Colombia is no longer the violent cocaine capital that Pablo Escobar left behind 22 years ago. It has capitalized on it’s towering mountains, lush jungles, Caribbean beaches, nearly unequalled biodiversity, abundant natural resources, thriving cities, and strikingly middle-class and educated population. I heard early and often that Colombia is a backpacker’s dream: friendly, cheap, tasty, beautiful, and safe. I was all the more anxious to get there after my sister and brother-in-law made a plan to meet me in Cartagena.
Lauren and Geoff wanted to see a lot in 10 days, which meant accelerating my pace. While I couldn’t travel for a year at the speed of a two week vacation, the occasional burst of efficiency is nice. And the change of speed was gradual; the syrupy Caribbean air demanded a slow start. We filled our time in Cartagena with surprisingly good food, rum cocktails, patient and friendly people, beautiful beaches, balmy sunsets, and pleasant strolls throughout the walled city. The historic center is a mix of brightly painted stucco, red tile roofs, narrow streets, leafy plazas, chill bars and restaurants, artesenal (see: touristy) shops, and life-saving gelaterias. The tropical heat could be overwhelming, but was often squelched by a sudden rain. One of our highlights was a late lunch, huddled under an umbrella in the middle of an impressive and refreshing thunderstorm. The waiter, who spoke english, didn’t mind standing in the downpour several minutes longer than necessary to take Lauren’s order in Spanish.