoon stroll.

67. The sleazebag who wolf whistled at me every time I went into the house turned out to be the neighbour’s parrot.

68. One night I had to wear ear plugs because the crickets were singing so loudly it sounded like kareoke.

69. Every Cartagena child knows how to make bolis.

70. You can wear flip flops every day.

71. Paint your house any colour you choose. I’ve seen brickwork in hot pink and sky blue and it works.

72. The wall is so thick, you can sit within it.

73. The leaves on tropical trees are so impossibly big that when one landed on my head, I almost fell over.

74. Fresh lemonade comes in every flavour – think mango, cherry and coconut.

75. Take a two-minute rickshaw. It boosts the local economy.

76. Lolling in my pyjamas one Sunday, I bought a coffee from a vendor outside the house. You say lazy, I say convenient.

77. Waiting for a grey day is a pointless task.

78. It’s the perfect place to read sea-related books. I read Papillon, I imagine Moby Dick would be a good one too.

79. A man will come to your door to sell you raspao – it’s like a slush puppie and comes in cola, cherry or lemon.

80. You can buy prawn cocktails from a hut in Getsemani which has an over-sized hat instead of a roof.

81. The Adolfo Mejia theatre is ornate and beautiful.

82. There’s nothing you can’t see from the top of La Popa mountain.

83. Rumba on the coast is still rumba, just more laid back.

84. There’s always someone kindly sharing their fireworks.

85. The Rosario islands are everything you could possibly want in a Caribbean island and more.

86. Coconut milk can be drunk from said coconut. That’s the way it should be.

87. Every night feels like Saturday night.

88. Mapale dancers, whose African moves sailed over with the slaves, perform in public with apparently limitless energy.

89. Sporty, co-ordinated people enjoy an evening rollerblade along the bay. Others, not so co-ordinated, watch.

90. There’s always someone to sell you a cold drink.

91. You can play chess for hours in Simon Bolivar park.

92. There are really weird spiky-nosed fish in the waters around the tourism harbour. Latin name unknown.

93. Club Havana is a brilliant night out.

94. Everything is a photograph.

95. People still believe rubber trees provide a superior kind of shade.

96. Cartagena is a city of legends; everyone knows a story about what goes on behind those doors.

97. I had a massage from a woman so strong I could barely walk home. I had to shuffle sideways like a crab.

98. You can eat oysters for breakfast at Bocachica.

99. It’s really hard to sustain a bad mood.

100. It is perfectly acceptable to become wildly lost in the labyrinthine streets of the old city.

101. Lots of tourists still think Cartagena is too dangerous to visit. Enjoy this while it lasts.

It grows on you.
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61 Comments

  1. mz

    Thank you for writing all this, really, when I am feeling homesick and need a little bit of happiness (i am abroad) you just transport me there in a sentence.

  2. angela

    hello darling …you rock .. I am so glad you love our cartagena … and you will be glad that I could also write 100 reasons to love England ….
    I believe you are British ?
    any way.. this is beautiful … congrats

    1. bananaskinflipflops

      I am English and you should write a 100 reasons; I don’t think I could do it for my own country so would love to see it from a Colombian viewpoint… still, if I did write it, plain chocolate digestive biscuits would definitely be on the list! I hope the weather is being good to you.

  3. julir

    I went there last year and I have to say your list is great but I could keep adding more and more stuff to it! Cartagena is a really great city! Now that your based there why not try Santa Marta, if you like Cartagena you will probably love Santa Marta!

    1. bananaskinflipflops

      I know exactly what you mean, 101 is never enough – but only when you’ve studied a place for a while and fallen for it. I do like Santa Marta but have probably spent less than a week there in total, I could probably write a list of about 10 things, so feel free to help me out!

    2. Lourdes

      Santa Marta! My mother used to tell me so many funny stories about her honeymoon there with my dad. This all is making me very nostalgic…

  4. JMM

    Good job! I grew up in Barranquilla and I’ve been going to Ctgena since I was 2, but I would’ve never been able to come up with 101 different reasons to love it. Also, no. 33 is totally true…still searching for the mythical cockney Cartagenero.

  5. maria clara lemaitre

    Very good 101 points. By the way, the bird statue is for Daniel Lemaitre Tono’s poem “El Alcatraz”. I am from Cartagena and enjoyed very much reading this, we could add more and more things. Thank you for sharing with the world your experience in our “jewel” city!!! I assume you are english, well I live in London and I do love it but I miss Cartagena every day of my life!!!

    1. bananaskinflipflops

      Thank you Maria Clara – is Daniel a relation of yours? If so you must be very proud! I love the way this city celebrates literature – although I was very sad to find the Garcia Marquez Shipwrecked Sailor statue, that I heard was further up Avenida Santander, has vanished. I am a geek about these things so went to look for it, to no avail 😦

  6. anamaria lemaitre

    Thank you for expressing in 100 sentences what many cartageneros miss out .Maybe it´s because they are so used to live in it they won´t notice the wonderfull atmosphere.When you are born there and live far away (in my case Buenos Aires) you can get very homesick,as you have painted a beautiful watercolor with sounds,aromas,tastes ….I love Buenos Aires,but I miss Cartagena also!!

  7. DJB

    Great 101 reasons, and so many more…! As a costeña it makes me feel homesick. You should visit Santa Marta and Barranquilla (especially for Carnaval, nothing like it!). Enjoy my country while I enjoy yours 🙂

  8. George

    You know, I’ve been going to Cartagena for many years and I surely love it, but there are things that have to be mentioned. People in Cartagena throw LOTS of rubbish everywhere, and there is no recycling going on, you only need to look at any of the nearby waterways to see trash covering the shores. Going to the beach on a busy day and seeing the plastics glasses, bags and papers covering the sand is depressing. As much as the old town is beautiful, this is probably just 15 per cent of the entire city, and the rest is quite a mess: The noisy “busetas” bring chaos to the streets, and considering you mentioned shared taxis, I will mention the very useful “moto-taxis”, a very eco-friendly and efficient way of transport that probably supports thousands of families, that sadly the local powers want to erradicate sooner or later.
    A lot of beautiful, wealthy, fabulous people congregate in Cartagena, and were recently very happy to pay 800.000 pesos to go to a party this past new year’s eve. It would have been fantastic if the already very wealthy organisers of the party had dedicated a percentage of their earnings to go to some local charity programme, but no. You only need to go a few minutes away from the old town, anywhere around the “circunvalar” to see poverty akin to some unfortunate African nation. If there is a city that needs and could easily maintain an active charity party scene, Cartagena is that city. The local elites will pay their staff two, maybe three hundred dollars a month, while at the same time will walk around with clothes and accesories worth thousands and thousands of dollars. That is not only mean, but the opposite of elegant, and will only perpetuate the terrible economic differences that exist in Colombia and are at the root of so much violence and insecurity . The real luxury is to fairly share your wealth with the people around you, not to wear overprized designer trinkets.
    I love Cartagena, it is magic, but that does not mean there are not urgent things to change.

    1. Valerie Garcia

      George – so glad you mentioned that. I love Cartagena as well and the 101 reasons where pretty much on-point! I run a meetings and event company in the US and we have decided to span out to the Colombia with the intention of being able to produce such charitable events to employ but as well raise funds for these communities that need it. I believe that if we employ these people to take care of their own communities they will do an impeccable job and will maintain the city and its areas clean. Its a win win situation for everyone so that when tourist see a clean and healthy environment they will spread the word and tell their friends that Cartagena indeed is not just a fun, exciting and beautiful place to visit – but also a clean place. The only question is – if we put such events together, will people from the high-end of Cartagena and beyond attend? I guess it remains to be seen…

    2. ana maria

      I absolutely agree with your comments regarding the “negative” part of Cartagena,It is an am objective picture. But, it is also an objective picture of many other cities in Latin America,for example, and I live there: take Buenos Aires. The trash, the garbage, the differences between poor neighborhoods and the “villa miserias” are worse,taking into account that this country was at one time the 4th power in the world….It has gone back. It is a pity you didnot go visit some social programs in Cartagena: many things are needed,bus some things are being done and done well.

    3. Lourdes

      George, that is a very important point you make, it’s very true. As beautiful as Cartagena is (and I think this is true of every Caribbean city I have visited), there is a great deal of poverty. It’s very difficult to see children begging and ignored.

  9. Luz

    I lived many years in Cartagena, my children were educated there, the strange, the sound of the sea, the breeze, its landscapes. I always said that Cartagena is a natural charm is beautiful. For me, it’s my second city.

  10. Luz Elena Zea

    I love Cartagena too!!!!!!, the best city in the world. I live in DC but I can’t wait to get back. I miss the raspado, drink a cool bear in the beach and a delicious mango with salt. Work hard and have fun as well. Great description of my Cartagena.

  11. Gino

    I lived in Cartagena for 18 years and this makes me miss it so much, excellent points made. I will say, tey do NEED to do something about the goddamn trash everywhere, it’s lack of education that causes this.

  12. Natalia

    You definitely caught the real essence of this magical city and its people. Great job… Specially for noticing all the good things this city has, without letting the bad things outshine them. Thank you!

      1. Luis caro

        Hi I’m also from Cartagena and even though I’ve been living here for more than 26 years, I had never thought in too many things about this amazing city. Sometimes when we’re living far away we always try to explain why it’s a good place to visit but I reckon it’s not good enough as we normally miss information, don’t we? That’s why I’m impressed with your great job! I’d also like to ask if you have eaten ‘Arepa de Huevo’ which is yummy and you should try sorry I if you already did.. Keep going with your awesome job!!!

  13. Marna Pinzon

    I am a cartagenera too, but don’t live there since 4 years ago. However, It is true most of things that you said as is It true what other people wrote about It. Anyway, thanks for your dedication to our city. . . The thing is.. With problem or within… Cartagena is magical. And its people make It especial!. By the way, you forgot “patacón con queso”, too much exquisite! Find them at the córner of Badillo street in the walled city… can I add more? Atlántic salad at Dulcería in Bocagrande. Típical candies at Portal de los dulces.. Can’t say anymore, my son needs the iPad! Bye.

  14. Daniel P.

    I’m a Cartagenero who lives in China. This was wonderful! Made me a little homesick though.
    No. 76. You should add the price of such coffee; 10cents of a dollar! And please some condensed milk on that raspao, please!!! (as it was quoted earlier). Thanks

  15. Diego M. Salgado Ll.

    Dios mío, Jesús!!! So many things about Cartagena that I just miss so much, I didn’t even know what they were until I read this. I have always lived in Cartagena until a few months ago. These things you say are normal to me, barely noticed… But these are the things I miss the most.

    Qué viva Cartagena, la bella! 😀

  16. ana maria lemaitre

    Banana flip flops….if you want to get to know a little more about our being, like Cartagena is Bacana…. I recomend you see a video in you tube: just tag: QUE ES BACANERIA….it´ll show you things that make the essence of the people there.

  17. Pam le Clercq

    My Colombian friend has strongly recommended I visit Cartagena – but I have to say you have done a far, far better sell and it must be no 2 of my ‘must see’ list now. Thanks V BTW -love your profile pic and many congrats on your awards 🙂

      1. Prophet

        Why don’t you escape and meet me too? Dear Vicky, you don’t have to travel to cartagena!Everything good can be found…. just in in bogota 😀

  18. Ceri

    “Forget the silver screen, Cartagena has immortalised decades of the nation’s beauty queens in its pavements” – I read this and immediately had images of hundreds of beauty queens who’d had their feet embedded into wet cement on the street and were now stuck there!

  19. isa

    Interesting list you have here, you are obviously very enthusiastic about Cartagena. I used to live there and had some really great times there. Have to say, though, number 32 on your list is not true: Cartagena really IS a collection of islands. Sad to tell you that 101 is not true anymore, the city is becoming unrecognizable and the tourists are taking over the barrios in and directly around the wall… last time I left I was one of less than 10 non-americans on the plane.

  20. JGM

    23. The mud volcano. It’s the weirdest day out ever.
    This volcano is in the Departamento del Atlantico, next to Bolivar where Cartagena is located. The volcano is not really located in Cartagena.

    32. Cartagena’s not a collection of islands, but it feels like it. There are beaches everywhere.
    Cartagena actually is some sort of collection of islands even though it might not seem/feel like it.

    Other than that, GREAT GREAT GREAT list! Cheers!

  21. Norma Sotomayor

    I really love and miss my hometown Cartagena; I miss the ARRON CON COCO; AREPA DE HUEVO, BOLLO DE MAZORCA, QUESO CRIOLLO, SANCOCHO DE “PESCAO” Y LOS PATACONES…!! I really miss it..!! I LOVE MY BEAUTIFUL CARTAGENA..!! IT’s HOT BUT WONDERFUL!! I LOVE IT!!

  22. Nico

    Love your 101 reasons to love Cartagena. Having lived in barrio San Diego for a little over 12 months now. I consider myself incredibly lucky to be able to enjoy the sights, sounds and tastes of of this incredible city. No other place in the world like it!

  23. Lourdes

    You took me back to a very special time in my life, thank you! La Popa, the geckos, Kola Roman, I noticed you didn’t mention the flying cockroaches, but maybe they’re not as present now. Bocagrande is wonderful, too.

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