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In 1948, a young Gabriel García Márquez arrived to Cartagena. 70 years later, his work and literary legacy are still interconnected to this magical place. Tourists flock to the Caribbean port city in search of a mystical experience, reciting passages from Mr. García Márquez’s novels while trying to detect conspicuous elements from a bygone world.
Without a doubt, some features from Cartagena’s glorious past are still present, reminding the world that the walled city was once one of the main trading ports in the Americas. Despite its former glory, the modern-day times were less than gentle, disrobing Cartagena of its opulence.
These were the years when the city became a tragic resemblance of its past self. Indeed the beautiful Spanish colonial architecture was still present, but in a more dilapidated form. Bars and restaurants were closed as tourists preferred safer options and the whole city remained dormant until recently.
Nowadays, Cartagena is living one of its best moments, being a strategic component of the Colombian regeneration efforts. High-end eateries and fancy restaurants, upscale boutique hotels, art galleries, and designer shops have appeared all over the city. They have revitalized this Sleeping Beauty and transformed Cartagena in the trendiest city in the Americas.
Celebrated chefs and fine eateries have attracted international travelers to Cartagena, bringing praise and prestige to the coastal city, so it shouldn’t come as a surprise that CNN, named Cartagena Colombia’s culinary capital.
Here there is a look at my personal top three restaurants in Cartagena.
La Vitrola. This restaurant has become something like an institution, and it is a must-try for every Havana aficionado. Blending old-school Cuban vibes with the sexiness of the Colombian lifestyle, La Vitrola becomes your guiltiest pleasure. A strong variety of fish specialties and probably the best Mojitos you will ever taste- are transforming this place into a high-end culinary experience. The glamour of old Havana is brought to life not only through the décor, but also thanks to the band who plays Latin jazz music to perfection. The clientele is made of local elites and the wealthy and powerful.
Maria. Chef Alejandro Ramirez proposes a menu rich in creative seafood dishes and an excellent cocktail selection. The restaurant itself has a glitzy design, being well-curated, and presenting an extreme attention towards details. This is the ideal place for both swanky millennials and top influencers, who are constantly on the lookout for new Instagram / picture opportunities. Also, this restaurant is for gourmands who enjoy superb food served in distinctive settings.
Marea by Rausch. The location of this fine establishment is unbeatable, but what makes the experience even more divine is the culinary selection. As expected, there is a strong focus on fresh seafood and fish dishes, seasoned with local condiments. The restaurant enjoys magnificent views of the bay and Cartagena’s nautical legacy is the inspiration for the interior design.
However, Cartagena is more than just fine eating, since it is also a fashion destination. Concept- fashion stores, luxury retail spaces, designer boutiques, and jewelry shops are attracting international buyers. Designers like Johanna Ortiz and Silvia Tcherassi were inspired by Cartagena, so it should not come as a surprise if their garments are the most wanted pieces in the city. Barranquilla native, Silvia Tcherassi has an eponymous boutique in town, while a selection of Ms. Ortiz’s pieces can be found at St. Dom- the quintessential retail store in Cartagena.
By far, St. Dom has the best assortment of luxury pieces from Colombian designers. This curated concept store is the go-to place for jewelry, artisanal art pieces, mochilas, and accessories, of course garments designed by Colombian talents.
Following a shopping day, nothing is more relaxing than enjoying a drink at Bar Café Havana. This authentic bar will transport you straight to Cuba, to the pre- Castro jazzy era, when Havana was the Caribbean Queen of exotic entertainment. Bar Café Havana is the place for those who enjoy Cuban food and strong drinks instead of fruity cocktails. There is nothing glitzy or extravagant to this bar and Cartagena’s Caribbean flavor extends even here.
With so many places to see and things to try, it is clear that Cartagena is truly deserving of its fame, remaining one of the global hotspots.