When my daughter turned five, I promised her that every year we’d do a special trip for just the two of us. We’ve done the classics (London, Paris) and the exotic (Southeast Asia), but this year we chose Cartagena. We needed something close to home, somewhere that would be warm enough to shake off the winter chill but more interesting than a beach. And somewhere that wouldn’t cost a fortune. Right before we left, the Wall Street Journal published an article, calling Cartagena “the ultimate antidote to the been-there-done-that Caribbean vacation.” Now that I’m back, I couldn’t agree more. From the colorful colonial mansions turned boutique hotels to the cool street art in Getsemaní, amazing food and accessible museums, Cartagena not only met expectations but exceeded them. On our way home, I asked my daughter, now eight, to share her impressions of the trip. Turns out we don’t agree on everything, but we’re on the same page about the most important part—we’ll be back. P.S. All decent photos courtesy of the awesome staff at This is Cartagena. - Henley
Sofia: I liked the Movich because it has a really nice pool, and the beds were comfy. I also liked the pool at Bastión.
Henley: I loved the apartments at Casa Pombo, particularly the two courtyard ones where the kids can jump into the swimming pool from the living room. I also dug the zen white-on-white look of Casablanca (breakfast arepas there were incredible as well). As far as pools go, it’s tough to top the big one at the Santa Clara, which feels like a real resort, and the ancient aqueduct running through the pool at Casa San Agustin is pretty special.
Sofia: The pulpo joven from Carmen and the ceviche with green mango from Boliche Cevicheria were my favorites. And the fruit in general was amazing.
Henley: I agree—Carmen was incredible. I’d love to try La Vitrola next time, but they don’t allow kids under age 15, so we’ll need a babysitter. In general, we didn’t have a single bad meal. Cartagena is a city for good eating. Don’t miss sipping limonada de coco. We had one every day!
Sofia: Definitely the treasure hunt, because we got to find all these clues and learn about the history of Cartagena, and then we got a treasure.
Henley: Ditto. This pirate-themed scavenger hunt organized by This Is Cartagena was so much fun, and Sofia bonded with other kids. We’ll definitely be doing another one of their tours next time. I’d love to spend more time exploring Getsemaní as well. Sofia didn’t dig it as much as I did, but I think if I’d planned a walk more carefully rather than just wandering around, she’d like it more. (Tip: book this tour for early in your stay to get the kids clued into the city's amazing history.)
Low Point of the Trip
Sofia: Eating a chicken sandwich at the airport.
Henley: Yep, it was disgusting. I’m not sure if this is possible, but I’ll try to brown-bag a lunch for the airport on the next trip.
What would you tell a friend coming to Cartagena?
Sofia: Do the treasure hunt and go to the Castle of San Felipe and watch the video about how it was made and what they used it for. The video is inside a little room in the castle of San Felipe. PS: At night the city is so beautiful!
Henley: Cartagena is on the sea, but it’s not a beach destination. Plan downtime in the afternoons to hang out by your hotel pool. Also, this is totally a kid-friendly city. Everyone is so nice and welcoming with children. I loved that there weren’t kid menus in most restaurants, not because children aren’t welcome but because kids are given the same food choices as their parents, although everywhere is happy to make small changes to please a picky eater.
What to pack?
Sofia: Shorts, dresses, tee shirts. In Cartagena, it’s really hot so bring stuff that’s appropriate for hot weather.
Henley: People tend to be a little dressier at dinner, so it’s good to pack a few nice things. But during the day, expect to sweat.
Sofia: The flight was really nice and it was very fun here in Cartagena, but it’s always nice to be home with your family.
Henley: Sofia missed her little bro big time. Next time, we’ll bring both him and his dad