Soak up the sun by day and salsa all night, says Olivia Palamountain
Few cities evoke as much glamour and mystery as Cartagena, a place where street life is king and salsa is religion. Built between the 14th and 19th centuries, it was once one of the West Indies’ most important ports and as the money rolled in, the city flourished, becoming a prime target for pirates and buccaneers in the process. Immortalised in the ’80s classic adventure rom-com Romancing the Stone (Michael Douglas and Kathleen Turner – swoon), Cartagena remains a riot of colonial charm and Afro-Latin energy, guaranteed to seduce any visitor. Circled by an ancient fortified wall (a UNESCO World Heritage Site since 1984), the old-world glamour and decadence of Cartagena Old Town cannot be underestimated.
Labyrinths of cobbled streets and characterful houses painted every colour of the rainbow give way to elegant squares and impressive churches. Expect to be entertained by performers and acrobats, accosted by charming hustlers and wooed by gorgeous arts and crafts, surrounded by balconies dripping in bougainvillea, many of which house excellent bars and restaurants. However, the city still has its edges – tourists are advised to remain vigilant – as well as an ultra-modern face in the high-rise beachfront area of Bocagrande. Colombia’s answer to Miami, it’s one of the most expensive areas of real estate in the country and home to both Cartagena’s swankiest residential addresses and some seriously chi-chi hotels.
Bang in the centre of Old Town, Casa San Agustín is a boutique gem that perfectly encapsulates Cartagena’s rich history. Once three private homes, it has been elegantly transformed into a 31-room hotel filled with original details. hotelcasasanagustin.com
Abaco Libros y Café in the Old Town is a boho bookshop and café with local and international reads lining its walls – grab anything by Gabriel García Márquez and be transported. Getsemaní, a hip neighbourhood that has gone from seedy to sexy and is guaranteed to smash your IG.
For original Caribbean recipes head to La Cocina de Pepina in Getsemaní, where local legend, chef, sociologist and architect, Maria Josefina ‘Pepina’ Yances serves up kick-ass ceviches and a life- changing mote de queso (cheese soup).
Charter a boat out to the white sand beaches of Tierra Bomba and check in to Blue Apple Beach, Colombia’s answer to Nikki Beach, where a sexy crowd sips cocktails to ambient beats. There are rooms available if you want to keep the party swinging.
Journey Latin America offers a four-night stay at Casa San Agustin in Cartagena, Colombia from £1,664 per person B&B, including flights and transfers; journeylatin america.co.uk