IT’S TOUGH TO BEAT CARTAGENA, Colombia, when it comes to pure historic beauty and charm. Its Old Town brims with superbly preserved Spanish Colonial architecture within almost seven miles of centuries-old stone walls. Needless to say, it proves an unparalleled tourist magnet. But, recently, savvy visitors started heading to a new haunt.
Just outside the city gates, the Getsemani neighborhood is hip and cool — but it wasn’t always so. The barrio once housed servants for the upper class. Unfortunately, in the 1980s and ’90s the neighborhood deteriorated and became a place of poverty, crime and drugs. Hard to believe, as today it proves one of the hottest neighborhoods in the city, boasting plenty of colorful buildings, impressive nighttime action and some of the best food in town.
La Cocina de Pepina offers a cozy place to sample Colombian cuisine. With a family feel, its specialties include such tantalizing dishes as coconut-based fish and shrimp soup and chicken soup with hominy.
Somewhat surprisingly, the city boasts a fair share of pizza restaurants. In the Getsemani neighborhood, Pizza Carbón not only offers yummy pizza but also a primo location, right on Plaza de la Trinidad. At night you can indulge in some alfresco dining while watching local battling dance troupes and, of course, listening to music.
For a less expensive option, head to the main square and try some local street food. Freshly fried empanadas come with a variety of sauces, and grilled, buttery arepas made with sweet corn and cheese are beyond delicious. You can stuff yourself for less than $5.
Café Havana rocks the late-night scene with potent mojitos and a live salsa band. Local aficionados pack the place to the rafters, though, so come early to secure a spot.
Getsemani is completely safe at all hours, so women traveling alone can wander around the neighborhood with no worries. In fact, hanging out at a table on the plaza with a cold drink makes a dandy way to while away the evening and maybe even make new friends.
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