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Perfect Weekend in Cartagena

  • Famous door knockers of Cartagena
    Famous door knockers of Cartagena
  • Ceviche from El Boliche
    Ceviche from El Boliche
  • Hotel Casa San Agustin
    Hotel Casa San Agustin
  • Plaza Santo Domingo
    Plaza Santo Domingo
  • Casa San Agustin pool
    Casa San Agustin pool
  • Traditional handmade bags
    Traditional handmade bags
  • View from Castillo San Felipe de Barajas
    View from Castillo San Felipe de Barajas
  • Casa Pombo
    Casa Pombo
  • Hotel Casa San Agustin
    Hotel Casa San Agustin
  • On the way to Rosario Islands
    On the way to Rosario Islands
  • Interior of Casa Pombo apartment
    Interior of Casa Pombo apartment
  • Magical Cartagena
    Magical Cartagena
  • Casa Chiqui
    Casa Chiqui
  • Streets of the Old City
    Streets of the Old City
  • Traditional red snapper
    Traditional red snapper
  • Buffet breakfast at Casa San Agustin
    Buffet breakfast at Casa San Agustin
  • Watching the sunset
    Watching the sunset

Cartagena oozes style. From the food and nightlife, to the colonial architecture, to the locals dressed in crisp white linens. On my recent sisters’ weekend in November, it was easy to see why Colombia’s UNESCO heritage port town is South America’s new hotspot. And a perfect (yes, safe) weekend getaway.

Effortlessly chic describes our hotel, the two-year-old Casa San Agustin. It’s a 10-minute ride from the airport, just inside the walled city.  The heavy rough iron entrance opens on to a stunning oasis. Carolina greeted us with a refreshing welcome drink as we were shown to the salon to take in the view. At the heart of most colonial buildings is the central courtyard. Here we couldn’t wait to dive in to the pool just off the lobby and flanked by a 17th century stone wall, the original aqueduct of the city. Service is very attentive. Suites are plush (with in-room iPads) and the lavish buffet breakfast is served in an equally elegant dining room.

Much of the hotel’s cool decor comes from Casa Chiqui, on the same block. This interior design store run by Cartagena socialite Chiqui de Echavarria is a treasure trove of beautiful objets d’art. Including the exquisite door knockers, adorning the entrances of so many buildings and homes. While tooling around the walled city, check out Lucy Jewelry, for a nice selection of Colombian emeralds. Fashionistas will fall for St Dom, a sleek boutique showcasing cutting edge local designers.

Peek in to any of the luxury boutique hotels dotting the Old City to be wowed by the high concept designs in historic buildings. Casa Pombo is an astonishingly beautiful five-apartment property, surrounding a floating courtyard, with a rooftop pool overlooking the city. Its sister hotel, Casa Pestagua, is another lovely converted mansion, where oversized suites feature some of the original 17th century furnishings.

Cartagena’s food scene is exploding. Sophisticated meals, especially seafood, are very reasonably priced. Ceviche, found on most menus, is a must. At tiny El Boliche, each plate of fresh ceviche was an edible work of art. We were heartbroken when Anthony Bourdain’s favorite, La Cevicheria, was closed for renovation. For an authentic lunch of fried fish, coconut rice and plantains, Espiritu Santo, is bustling with locals. And La Perla elevates Peruvian cuisine and killer pisco sours in a relaxed, upscale setting. The star is their suckling pig. Also popular is Don Juan, a lively dining institution.

One historic must is a visit to Castillo San Felipe de Barajas, a five-minute cab ride from the walled city. Built in 1536, it was the greatest fortress built by the Spaniards to defend any of its colonies. The fascinating history is best experienced with an audio tour (skip the group tour). Go early to avoid the blazing afternoon sun. When you need a break from the heat, duck in to the small but impressive Gold Museum on Plaza Bolivar. Then snack on fresh arepas and juice from the many stalls along the square.

If time allows, definitely get out of the city for a day. An afternoon on the beautiful coral beaches of the Rosario Islands is only an hour boat ride away. And for an alternative spa adventure, the mud baths at Volcano Totumo are very popular with tourists.

Make sure you finish your weekend with a drink at Café del Mar, perched on the historic walls. It’s the perfect spot to watch the sun set on the Caribbean Sea and surrender to the magic of the city.

This was Sekita Ekrek’s first time in Colombia, but certainly not her last. Both Avianca and Jet Blue offer direct flights from New York’s JFK to Cartagena.

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