Playa Blanca,Cartagena Colombia. Photo:  commons wikimedia.
Playa Blanca,Cartagena Colombia. Photo: commons wikimedia.

COLOMBIA TRAVEL,  By Sean Jansen –What comes to mind when you think of South America? Patagonia? Machu Picchu? The Amazon? Buenos Aires? Cartagena, is oddly enough at the top of that list as well. The rest are all either giant natural wonders, or man made marvels that have a vast and interesting history to them. But if you open up a guide book and turn to the page where they show the South America highlights, Cartagena graces the continent as places to see at the top while also being one of the top cities to see on the entire continent.

And so, why is that? To begin with, Cartagena has a rich history that dates back to the 16th century with strong Spanish influence. And if you Google image the city, the old town and the infamous colonial wall and tiny one way streets with plants draped over balconies pop up and light up the screen. With many one-way streets with different colors, shops, and restaurants and hotels, one cant help but smile while walking the streets and getting up on the wall to watch the sunset while sitting next to a 16th century cannon.

So if the architecture and history of the city isn’t indulging, then what about the food and drinks? You can order pretty much anything you want, from seafood caught fresh that day, chicken and beef from grocery stores and restaurants, to fried plantains that will sweeten up even the harshest of hangovers from the previous nights festivities. And not to mention the fabulous fruits that you can purchase off of the infamous fruit ladies with their selection for sale on top of there heads.

Now of course, Colombia is infamous for its drug lord that the world over knows about and the white powdery substance that many foreigners can purchase legally here, and more cheaply than that of their home countries. But one of Colombia’s top exports is that of coffee. And if you walk the old towns one ways streets, you can find outside terraces, tables set on balconies, or if you fancy, an indoor air conditioned room, where you can enjoy your coffee beans to your choosing.

So if you enjoy coffee in the morning or early afternoon, by the time you realize that the afternoon and evening are the same temperature, your taste buds also change with the weather and hence a slightly stronger and cooler drink is of interest. Colombia has its local spirit that is brewed from sugar cane and if you fancy an interesting spirit, you can go ahead and order it wherever you please. But if there were one drink that Cartagena and its locals as well as foreigners drink alike, it would be the Mojito. Now the history of the drink is strife with rumors of who was the first to come up with the drink. And after Sir Francis Drake made landfall here after his arrival in Cuba and where the drink is apparently of origin, one could contemplate that makes sense that Cuba was first, before Colombia. But in all honesty, who cares? Whether Cuba was first or Colombia, it is a drink guaranteed to cool the soul after an all day exploration of the city, or a drink to get the night going for you.

With the mojito’s kicking in and the smiles becoming ever wider with the memories of the days ventures and the cool buzz of the drink taking into effect, the hips begin to move and the decision-making processes begin to change. You find yourself roaming the one way streets of old town again, and hear the Latin music mix of piano, drums, trumpet, bells and bongos, with the locals pouring into clubs following the music. Somehow you find yourself inside as well and see a dance floor packed with mostly locals moving to the rhythm in beautiful synchronicity and flow.

Salsa is paramount here as much as anywhere else in Colombia. A dance that incorporates your entire body to move and where beads of sweat pour off of your body when practicing it. Constantly in motion, spinning, cross stepping and swaying. And if you find yourself a local to dance with, have fun and try you best to keep up. But if you can somehow follow them and can incorporate your own style into it, they will appreciate it and cheer you on for more and more. And with a night of dancing and mojito’s shared in a romantic city such as this, there really isn’t anything else you need.

There is however, a crown jewel that tops all of what is described and read above, as far as pleasantries and sultry’s. Something that can’t be bought nor bargained for, and that is its location. Its location is nestled on the shores of the Caribbean Sea. With that, coupled with its year round average temperature of 30 degrees Celsius (86 degrees Fahrenheit), it makes for a pleasant daily temperature, with a cool sea breeze to cool off of a days wandering. And if you are so inclined, and why wouldn’t you, you can dive into the waters and explore the surrounding beaches and islands of your choosing. The sea is calm for the most part and is an incredible 30 degrees year round.

Come November until about April, you can delve into the aquatic activities if you find city exploring to be a little warm. The sea kicks up a bit and you can go surfing or kite surfing with rental places on the beach. Or if you are not the athletic type and are on vacation to relax, there are vendors on the beach selling shade and drinks if you want to just lay back and go for a swim at your leisure.

Year round, Cartagena is a joy. Wander the streets of old town for some history, coffee, mojitos, fruit, food, and salsa. Or dive into the aquatic activities of the pleasant Caribbean and get the tan of the locals. There is something for everyone and with cheap accommodation and a friendly local atmosphere, so what’s stopping you?

Sean Jansen is Bachelor in Geography, Humboldt State University and can be reached at

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