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open mind, empty stomach

travel, food, and fun

Flying from Peru to anywhere in Colombia is not cheap, especially during high season. Having just one month for this trip, I decided to bite the bullet and hop on a plane rather than spend several days on a bus. I began the Colombia leg of my journey in Cartagena and would work my way south, eventually flying home from Bogota.

Like most visitors I stayed in the Old City. On the recommendation of my buddy Greg, who recently shot a travel show in Colombia called Backpacker Nation, I stayed at Hostel Mamaella. It was your typical hostel experience: the first night featured about 40 coked-up adolescents jawing away in the common area and the next night had a couple people quietly drafting cover letters and applying for jobs from their laptops in the same exact spot.

I decided to pass on visiting the beach, mud volcano, and taking the 5 day boat trip to Panama as many visitors to Cartagena do. Instead, days were spent walking around the gorgeous city marveling at the colorful Spanish colonial architecture and at night I would drink beer on the steps of a church in a plaza near Mamaella and watch children play soccer and street performers do their thing.

Colombian food isn’t very highly regarded and I found little to argue otherwise. Most everything is deep-fried, there is a severe lack of vegetables, and the food is bland. I tried another Bourdain recommended restaurant, La Cevicheria.

For the first time ever, Tony let me down. The staff wears turquoise pirate-esque bandanas and the interior looks like it could be in a Disney theme park. I ordered a mixed ceviche and the taste matched the ambiance. I met a few other people that tried the place and loved it, but an establishment can be judged on any dish on any day.

The highlight of my time in Cartagena was the Basurto Market. I always seek out open air markets as they tend to be the true heart of the city. Basurto was, by far, the most raw, gritty, and vibrant market I’ve come across. The place is huge, filled with a variety of sights, smells, and sounds, and I didn’t see another tourist there during both of my trips to Basurto.

I enjoyed my time in Cartagena, especially the market and wandering around the Old City. It’s definitely worth checking out if you’re planning a Colombia trip.

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