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Colombia’s Miami?

The ISA crew in front of the old walled city

Just two hours from Barranquilla is the historic city of Cartagena or, as it felt like to our group, ‘The Miami of Colombia.’ Unlike Barranquilla, which is a much more industrial and non-touristic city, Cartagena is a popular destination for Colombians and foreigners alike. Founded in 1533 by the Spanish, the city still contains much of the 17th century fortress and the historic walled city. (The Editors of Encyclopaedia Britannica, 1998). Neighboring the old stone walls however, is a glittering city reaching for the sky.

The duality of the old Spanish fort and the new shiny city

The main destination for the weekend was the Rosario Islands which is a National Park about a 2hr boat ride from downtown. The beaches on these islands are at least partly responsible for the local Barrinquilleros saying the beaches close to Barranquilla aren't pretty. That is to say, this beach was jaw dropping. The color of the water was matched only by that of the Galapagos and the beach was perfectly fine, white sand. It did have its share of random chunks of coral though, making it a much better beach for swimming than shuffling around with your toes. After a concerningly blue, but tasty, drink, two of the guys and I headed out for a snorkeling adventure with a local guide.

A little beach weather prediction

I was at first rather unimpressed but then we quickly came across a very lively and quite healthy section of reef teeming with tropical fish. I even found a few of my favorite little blue damselfish. Our guide then took us to the sight of an underwater plane crash. The aircraft belonged to the famous drug lord Pablo Escobar who had a residence on the island and it crashed just a few feet from shore. On the boat ride home our program director warned us to get to the boat early so we could get the best seats to avoid the larger afternoon waves. This translated in my head to sitting in the bow of the boat for maximum roller coaster effect.

Beautiful postcard streets

The walled city is also well known for its nightlife and let’s just say you could have acquired any of your vices within those walls… We spent two evenings wandering around the streets and checking out bars and clubs. The streets were incredibly lively with tourists, vendors and people looking to make a buck off of you. We were offered cigarettes, vapes and drinks at every corner and I’m sure that's not where the drugs stopped if you asked the right folks. Prostitution, while illegal, is also common in the city and a friend and I where offered ‘free boyfriends’ while walking along. Might I add that neither of us where interested and I am certain they weren’t actually free :)

Lots of fun murals in town!

Some folks have found some creative ways to make a few bucks though, including the ring that works for the bars by finding lost souls in the streets (us) and taking them around to the different clubs in hopes of getting a cut of what they spend on drinks. (They have some deal with the bars, we asked one of them how it worked.) Then there are the rappers, which in all technicality are a scam, but are one of the most fun scams I’ve ever seen. Groups of mostly guys wander the streets with portable speakers and will come up to you freestyle rapping about you and hyping you up. If you engage, they will follow you down the street and eventually extend a cap in hopes of being rewarded for their trouble. It's hard to say no when they’ve been your personal cheer squad for the last few minutes. All in all, we had a good time and there were moments I definitely started to feel like I was in Vegas as I watched the spotlights crisscrossing the sky above the rooftops.

Up next is the second largest Carnival in South America! Sending hugs, Jasey

The Editors of Encyclopaedia Britannica. (1998, July 20). Cartagena. Encyclopedia Britannica.


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