Raise your hand if you love to travel!
Raise both if you actually do it.
I know so many people who say they want to travel and yet they never go and do it.
There are some legit reasons (work, family, etc.) and some that, in my humble opinion, are not so legit.
Like not having the money.
Or not having anyone to travel with.
Travel does not have to be expensive and you can definitely hop on a plane and explore a new place by yourself.
I’m living proof of that.
In 2015, I quit my corporate job at an insurance company and went to Nicaragua by myself — with $300 in my bank account. This was before I started my writing business and I was broke AF. I was scared shitless but I did it and it was amazing. I met so many cool people and figured out how to work for myself (largely out of necessity).
It’s been almost 2 years since my first solo international trip and now travel is a big part of my life.
In February of 2016, I went to Mexico for 5 weeks alone (I was dating my boyfriend at the time but we weren’t super serious). Him and I traveled in the US quite a bit last year and closed out December with a week-long anniversary trip to Cartagena.
Our Cartagena trip was actually the first international trip I went on with someone else—and it was amazing.
I have been dying to share but have just been so caught up with other stuff. So here we are, a month after getting back from Colombia and I’m finally writing a post about my experience.
We stayed at Hotel Santo Toribio, a boutique hotel located in the heart of the walled city of Cartagena. Our room was absolutely gorgeous (the entire hotel was, really). In the past I’ve stayed in hostels and only the occasional cheap hotel but since this was our anniversary trip we splurged.
At under $500 for 6 nights it was hardly a splurge, though.
One of the things I loved about this hotel was that it was in such a great location but was really quiet.
When we arrived, we were shown to our room and about 2 minutes later the bartender of the attached restaurant knocked and handed us delicious cocktails. I have no idea what they were but I loved them.
The front desk receptionist was so sweet and, even through our broken Spanish and her broken English, she was super helpful and gave us lots of tips about exploring Cartagena.
If you visit Cartagena, I highly recommend staying at Hotel Santo Toribio or another boutique hotel inside the walled city. The city is known for their gorgeous, luxe boutique hotels.
If we hadn’t gone with Santo Toribio, we were going to stay at La Passion Boutique Hotel…they have a rooftop pool! Next time, perhaps.
We spent a lot of time each day just walking around Cartagena, exploring side streets, and popping into random stores and restaurants.
We did some incredible activities there but one of my favorite pastimes was looking at the brightly colored houses that line all of the streets. They are all sandwiched in but, my god, are they stunning.
Isn’t David adorable? Ugh, my bearded viking. I can’t even.
But I digress.
This pic is of him at what came to be our favorite breakfast spot in all of Cartagena—Pris Pris Cafe. It’s a tiny shop but the staff is so friendly and the food is amazing.
David’s favorite was a ham and cheese empanada and my faves were the empanada stuffed with chorizo and the guava and cheese pastry.
The coffee was just ok and because I need at least decent coffee to function we got into the habit of eating breakfast here each morning and then heading a few blocks over to Cafe San Alberto (we actually bought several bags of coffee beans there as gifts and for ourselves).
Speaking of food, the cuisine in Cartagena is incredible. Of course, the standard fare there is much like any other coastal Latin American city—lots of rice, plantains, and fish. But if you’re into that sort of thing, you’ll be in heaven.
Being so close to the ocean, every menu we saw was seafood heavy (which we were thrilled about).
I ate several whole fishes which, at first, was a little weird for me. But after I got use to seeing a fish head attached to my dinner I started enjoying the authenticity of it.
The coconut rice was soooo good and was also a staple in most of our dishes.
We ate at a few hole in the wall places for dinner and enjoyed street food for lunch (arepas con huevo are the bomb, especially topped with a bit of pineapple salsa).
But being the foodies that we are, we were excited to try some of the fancier eateries in Cartagena.
My absolute favorite was Carmen Restaurant — an upscale take on traditional Colombian cuisine. It won’t suffice to say that they served the best food I’ve ever eaten. I have to tell you in detail:
They started us off with an “amuse bouche” of creamy minestrone and a chili stuffed with octopus. We followed that with homemade bread and balsamic vinegar with olive oil. Our appetizer was house-cured salmon, seasoned rice croquettes in black tempura, avocado pudding, passionfruit & ginger, and Asian dipping sauce.
For dinner, David had Cartagena-style braised beef belly, cola and spice reduction, glazed carrots and Asian peas over risotto.
I had fish with a green plantain crust, coconut rice risotto, rum raisin purée, a banana cream purée, topped with a lemon foam (pictured above).
Almost done–dessert was a Brazil nut “crumble”, corozo & lychee caviar, mandarin orange & lemongrass sorbet, açai gel, araza foam.
Jealous? You should be. And all of that was only $65 total.
It was so delicious that I couldn’t stop smiling, which is the way food should make you feel, yeah?
After we ate, we went back to our hotel and passed out for like 2 hours. We were stuffed.
When we weren’t stuffing our faces, we were trying to cool off from the insane heat and humidity (it was a lot like Atlanta is in the summer but it’s been cold here for awhile so our bodies were struggling).
We passed this at least a dozen times before stopping in to treat ourselves to one of their delicious pops.
The shopping in Cartagena is also pretty amazing.
Casa Chiqui was my favorite store in the whole city. It’s owned by Chiqui Echavarria, a woman known for throwing exquisite parties. The curated items in the shop show just how fancy this lady is—gorgeous dishes, hand woven hammocks, and Moroccan lamps grace literally every corner of the building.
We didn’t end up buying anything from here as the price tags were quite steep ($600 for a hammock!) but browsing was a ton of fun.
Another highlight of our Cartagena trip was taking a short boat ride to the Rosario Islands.
We’re looking nautical, as you can see.
I grew up sailing and going out into the ocean, so I was thrilled to have the chance to experience this.
Once we got to the island, we were given salty margaritas and briefed on all the activities available to us—snorkeling, kayaking, seaside massages, a lunch feast, and a nice hammock area to enjoy.
David and I grabbed a kayak and headed out into the calm Caribbean. It was challenging to steer the kayak but we had a blast.
When we were worn out from the ocean, we made our way to the hammocks and posted up with a couple beers. We spent about 4 hours drinking and napping in hammocks—the ideal way for me to spend an afternoon on a private island.
Despite how amazing the private island was, going to El Totumo was easily my favorite activity of the entire trip.
We decided to go with a tour guide so we didn’t have to mess with getting a taxi back to the hotel and I’m really glad we did.
Our tour guide brought us to the volcano, waited for us, drove us to eat (lunch was included in the tour), and then drove us back to our hotel. He was so friendly and helpful and really made the experience so pleasant.
At the volcano, we climbed up these steep wooden stairs and into the volcano.
Apparently, the levels of mud change with the weather. When we were there, it had been raining and the mud levels were high and we didn’t have to climb in very far.
There were some men in the volcano who massaged the mud into us, which we didn’t ask for (but enjoyed it, nonetheless). If you don’t want them to, just say “no” and they’ll leave you alone.
After we were completely covered in mud, we climbed back down the volcano and headed to the river where we were washed very thoroughly by a couple of sweet old Colombian women.
Overall, I loved being in Cartagena.
I will say that I don’t think we needed 6 full days there. By day 4 we were a little restless and running out of things to do besides walking around and taking in the scenery.
It didn’t help that we went during the rainy season. Every morning and afternoon, the skies opened up and made it even more humid.
Still, an amazing 1st-anniversary trip and I look forward to many more anniversary trips (though I’ll definitely be working to top this one).