Colombia’s powerful humidity hit me as I disembarked from my flight from the States. This country, still fighting its violent stereotype that keeps many away, has been on my bucket list for a long time because I tend to gravitate to places not on the typical tourist radar. I wanted to visit before all the tourists realize what they are missing and start flooding back to this beautiful country with a fascinating (albeit not always pretty) history.
Our first work stop on my ten-day business trip was Cartagena. My 11 p.m. arrival from the States didn’t deter from the short, beautiful drive along the coast from the airport to my hotel. Once you drive through your first arch into the old part of the city, I promise you will be hooked. Staying at the Charleston Santa Teresa (originally built as a convent in the 17th century) was the icing on the cake, with its yellow walls, tropical courtyard, and rooftop pool overlooking the walled city.
The hotel also had incredible flowers, from the toddler-sized hydrangea arrangements in the lobby to the red rose petals distributed throughout my room and bathroom upon arrival.
The following day, we walked three-minutes from our hotel to eat dinner at one of the many restaurants with tables stationed in the Plaza Santo Domingo. I was introduced to the delicious staple, arroz con coco (coconut rice, even better when roasted almonds are added – see photo lower), and while sitting with a cold Club Colombia beer in hand, I watched the local Afro-Caribbean dancers perform for the crowd. Add a guitarist playing Colombian and Venezuelan love songs at our table as the Caribbean breeze (slightly) cooled us off, and you have the perfect first night in Colombia. Diners are asked for tips by the dancers and guitarists (1-2 pesos/song), and get solicited for everything from t-shirts to necklaces while dining. All of the vendors and acts were very friendly and not pushy. If you said you weren’t interested, they moved on about their way without much ado. I saved my pesos to purchase a beautiful green, black, and yellow Colombian vueltiao (think fancy beach hat made of cane) from a street vendor on the way back to the hotel.
The next day, we had a few hours to kill before departing on our drive to Barranquilla. The patios and restaurants on the city wall looked nice for an early lunch, but we were needing a break from the heat, so our chilled white wine and Arabian sampler platter at the air conditioned Az-zahr restaurant with its white and blue striped walls and comfy red cushions was a nice farewell to the city.