In the bohemian Getsemani neighborhood of Cartagena, Colombia, locals still outnumber tourists and real life takes place in art-filled streets.
COLOMBIA TRAVEL – “Getsemani is alive. It’s real,” Colombian entrepreneur Nicolas Wiesner told me as we sat at a table in his Demente Tapas Bar, which he opened in Getsemani in 2013, shunning the pristine colonial center of Cartagena, Colombia.
We were surrounded by hipsters gathered at wooden tables with beers, some leaning against centuries-old stone walls, so it was a point he hardly needed to verbalize. New blood clearly was infusing the old place.
Cartagena de Indias was founded in 1533 on the northern coast of Colombia. Now much of the city is a UNESCO World Heritage Site. Those neighborhoods are sybaritic stunners with some of the most beautifully restored 16th-, 17th- and 18th-century Spanish Colonial architecture in Latin America, all protected by nearly 7 miles of fortified walls, the most extensive in South America and originally built by the Spaniards to keep pirates at bay.
Many historic buildings in the center of Cartagena have been converted into luxurious boutique hotels and acclaimed restaurants. Candy-bright paint jobs and stunning blue skies create a festive, elegant atmosphere, and the languid, Caribbean vibe mingles with the town’s colonial gravitas. The late Gabriel García Márquez, Colombia’s Nobel Prize-winning author, set many of his novels in Cartagena and kept a home here. Mick Jagger and Justin Bieber also reportedly own property in Cartagena.
This town of 900,000 on Colombia’s northwest coast draws tourists from across the globe, including me. But after a week relishing the indulgences of the colonial center, I was ready for a more authentic version of the city.
The Getsemani neighborhood, just a 10-minute stroll from central Cartagena, delivered.
In Getsemani, locals far outnumbered tourists, sidewalks were jammed with residents resting and gossiping in plastic chairs placed just so to catch a breeze, board games were being played in musty tiendas and dusty plazas. Many neighborhood residents have lived here all their lives, and there’s a small-town feel to the neighborhood that proud locals happily share with outsiders.
Since the 1990s the number of visitors to Getsemani has increased steadily, though the place isn’t overrun with them. Backpackers, as usual, lead the way. Now the original budget hostels that opened in this neighborhood rub shoulders with homey midrange hotels and chic boutique lodgings, many at lower prices than their counterparts in central Cartagena.
Not that you’ll be spending much time in your hotel room.
Getsemani’s charms take place in public, out on its lively, gritty streets. There are no major museums, cathedrals or other traditional sights to see here. In Getsemani, the neighborhood is the attraction.