Cartagena: Colombia's Emerald

Cartagena: Colombia's Emerald

Oli's travels recently took him to the Colombian city of Cartagena, situated on the Caribbean coast. Known as Cartagena de Indias, it was once a Spanish colony and a critical port for the Spanish empire, the heritage of which is still remarkably visible today in the shape of the colonial walled 'old town' for which it is so recognisable for. A great many riches have passed through Cartagena since the 1500s, and while the city has modernised, it is the Old Town, with its bright powder-hued buildings and sprawling balconies of purple bougainvillea which continues to draw visitors from all over the world.

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Pleated Shorts
Middelboe Black

Milford Jacket Lomas Black

Milford Jacket
Lomas Black

The city blends the old and the new with unique sense of Colombian romanticism, which is partly what made Oli so keen to shoot the collection there. There is a vibrant creativity about the city, championed by indigenous craftspeople continuing a long tradition of producing unique Colombian art, textiles, and clothing.

"I was invited to Cartagena for a 50th birthday, having never been before, and I was completely blown away by the colours and the architecture of the old town. It's a labyrinthe of narrow cobbled streets, but around any corner you might suddenly find yourself confronted with an immaculate Plaza, the buildings of which have been daubed in bright powdery tones."

Now a UNESCO World Heritage site, Cartagena has been remarkably well preserved considering it has seen many battles between the English and the Spanish over the centuries. Many of its churches and the main cathedral have been faithfully restored to their original splendour, while much of the colonial architecture has a wonderful sun-beaten patina. Moreover, being one of South America's most important ports has created a lot of wealth, which has spilled out into the city, helping to catalyse a thriving cultural scene where art, food and fashion have combined to create a heady and exciting atmosphere.

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Double-Breasted Jacket
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Belted Trousers
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New York Special
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One such area that has benefitted the most is Getsemani. Not all that long ago, it was the one place to avoid in Cartagena, with high levels of crime and violence. The Getsemani of today couldn't be more different - the neighbourhood is now thriving with boutiques, bars, restaurants, and cafes, and is a great place to eat,  drink, and dance the night away. Oli compiled some of his favourite places that he visited, so if you fancy a Colombian adventure, make sure you drop in...

Where to have breakfast: Cafe de la Mañana

This is a beautiful little spot on Calle Estanco del Aguardiente, all whitewashed walls, monochromatic tiles, and hardwood furniture, with a really friendly vibe about it. The coffee, naturally, is excellent, while the juices are like a shot in the arm. They also do a great all-day breakfast (bacon, sausage and eggs) which can come in handy with the amount of rum being knocked back in Cartagena.

Where to have dinner: Celele

Celele's strapline is “Contemporary cuisine based on the gastronomic culture and biodiversity of the Colombian Caribbean”, and it really lives up to that. It's one of the most lauded restaurants in all of Latin America and for good reason - the dishes are exceptional.  The appetizers alone will blow your mind, with dishes such as shrimp tartare with lacto-fermented mandarin lemon mayonnaise, and buffala burrata with roasted watermelon. Inside, a bold checkerboard floor is the canvas for a wonderful jungle mural.

Where to drink a cocktail: Café Havana

This gem of a salsa bar is an absolute must when visiting Getsemani. It's an homage to Cuba in every possible respect, from the name right down to the extensive collection of Cuban rums. Go for a mojito and stay for the live bands.  It gets wild, trust me!

Where to stay: Hotel Casa San Agustín

If there is a hotel that best captures Cartagena's leafy luxury, it's Hotel Casa San Agustín, situated right in the heart of the walled city. It's where the colonial past and the Colombian verve for the future collide, with glorious wood beams and a birdsong-filled courtyard punctuating a sense of heritage throughout the three delightful buildings, while the exotic Aurum spa and vibey Alma restaurant show you a Colombia at the forefront of cultural evolution.

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Wyndhams Jacket
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Drawstring Trousers
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Havana Short Sleeve
Shirt Bridford White

Where to shop: Loto del Sur

There are so many incredible little artisanal boutiques in Cartagena selling indigenous crafts, textiles and jewellery that you could literally spend days exploring. Loto del Sur is a slice of unapologetic luxury however, specialising in beautifully designed bathroom products, fragrances, oils, botanical soaps, ointments and creams. You feel like you're getting a makeover just walking into the place. Colombia is well known for its cosmetic tourism, but at least in Loto del Sur you don't need to go under the knife!




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