Sometimes travel is all about the logistics. I wanted to visit Cartagena, Columbia and we were in Iquitos, Peru. I knew we would have to head back to Lima to catch any flight, but there was nothing direct to Cartagena. I figured we’d spend a bit of time in Bogotá since we had to connect there anyway. Bogotá was well worth the stop. We hired a guide and spent the morning exploring a bit before heading up to Monserrate. You take a cable car up to the top and from there---on a clear day, which luckily, we had---you can take in sweeping views of Bogotá. You could truly see for miles and miles. There is a church on the hill, along with a few restaurants. After heading back down, we headed out to see some of the famous (or infamous?) street art. There was a huge controversy after police in Bogotá killed a street artist in 2011—creating graffiti was illegal, but the shooting caused condemnation from around the world and subsequently, Bogotá decriminalized street art (aka: graffiti). Now the roads are lined with beautiful pieces of street art and there are blocks in the city center where there is one piece after another. Most of the art is very professionally done and is beautiful.
We were admiring the art en route to Plaza Bolívar, the main square of Bogotá. The Primary Cathedral is here, along with the Palace of Justice and the National Capital. It is like many town squares in that it is also a place to gather---there were some peaceful protests happening when we were there and also people simply relaxing or having a snack from one of the food carts.
The city center is considered to be less safe after dark, so we headed back to our hotel that was about 15 minutes outside of the city center. I needed a SIM card for my phone so I could use it in Columbia and we headed to a shopping mall. It looked like any mall in the US with well-known stores all around with some local stores mixed in.
We headed to Cartagena the next morning. The weather had been pleasant in Bogotá, but as soon as we landed in Cartagena, it was like walking into a sauna. Hot and humid and it stays that way much of the year. We stayed in the Old Town and absolutely loved our hotel, Casa San Agustin. It was in a perfect location to walk the old city (it is within the old city walls).
One of the reasons I wanted to visit Cartagena was that I wanted to visit a treehouse resort on the ocean about an hour or so outside of the city called Las Islas. The driver picked us up for the journey (you can also take a boat or helicopter to the resort) and within about 30 minutes, we were basically in the middle of nowhere. As we were approaching the resort, there is a little town and the kids all seemed to be running a little tourist trap scheme----they would hold up a rope across the dirt roadway and wouldn’t let the vehicle pass until you paid a “tax”. They kids were maybe 8 or 9 years old and our driver just laughed at them and paid them a few cents. It seemed pretty harmless and we could certainly afford their “tax”. This happened 3 times before we came to the gate for the resort. When we were leaving the resort, with a different driver, this little game seemed a bit scarier as the kids were more like 18 and weren’t happy with a few cents. Our driver was also not in the mood to humor them and just tried to drive into/over the rope. The 3 checkpoints had also turned into more like 10 and the further out we got, the tougher the “kids” looked. It was a sad experience as I’m sure the people living in this village don’t have much. I felt like the resort could organize ways to support the community and offer opportunities for economic development and/or jobs. I know I would have contributed to a fund that would help this village and its residents survive or purchased local artisan items. Many hotels speak about sustainability or responsible development in terms of the environment, and while that is very important, I think we need to encourage more hotels to think more broadly.
Now back to the travel details…the resort itself was a really interesting concept. The treehouses aren’t really treehouse as they aren’t attached to a tree, but they are built to give the impression that you are in a treehouse high up in the trees. If you read my blog post about the Peruvian Amazon, you know this wasn’t my first treehouse this trip. There are very few similarities between the two experiences other than having beautiful views. At this resort, there was air conditioning, internet and a bidet toilet---so a few more creature comforts than in the Amazon The water for the shower was still pretty chilly (room temp at best), but it was so warm outside, that wasn’t a huge problem. We also had a beautiful deck with outdoor furniture overlooking the ocean. The outdoor soaking tub seemed to just collect leaves and was quite dirty---so not exactly a perk.
There were several included activities at Las Islas---from star gazing using the on-site large telescope (too cloudy each night for this to happen while we were there) to swimming in bioluminescent waters---a cool experience. The beach is small at the resort, but they have a nearby island that they have turned into a beach club---a boat takes you back and forth throughout the day.
After a few days, we were ready to join civilization again. To line up with our next flights (back to the logistics….) we had to spend another night in Cartagena. We stayed in the new part of the city right on Boca Grande beach. The views from our room were beautiful. The experience on the beach itself was very hectic and a bit dirty. There were vendors trying to sell you everything under the sun as you walked and it was quite crowded (many of the COVID restrictions had recently been lifted). After an hour or so of walking around, we were mentally exhausted….having to be on alert and try to nicely say “no, gracias” about 100 times takes a toll.
The next morning we were off to Panama City. More on that travel later….
Tracey is the owner of Unraveled Travel and has traveled to every continent (thanks to the recent visit to Antarctica!