Colombia – Cartegena

Naked Babes Share a Windshield with the Virgin Mary

Seven days from Bogata and some spectacular scenery later we arrived at the Caribbean city of Cartegena having spent a night in Bucamaranga and a couple of unmemorable nights in Santa Marta. For these longer hauls we were on larger buses, the cockpits of which were decked out in velveteen drapes, swags, matching bolsters for the stick shift and assorted decorations including the Virgin and/or naked babes bouncing from springs stuck to the windshield. We had great views as we were able to sit in the front two seats of the bus and the spare driver let us climb down beside his jump seat to take pictures out the window when the views were jaw dropping. In Columbia two drivers share the job, one sleeps or visits the other and both talk with abandon on their cell phones, at the wheel or not. We wound our way up and down through the beautiful Andes and followed the narrow twisting road through passes, across plateaus and up and down and finally we were back at sea level and on the last leg to Cartegena.


GNCartagena is the jewel of the Colombian Caribbean. A beautiful modern and historical city it is a travellers delight. With narrow streets crowded with locals, tourists, vendors, taxis, horse and carriages and a multitude of colonial architecture it offers a banquet of things to do and see. She is a beautiful old gal with a sordid past that involved pirates, legends of gold, spaniards and indigenous people, canons and forts, wealth and loss. In spite of its past, Cartagena is relatively safe, common sense prevailing, and there are many nooks and crannies to explore. A wanderer’s paradise!

Ten Hints that You Might Be Staying in a Brothel

Arriving by bus we took a taxi to the main square, you guessed it Plaza Bolivar, and Tom searched out a hotel while I guarded the luggage in a restaurant. After settling in we noticed that only some of the guests actually stay the night at the Arthur Hotel. Most people come and on more of a short term basis. The staff was genial and good humored, laughing at our antics, including the manager and especially the muchachas who did the cleaning. We had great rooms with adjoining balconies which were accessed through tall narrow louvered doors. This was our first encounter with the legendary Colombian bathroom that doubles as the shower stall. From our balcony we had many hours of entertainment watching the comings and goings on the street below…card games, vendor disputes and brightly costumed fruit sellers and all accompanied by the clip clop of the horses and carriages that tour through the old town.

The comings and goings at the Arthur resulted in the following musing:

Top Ten Hints That You May be Staying in a Brothel!

  1. There are no blankets on the beds, only sheets.
  2. The washer and dryer are in the hall and go 24×7
  3. No one stays overnight except you
  4. The neighbors look askance as you come and go
  5. The girl on the street corner knows how to rouse the night watch when you’re out late and the main door is locked
  6. There is no wifii, facebookpage, web-site or email address for the hotel
  7. Cash only, rates not posted, but very reasonable when revealed
  8. Hourly rates available
  9. The same mujer’s are seen but never the same hombres
  10. There is a discussion in the hallway before the mujer leads her “hombre” into her room

House of ill repute it might have been but the staff was kind, honest and helpful and kept the place spotless and in good repair. Tom and I loved staying there and we each went about our days exploring Cartagena, meeting early in the evening for dinner or heading to the beaches together for a swim and a sunbathe. We stayed in the old part of Cartagena, exploring the new city and another older neighborhood called Getsemani. Like Havana, Cartagena is alive and vibrant from sun up until late into the evening. We had the good fortune to be there for the 55th aniversary of the largest film festival in the Americas. It featured a great program using the beautiful old theatres as venues.

Everything happens on the streets in Cartagena. Card games, vendors, cars, horse and carriages and a river of people share the narrow lanes between the old buildings.

Originally we had planned to make a complete circle of Colombia, returning to the south via Medellin and Cali, ending in Popayan for Semana Santa but since we loved Cartagena so much and stayed longer than planned we had to cut our time shorter than we’d hoped in Colombia. That combined with another temptation in the form of a Caribbean Island – Isla San Andres – we were led to make a change to our itinerary and book flights to Panama via San Andres.

Fruit sellers dressed in traditional creole costume were waiting in the small plaza near our hotel to serve us a fresh bowl of fruit everymorning and just a few steps away, a coffee vendor would pour us a heavily sugared cup to start the day.

Barrio Getsemani – Great Street Art
Not far from Old Cartagena is the barrio of Getsemani, a residential area for the most part. I arrived as most people were at home having lunch. Doors wide open to the streets it was easy to have a peak inside and to see how important the family is and how much contact they have throughout the day. The street art and the colorful beauty of wall murals are mesmerizing and spending several hours wandering the hustle and bustle of Getsemani is a lot of fun.
Bums yes, boobs no!
Many days of wandering Cartegena’s old streets were punctuated with some time in the modern parts of the city where you find the swimming beaches. Something interesting in Colombia is that women wear g-string bathing suits and bikinis but unlike the Europeans don’t bear their breasts. We became quite accustomed to the look of various sizes and shapes of gluteus maxima.

Fond Farewells

Not far from a square we frequented we got to know some of the vendors and servers and they were warm, friendly and helpful like the staff at our hotel. The day we departed in a taxi for the airport we felt like celebreties as street vendors, hotel staff and restaurant servers gathered around our taxi, waving goodbye and wishing us a speedy return to Cartegena.

























Author: scbates

I love to travel, solo or together with friends. I’m writing this blog in part to remind myself of where I’ve been and what I’ve enjoyed about this wonderful world of ours, and in part I hope to help other travellers by sharing my experiences. I’m happy to be contacted for further information and appreciate your following my blog.

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