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In 1991 Billy and Akaisha Kaderli retired at the age of 38. Now, into their 3rd decade of this financially independent lifestyle, they invite you to take advantage of their wisdom and experience.

Cartagena, Colombia

(Pronounced: Car-tuh-HAY-nuh, Coh-LOHM-bia)

Billy and Akaisha Kaderli

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Sometimes it just takes a while.

We have been meaning to get to Colombia for some time, and finally, all the pieces fell comfortably into place.

Yowza!

What a happening city! If you have never been, it's worth a visit.

Take a look below:

The location of Cartagena, Colombia on a map

The location of Cartagena, Colombia on a map

Just in case you might not know where Cartagena is, here you have a great map of the Caribbean Sea, some Caribbean islands you might recognize, South America and Central America.

We got a great deal on COPA Airlines - round trip for $373USD per person. Flying from the international airport of Guadalajara, we connected in Panama and arrived in Cartagena.

A map of Cartagena city, Colombia

A closer look at the city itself

For us, one of the attractions of Cartagena was that there was an historical walled city complete with Colonial buildings, stories of pillaging pirates, rum, and forts.

New cities, new beaches, and new shiny restaurants can be found all over the world. What we were looking for were Stories.

Great food.

Photos.

History.

Color.

The fantasy of the past still alive today.

Welcome to Cartagena!

Photo of Colombian money

Photo of Colombian money

Currency Exchange

Pictured here is 200,000 COP or Colombian Pesos.

You can check the exchange for today's rate by clicking on the link above, but while we were in Cartagena, the Cambio Houses gave us 3,100 COP per $1USD.

The official rate is a little higher, but you won't get that rate at an ATM or at a Cambio House.

So in this example, 200,000COP equals about $62USD.

Because there were so many zeros with Colombian Pesos, our quick method to figure out how much we were spending was to benchmark 10,000COP to be about $3.10USD.

It can be very confusing right off the bat, when purchasing a small container of yogurt for 2,000COP. What the heck am I paying for this? Turns out it was a little over 62US cents. That's reasonable.

Our first meal was 71,000COP! OMG! Sounds like a lot, doesn't it? We were paying $22USD for two small hamburgers, fries, a beer, a soda and tip.

"City prices."

We found a local lunch spot right after that, where the total bill was $8USD for the two of us for soup, a full plate of fish, pork or chicken, with salad, rice, beans, a drink and this included the tip. 

Better for the daily budget, as we wanted to spend our money in other ways.

Stacks of Juan Valdez Colombian Coffee, Cartagena, Colombia

Stacks of Juan Valdez Colombian Coffee

You remember Juan Valdez, don't you?

Juan Valdez was a fictional character invented in 1958 to promote the coffee of Colombia in the US - "The richest coffee in the world." As a brand, Juan Valdez and his mule, Conchita, are used to specifically denote coffee beans grown and harvested in Colombia. These are not beans mixed with another country's beans. It's a premium local product - "todo Colombia." 

 

 

 

 

Here you see stacks of this premium coffee selling for 17,500 - 18,500COP or about $5.50 - $5.75USD per package.

Akaisha and Billy in front of Juan Valdez Cafe, Cartagena, Colombia

Akaisha and Billy in front of Juan Valdez Cafe

Apparently, there are Juan Valdez Coffee Shops all over the world. You can find them at supermarkets and Juan Valdez coffee shops in Paraguay, Chile, Costa Rica, Ecuador, Aruba, El Salvador, Spain, Panama, Kuwait, and the United States.

Who knew?

Stacks of various beers in the supermarket, Cartagena, Colombia

Stacks of various beers in the supermarket

A six-pack of Heineken costs 21,000COP or $6.50USD.

As you can see, there were various brands of beer available in this international city.

A hat vendor in the streets of the walled city of Cartagena, Colombia

A hat vendor in the streets of the walled city of Cartagena

Hat vendors were everywhere!

The sun is fierce at this latitude of 10 degrees North of the Equator, and if you didn't bring a hat on your trip, you can purchase one or several from these ubiquitous vendors.

Many of the hats fold up easily and bounce back into shape, so they are super for travel.Lightweight and stylish, they will keep the sun off your face and head. A welcome relief from sun fry.

The University of Cartagena, Colombia

The University of Cartagena

Walking around town, we stumbled upon the University of Cartagena.

With armed guards out front, the interior was peaceful and garden filled. Students were lazing about, on their phones, chatting with other students, generally relaxing and having fun.

We were told by the guards that we were only allowed on the first floor. We could not wander anywhere else on campus.

That's good. I was grateful the armed guards were protecting these students.

Upstairs lobby at Hotel El Viajero No. 2, Cartagena, Colombia

Our hotel upstairs lobby

Our hotel, Hotel El Viajero No. 2, was located centrally within the walled city. Here is a photo of the upstairs lobby.

The staff were friendly and the hotel was clean. We would recommend it for both the price and the location.

Al Quimico rooftop bar, Cartagena, Colombia

Al Quimico rooftop bar

One of the things we really enjoy doing in these international cities is to go to their wide variety of rooftop bars.

Al Quimico (meaning The Chemist) has 5 floors on which to enjoy their menu and designer drinks. This, of course, is the top floor, the rooftop.

An engaging and colorful tropical mural on the left, at the right one can view out into the city street. We ordered a couple of appetizer plates to share, and chatted with the friendly couples on both sides of us.

The air was sultry, but the ocean breeze made it very comfortable.

A panoramic view of Cafe del Mar, Cartagena, Colombia

A panoramic view of Cafe del Mar

Wow.

This place was rockin' and as you can see, it was just packed.

This is a favored place for locals and tourists to watch the sun set. It is called a Bar and Grill, but we saw no food delivered to any table other than chips in a bowl and we were not given a food menu, even after we asked for one.

We ended up eating in a local family-run restaurant and shared a meal for $10USD.

Still, the place was jammin' and sat hundreds of people. The music was wide, varied and good.

We wanted to return another evening, but got caught up in the myriad of rooftop bars available around the city. Definitely next visit!

The view at the left is of the modern beach area on the isthmus, Boca Grande.

Pan de Bono, Jugos y Algo Mas, Centro Historico, Cartagena, Colombia

Pan de Bono, Jugos y Algo Mas

Just down the street from our hotel was this lively coffee shop and bakery. It was busy day and night, with fresh baked pastries, coffees, and fresh juices.

We tried several of their pastries, all done in phyllo dough, that were flaky and served warm. Our favorite was the pan con chocolate ($1USD) which we would split. Billy would have his cappuccino and I'd have a fresh mango smoothie.

Customers and servers were all friendly here, and we met several locals and international tourists coming for their morning caffeine fix. 

The wall around Historico Centro Cartagena and the Caribbean sea, Colombia

The wall around Historico Centro Cartagena and the Caribbean sea

Cartagena was founded by the Spanish in 1533 when Spanish commander Pedro de Heredia took over an abandoned Amerindian Caribbean village known as Calamari.

The first Spanish settlers were sailors who had arrived from Cartagena, Spain to start a new life; they established the town as Cartagena de Indias in reference to its Spanish counterpart.

Eventually, treasures were discovered in the tombs of the Sinus Amerindian tribe, who buried their dead with all their worldly riches. And as treasures and pirates go together, a wall was necessary to protect the town from the many invasions by sea.

In the 1600s the King of Spain ordered the city of Cartagena to become a hub for the sale of enslaved humans, adding further to the city’s reputation for riches. In fact, Cartagena became the largest slave-trading seaport in the known world at that time. After a particularly bloody battle between England and Spain in the mid -1700s the city became fortified further, improving and rebuilding its defenses to became the most protected port in South America.

Here you see the flag of Cartagena flying proudly.

View from Hotel Movich towards Boca Grande

Yes!

Another rooftop bar. This time at Hotel Movich, which boasted an avant-garde menu which we couldn't wait to try.

We got there early enough for a seat and the place was filling up! It seemed that all the international "beautiful people" were here, the DJ had the atmosphere electrified, and the food was some of the best we had in our whole stay in Cartagena.

This view is from inside the walled city towards the ultra modern beach area of Boca Grande.

The Russian Bar in Historico Centro, Cartagena, Colombia

The Russian Bar, or KGB Cartagena

We were told by a friend not to miss having a drink in this bar.

We had to agree that having a Russian Bar in the middle of a Colonial Caribbean town was a stretch, but there it is!

The items collected and displayed inside this two room bar were a bit kitschy, and the wait personnel were dressed as comrades from Russia. Mannequins were outfitted in Russian fatigues and gear with gas masks. The submarine room was a little nerve wracking for someone like me who fears drowning. I found myself nervous and gasping for air as an autonomic response to these surroundings.

It wasn't until I had a few sips of rum that I relaxed. Then I had to laugh at myself for my silliness. But still... I wasn't going to sit in the submarine room for a drink! No way!

La Jugada Bar Cartagena, Colombia

La Jugada rooftop bar

This bar had several floors - five or six, I believe, and we walked the stairs up to the top.

To the left of this photo is Al Quimica rooftop bar, one that we tested out a few nights previously.

We ordered Ceviche Tropical to share which was delicious, and after our drink we went out to wander around town.

La Pepita Burger Bar, Cartagena, Colombia

La Pepita Burger Bar

Just down from our hotel is this Burger Bar.

Seriously, this place had the best angus beef burgers and French fries we have had in a while. It was "city pricing" but worth it. So much so, we went back again just to get that classic burger taste!

The Star Restaurant, Cartagena, Colombia

The Star Restaurant

Because our hotel was centrally located, this open air restaurant was just up the street.

You can see the menu on the white board in the right of this photo. Full meals with soup, main course, salad, beans, coconut rice, fried plaintain and a drink ran from 12,000COP to 30,000COP or from $4USD to just over $9USD per person.

 

 

 

 

Because it was convenient, just-the-right-price for daily lunches, served delicious food and the staff were friendly, we ate most of our lunches here.

Tables were community seating, so if the place was full (which was every day) we would join someone else's table, or they would join ours. It was a great way to meet locals and other international travelers.

Bonus!

This place was also a bar in the evenings, and had beers and rum at reasonable pricing.

Mila Vargas Postres, Cartagena, Colombia

Mila Vargas Postres

This pastry shop is well known in Cartagena, serving up breakfast, lunch, dinner, specialty coffees and unique desserts.

With decor that is a throw-back to an earlier time, mixed in with a bit of fantasy, Mila's is a busy place.

If you look closer into the dessert case, you'll see decorated flan cakes, dark chocolate brownies, even decorated dollops wrapped in edible gold.

Mila's is worth a visit - Take a pastry home for later!

Note the hat this waitperson is wearing. This bonnet style hat is done in "pastry" colors to match the shop decor. Out on the streets and in stores, you will find these same hats and hair bands in WILD tropical colors being sold. They are great to wrap up your hair, protecting it from the sun, and to keep your hair off your neck in this soggy equatorial climate.

From the top of Hotel Torre del Reloj looking down at the Plaza de los Coches, Cartagena, Colombia

From the top of Hotel Torre del Reloj looking down at the Plaza de los Coches

From yet another rooftop bar and restaurant, you are looking down into one of the most historical places in Cartagena.

The Clock Tower is the main entrance into the Walled City of Cartagena. The triangular plaza below, now called Plaza de los Coches, was designated centuries ago as a place to sell enslaved humans.

The sea comes very close to the wall and clock tower like a canal. You can see it here in the photo if you look closely, along with a double-masted ship at the very right. The tours on the ship will give you an idea of how these humans were brought from Africa to Colombia. We did not take the tour, but I was surprised at how small this ship was, traveling the Atlantic Ocean all those years ago.

It is here at this famous port that the merchant ships would bring goods and humans to sell. Where the sea is to where the clock tower is, is just a stone's throw away.

Just outside this photo to the right is another plaza - Plaza de Aduanas - where goods were registered and taxed, either for import or export.

Billy and Akaisha at Plaza Santa Domingo near Plaza de los Coches, Cartagena, Colombia

Billy and Akaisha at Plaza Santa Domingo near Plaza de los Coches

You will find open air bars, restaurants and shops all over Cartagena. The air is steamy, but with the sea breeze it's quite comfortable. A great past time is to sit outside and sip on a cocktail or have some food while watching the activity all around.

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Since this plaza is so close to the Plaza de los Coches, we saw horse drawn carriages filled with passengers - one after the other - turn the corner here. Clip-clopping on the cobblestones, these well-groomed horses and the carriages they pulled were a glimpse into the past. 

This plaza is also a tourist spot due to Botero's famous Curvy Lady of Cartagena sculpture here. Everyone wanted their photo taken with this oversized nude woman - usually with their hand on her bulky behind - representative of Botero's style.

Painting of Michael Jackson smoking a cigar, Tobaco y Ron, Cartagena, Colombia

Painting of Michael Jackson smoking a cigar

Walking around in the heat of the day, a young woman speaking perfect English coached us into this air conditioned bar, restaurant, and tobacconist shop.

Once inside, it was hard to miss the artwork on the walls, huge pictures of famous people that we all recognize, smoking a Cuban or Colombian cigar.

We wanted to return another time for a meal or a rum, but we were quickly running out of days to spend in Cartagena.

Beautiful Afro-Colombiana in Cartagena, Colombia

Beautiful Afro-Colombiana

All over Cartagena are these beautiful women in colorful native dress. From Palenque, about an hour's drive from Cartagena, these Palenqueras make a living by selling fresh cut fruit grown in the jungle, and charging for permission to take their photos.

We stumbled upon this woman and her friend who were very engaging and so photogenic. 

San Basilio de Palenque was created in 1713 and declared one of the first independent communities in The Americas. When you peer into the faces of these gorgeous women, you are viewing centuries of strong human spirit surviving and thriving in Colombia.

 

For more information on Colombia, with photos, stories and videos, click here

 

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Billy and Akaisha Kaderli are recognized retirement experts and internationally published authors on topics of finance, medical tourism and world travel. With the wealth of information they share on their award winning website RetireEarlyLifestyle.com, they have been helping people achieve their own retirement dreams since 1991. They wrote the popular books, The Adventurer’s Guide to Early Retirement and Your Retirement Dream IS Possible available on their website bookstore or on Amazon.com.

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