Cartagena + Playa Blanca

After Dave’s first taste of Colombia, I was keen to show him around Cartagena. I’d been there before several years ago and loved it. The city was more developed for tourists and had a lot more restaurants and boutiques. I even got avocado on toast for breakfast one day. A very nice surprise.

Our hostal was in Getsemani, a neighbourhood outside of the UNESCO World Heritage walled city. It was a bit more local and less touristy. Perfect for us. There were some great restaurants along our street. We found an Indonesian place which was fantastic. On Sunday nights the streets came to life. There were break dancers performing and Dave bought a very cheap and very loaded hot dog. Another great spot we discovered was a local’s lunch spot, where you could order the menu del dia for $4. This included soup, chicken with rice and fried plantain and a drink. This was our favourite lunch spot and we spent many days there.

The neighbourhood and the walled part of the city was full of colour and beautiful plants. We passed more than a few photoshoots in our travels. It is a stunning city. We did our now obligatory free walking tour and spent an afternoon learning about the city. The most interesting part was learning about the door knockers in the old part of the city. The different shapes correspond with a person’s profession. The lion signifies a teacher; a fish or mermaid represents the merchant class and someone who derived their living from the sea, and the lizard represents royalty.

We took a day tour out to visit the mud volcano. It was about an hour or so out of Cartagena. Totumo Volcano is said to have healing powers. So after a short climb up some steep steps, we (along with the rest of our tour group) entered the mud to see how healing it could be. The texture of the mud was slimy and the mud was surprisingly buoyant. There were some locals who were waiting eagerly in the mud pool to massage anyone who got in, for a price of course. Dave and I had to both repeatedly say no to make sure the message got across. It was less of a massage and more rubbing the mud in. Once we were done with the mud, we needed to get cleaned off. Again, there were some local women ready to help wash off the mud in the local river. We had to be persistent in saying no. I completely understand that this tourism is a consistent way to make money for the locals in the area but I just don’t like people touching me. I’m not sure how healing the mud was, but it was a fun day out.

Having been in Colombia before and also reading about the country, it does have a history of being a drug destination. But I didn’t really experience it firsthand. I think because last time I was in Cartagena I was with Katie and Carly. Very different this time walking the streets with Dave. He was getting offered drugs on every street corner. Every single time we went walking a whole range of drugs were offered. During the day, it would start above board with a tour and when you said no, they ended offering cocaine. No legal pretence happened at night – they were very upfront about what they could offer.

On our last night, we treated ourselves to a night out – gin bar first and seafood dinner second. The seafood dinner was incredible.  The perfect way to end our time in Cartagena before going to Playa Blanca.

We did nothing for 4 days but laze on the beach and swim. To be honest though, that is all there is to do there anyway. Unless you want to be the obnoxious person on the jet ski ruining the serenity for everyone else.

Playa Blanca is about an hour away from Cartagena and feels like a world away. It is an island, having recently been connected by a bridge for cars, that has basic eco-friendly accommodation. The place we stayed at only had electricity at night, water for showering and the toilet had to be brought in. But it was one of my favourite places that we have stayed. The staff were super friendly and their juices were delicious.

We were right on the beach, only about 20m from the water. The ocean was warm and crystal clear and you could see lots of different fish swimming about. It was such a relaxing time. We spent our days sunbaking and eating at the different restaurants along the beach. This place was definitely on island time. You would be the only one in a restaurant and the food would still take an hour to come out. But we were much more forgiving with the view of the ocean.

The only downside to the place was the hawkers. People going up and down the beach offering food, beer, oysters, juices, souvenirs, drugs and finally massages. These massage ladies were aggressive, matched only by the oyster seller who would try and shove an oyster in your mouth before you had said ‘no gracias’. Their main tactic was to start massaging someone, without permission, hoping they will just say continue and they would make money. The problem I had was that I would be half asleep on a sun lounge, blissfully relaxed, and a person would come up and start touching my feet. At the best of times, I don’t like people touching my feet, let alone when I was on the cusp of a nap. We had to be very firm and keep repeating no. They did move on to find their next victim but it definitely put you on high alert for any other hawkers.

While we were there, we went on a night snorkelling tour to see bioluminescent plankton. I had never seen it before. We hopped onto a boat and sped 15 minutes down the beach where we turned into a series of mangrove canals. Our tour guide told us the water was too shallow here for predators to come in so it was safe to swim. The water wasn’t that deep. Getting in murky water after dark had all my senses on high alert. I know Playa Blanca isn’t the Brisbane River or the canals down the Gold Coast but it still felt so wrong to be swimming at night. It was worth it though. The plankton was incredible. Every time you moved in the water, the area around you would light up. I’d never seen anything like it before. It made you feel like you had special powers the way the water would light up. Unfortunately, we don’t have any evidence of it as we didn’t have an underwater camera with us. But it is something I won’t soon forget.

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