to Cartagena, the sultry port city on Colombia’s Caribbean coast, rarely leave
its cobblestoned core. Surrounded by 500-year-old fortress walls, the Centro
Historico is a Unesco World Heritage Site, with Spanish colonial architecture, internationally
branded luxury hotels and obvious traveller appeal.
just south of its ancient walls lies
Getsemani, Cartagena's hippest neighbourhood and one of Latin America's newest
hotspots. Once a woebegone district characterised by criminal activity and crumbling
architecture, Getsemani is undergoing a 21st-century renaissance. A
new generation is invigorating the barrio
(neighbourhood), reclaiming public plazas and renovating 200-year-old buildings
into privately-owned boutique hotels and killer nightclubs.
Rome, Cartagena’s coolest quarter was not built in a day. As recently as 10
years ago, travellers rarely visited Colombia at all. Wary of the country’s
widely reported violent drug trade, vacationers heading south spent their holidays
surfing in Costa Rica or partying in Buenos Aires instead.
as the Colombian economy has stabilised, Cartagena has gained considerable esteem
in the hearts, minds and airfare purchases of global jetsetters. Annual
visitors have grown by more than 160% since 2004, with more than 200,000
arrivals last year. Some 200 international cruise lines now visit the port, and
three more are adding the city as a stop in 2013. High-profile hotels such as Hotel Tcherassi and Sofitel Santa Clara are
at capacity during annual events like the Hay Festival, a branch
of the UK literary fair of the same name. The festival brings nearly 50,000 international
writers, authors and intellectuals to the Centro Historico every January.
being located close to the historic centre, Getsemani remains something of an
insider’s secret. Its narrow streets, once filled with trash, are now lined
with boutique hotels favoured by intrepid travellers who seek a more authentic
Cartagena. Casa Lola has 10 stylish
guestrooms, two swimming pools and an impressive private art collection in a
renovated 17th-century building. The adjoining, five-bedroom
townhouse can be reserved as a private apartment. A few blocks away, the 18-room
Casa Canabal has a rooftop pool,
terrace bar and a spa complete with a sauna and Turkish hammam. The hotel was
named for the Colombian patriot Esubio Maria Canabal, who lived in Getsemani
when he fought for independence from Spain in 1811.
short walk away is Cafe Havana, Getsemani’s immensely
popular Cuban salsa club. Revellers of all ages, nationalities and dancing
abilities queue on the sidewalk for a chance to hear the spectacularly talented
house band and a rotating cast of visiting musicians. Once inside, they sip the
sort of stiff drinks that bring patrons like US Secretary of State Hillary
Clinton to their feet. (Clinton visited Cartagena for the Summit of the
Americas in April 2012, and photos of her swigging beers among Café Havana’s salseros set US political sites ablaze.)
party continues at Bazurto Social Club, a dancehall opened
by Cartagena restaurateur Jorge Escadón in 2009. Escadón’s first spot – the fine
dining restaurant La
Cevicheria – is a Centro Historico mainstay visited by moneyed tourists.
Anthony Bourdain filmed an episode of the TV show No Reservations there in 2008.
But the scene at Bazurto is considerably edgier, with Getsemani’s pretty young
things partying until the wee hours, grooving to resident DJs and a lively
house band. The kitchen serves fried fish dishes and fierce cocktails such as the
machacao, made from white rum, lime
juice and potent yerba mate tea.
is also home to cultural and culinary establishments such as Casa Pájaro, a combination art
gallery, ice cream shop and wine bar launched by Colombian sculptor and
architect Emilio Hernandez in 2012. It is just around the corner from Malagana Café & Bar, a three-storey lounge
opened by two local sisters in 2011. Trained as graphic designers, they kitted out
the space in bright colours and covered the walls with framed photographs of
the neighbourhood. Their childhood friend, Danielle Olarte, oversees the
kitchen, serving fresh ceviche and juices made from local fruits.
popular gathering place is Plaza de Santisima Trinidad, a semi-circular park built
in 1643. Once a dangerous, drug-addled spot, the plaza is today filled with
picnicking families, food carts selling homemade empanadas and locals chatting
over Aguila beers. Occasionally, someone from the barrio will stroll through
wearing a t-shirt that reads Orgullosamente
Getsemanisense, or “Proud to be from Getsemani”. This is their time, and they
want everyone to know it.