FX Excursions

FX Excursions offers the chance for once-in-a-lifetime experiences in destinations around the world.

Find Unique Ways to Meet with Colleagues and Clients in Enchanting Cartagena

by Jillian Dara

Aug 11, 2023

PHOTO:
© TIAGO LOPES FERNANDEZ | DREAMSTIME.COM

August 2023

In the northern coast of Colombia, Cartagena charms with its remarkably dynamic location. Only 15 minutes from Cartagena de Indias Airport, the historical walled city — Centro, as locals lovingly refer to it — hugs the Caribbean Sea, blending Latin American traditions with Afro-Colombian culture. There’s 24-hour appeal here, from the classic beach vacation of lounging, swimming and diving to exploring verdant landscapes, electric nightlife and praised culinary experiences, both low- and high-brow.

Expressing its individuality as an urban oasis, Cartagena exudes an undeniable sense of the exotic yet, at the same time, a comfortable familiarity. The vibrant-hued, colonial-style buildings in marigold and lapis embrace first-time and return visitors in a warm hug, somehow whispering, “Welcome,” while neighborhoods like Bocagrande make you feel like no place you’ve been before, juxtaposing beachfront street vendors (known for ceviche) with lively casinos that helped place Cartagena on the map for global travelers in the 1960s.

While parts of the city feel like a step back in time, other parts continue to modernize, in recent years proving noteworthy hubs for digital nomads. Neighborhoods such as El Laguito and Getsemani evolved to cater to the contemporary traveler with high-rises, high-speed internet and co-working spaces.

PHOTO: © TWO TRAVEL

Trendy tour operators also emerged to plan every aspect of group trips, with two popular outings: bachelor parties and corporate retreats. In addition to international operators like National Geographic Expeditions, which added a Colombia itinerary to its Signature Land trips this year, regional concierge planners like Two Travel can curate a custom experience, specializing in organizing every detail of intimate group trips.

“Imagine this: You have a 10- to 20-bedroom villa in the heart of the old city with your own private staff. A place where you can hold meetings, share meals and have fun events with bartenders and DJs,” said Ray Kanevsky, founder and CEO, Two Travel. If you’re not hosting at a villa, Sofitel Legend Santa Clara is a favorite in Old Town, while boutique options like Casa San Agustin and Ananda Boutique Hotel offer more local hospitality.

The city itself is walkable, though the creature comforts of home also lie within reach. Uber is the safest and cheapest option, yellow taxis are available but are more notorious for upcharging tourists, and various operators using Mercedes-Benz Sprinters offer larger group private transfer. Motored boats also transport travelers to various islands for both daytrips and overnight stays (consider a weekend escape to Blue Apple Beach Club in Tierra Bomba, known for its live DJ pool parties). Business travelers may opt to charter a private yacht or catamaran for a few nights’ sail with guests around the Rosario Islands.

On land, golf courses like the 18-hole, Jack Nicklaus- designed TPC at Karibana provide an ideal backdrop for corporate outings, less than 30 minutes from Centro.

When it comes time to refuel, start your day at Libertario with potent coffee and a selection of quick and easy breakfasts on the healthier side. For pastries on the go, head to Ely Café, a local favorite, or try Pascal for a slower start to the morning with menu highlights of breakfast tacos and power bowls.

For lunch, La Vitrola remains an old-school favorite, and Harry’s offers that power lunch setting. Other leisurely restaurants that double as entertaining venues for clients include the seafood-forward Restaurante Donjuan, with a private room tucked into an old bank vault, and the newly revamped Marea providing the best non-rooftop view of Cartagena.

Perhaps the most famous restaurant in town, Carmen boasts a sustainable tasting menu that approaches Colombian favorites with a fashionable twist for a leisurely dinner lasting about three hours.

Off hours, sip pre-dinner drinks in popular cobblestoned plazas such as San Pedro Claver, which hosts frequent live music and flamboyant acts. El Barón cocktail bar, located here, spills out onto the streets. Patrons sample its specialty Rosarito: mezcal with cilantro, pineapple extract, lemon, and spicy and Angostura bitters, offering a balanced blend of herbal smoke and spice.

PHOTOS: © TWO TRAVEL

Like the time of day, no matter the season, Cartagena is always buzzing. The year-round average of 88 degrees Fahrenheit helps, but travelers should take note of the rainy season from May to November, when streets can flood and interrupt traffic. Other logistical notes: Avoid drinking tap water, and play it safe if you’re not used to eating raw fish or street food.

And for Cartagena newcomers, prepare to swoon … and to start planning your next visit before the flight home. Maybe you’ll even extend your stay; if you do, be sure to head to the islands for the proper downtime you deserve. It may not be restful, but it’ll certainly be metamorphic.

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