A UNESCO World Heritage city, Cartagena is Colombia’s answer to the French Riviera. Barbara Kingstone July 14, 2018 Destinations, Hotels, South America A UNESCO World Heritage city, Cartagena is Colombia’s answer to the French Riviera. Stay in the lovely old and colourful part of the city. The modern buildings of the other Cartagena is complete with exclusive and expensive condos, financial and commercial buildings, so like most large cities, is has become a concrete jungle. For most visitors who come to Cartagena, it’s this older area that is compelling. Who wouldn’t want to discover the many orange, dark blue, pastels, large and small shops and residences. It’s a walking city so be prepared to have the shoes that work on cobblestone roads and extremely high curbs. Probably known best for literature, was the Nobel Prize-winning author, Gabriel Garcia Marquez, who was born and lived here for many years before moving to Mexico. Cartagena was the inspiration for many of his books. I LOVE MY HOTEL..REALLY LOVE IT I chose a hotel not knowing anything about it. It was as though I threw a dart and hit the bull’s eye. Casa Pestagua is magical. When the heavy ancient wooden door, the entrance, is opened, it was as though I had walked into a fairy land with Swaying Royal palms, surrounding an oblong pool featuring an interesting fountain and interspersed with seating for those who want a great meal. Further back, is the swimming pool where the hotel guests of this 11 room mansion could lounge while the cities populace swelters in the year long heat. This Colonial style estate is considered one of the most valuable architecture jewels. Built at the beginning of the 17 century it changed ownership several times and was finally purchased by Mr. Pedro Gomez, Barrero who wisely turned the mansion into a small luxury boutique hotel having one of the best locations in Cartagena on Calle Santo Domingo. In the stairwell, leading to my room, I marvelled each time I passed the mural dating back to the 17th centre and 18th century. The upper level is devoted to large accommodations and a very spacious, unused public room with two sofas at either end on black and white flooring, the perfect “photo op”. Outside my room,the balcony overlooks a gardens and the restaurant, the Royal palms and the water- spouting fountain and you’ll feel at though you are in Nirvana…or better, a movie set. In fact, there was a ‘flick’ with Will Smith, being shot on the various streets and the city’s major square. Thinking about it, Cartagena has the perfect back drop for a film. Obviously, that is what the producers and directors in Hollywood thought, too, Van and trucks closed off streets while shooting this nameless flim. Casa Pestagua sits majestically, on a major one-way, narrow thoroughfare, and small as it is, the hotel is always fully occupied. Of course, with 11 large rooms, that isn’t be difficult but returning guests know the real reason. It is an incredible experience. There are the original marbled sections in the bathroom, of course, with necessary updates. And if you, like me, didn’t know that Casa Pestagua existed, then you may miss a most valuable experience of Cartagena. The entire mansion has been restored in keeping with the strict regulations for historical sites. Calle Santo Domingo. More Cartagena . You can never get enough of this beautiful city. THE SUNSET Cafe del Mar, high above the beach, is the best perch to sit and watch the magnificent sunsets. Across from this aerie, is one of the largest art galleries filled with Colombian artists, further proof that art flourishes, no matter the crime rate. CRIME, IS CARTAGENA SAFE? As for the aforementioned drug related crimes, Cartagena was considered unsafe, but how things have changed with new political party. These days the tourism defies the old statistics. Safety reigns. SHOPPING ADDICTS For the fashionistas there’s St. Dom across from the Casa Pestagua. There are fabulous designs, perfect for the sweltering climate. Further back of this former house, is a surprise Unique tables, chairs, sofas, vases, fill the rooms and all are for sale. Sllvia Tcherassi, a very talented and popular Colombian fashion designer has an eponymous shop at the end of the street. Another boutique is MPM (Calle Santo Domingo). And along each small street branching off, there are boutiques for men and women and few souvenir shops. FRIZZ BE GONE… In this humidity one needs to de-frizz. Go directly to Diego Moya, famous for a smooth head of hair. I came out looking swell. THE MEETING PLACE IN CARTAGENA As with most South American cities, there is a major square. Here the monumental church, faces an out door cafe which fills half the square. A bronze Botero statue is a striking addition. Botero wasn’t born here, but in Bogota and is a world famous Spanish artist. HUNGRY? Colombian food is a the great reminder and testimonial for the years that the drug war went on but restaurants continued. Amadeus in Casa Pestagua’s is a top rated eatery as is Cuzco and the fine dining restaurant at the Santa Clara Hotel. All are perfect examples of great Colombian cuisine. THE TWO GEMS THAT ONE THINKS OF WHEN TALKING CARTAGENA At one time, Juan Valdez was thought of as the man behind the best Colombian coffee. Truth is he is a fictional character but the coffee houses, like Starbucks mushroomed and there’s one on almost every corner. And if you’re in the market for a fine emerald, be sure you’re aware of what makes a gem stone great. Read up about emeralds before purchasing. Two clues are the darker and shinier green, the better. But there’s so much more to know about emeralds so do go to a reputable dealer and some knowlegde. END RESULT With the fashion, the food, the shopping, the coffee, the emeralds, and the art, there’s little else I could have asked for.