Sultry, seaside Cartagena has long drawn the attention of marauding pirates, foreign invaders and film location scouts. With falling crime and favorable currency rates, Cartagena is now attracting the notice of in-the-know travelers
Cartagena’s ancient, fortified Old Town, a UNESCO World Heritage site, is certainly the city’s crown jewel. But for those seeking a largely unadulterated dose of urban Colombian culture, the Getsemaní neighborhood is Cartagena’s delightful diamond in the rough.
Historically, the gritty, working-class step-child to Cartagena’s more buttoned-up Old Town, in recent years, Getsemaní has gentrified – just enough – to put the barrio firmly in the ‘sweet spot’ for visitors. Getsemaní has sufficient rough edges to remain an authentic cultural experience, yet there is no shortage of creature comforts in terms of intriguing accommodations, inventive cuisine, and vibrant nightlife.
The announcement of projects by the Four Seasons and Viceroy hotel groups in Getsemaní signal the quarter’s continued evolution from ‘up and coming’ to ‘of the moment’. Now is the time to discover Getsemaní, while the barrio is still an unpolished gem, and a real community. Getsemaní is the true heart of Cartagena.
Backpacker hostels are rapidly giving way to a new flock of design-forward digs in Getsemaní. Two of the best are positioned virtually side by side in a ground zero location on Calle Guererro, just a stone’s throw from both Café Havana and the Plaza de la Trinidad, two Getsemaní social hubs.
Hidden behind towering wooden doors, A Tres Pasos de la Havana is a lush, four-suite pleasure palace centered on a cerulean courtyard pool. A doting staff produces indulgent breakfasts, gracefully presented in a stone-walled dining room accented with playful pops of color and whimsical art. At A Tres Pasos de la Havana, a prime pastime is to simply gaze out the shuttered windows and watch the colorful parade of Getsemaní street life pass by.
Chock full of quirky character, the ten-room Casa Lola is a cool refuge of calm amid the tropical bustle of Getsemaní. Not one, but two, inviting rooftop pools offer shelter from the swelter and daydream-inducing loungers beckon in the leafy interior courtyard. Casa Lola’s urbane staff stands ever-ready with insider counsel to optimize your Getsemaní getaway.
Perhaps it helps to be a little out of your mind to run a great restaurant in Getsemaní, because two of the barrio’s best are Caffé Lunático and Demente Tapas Bar.
Caffé Lunático, the brainchild of a Spanish expat, delivers a wide-ranging and well-executed menu at bargain prices. Free Wi-Fi and a mellow atmosphere make Caffé Lunático a popular hangout, especially with the youthful set.
Demente Tapas Bar gets the nod for a lively location on the cusp of the bustling Plaza de la Trinidad. Demente dials up the cool factor with seductive small plates, complex cocktails, and fashionable flourishes like rocking chair seating and a retractable roof. Despite the trendy touches, Demente blends seamlessly with the very traditional trappings of the adjoining Plaza, an ancient community gathering place.
Not the least bit crazy, but insanely cozy, the Malagana Café and Bar scores with the most intimate rooftop dining nook in Getsemaní. The stellar menu at Malagana veers toward healthy offerings, a welcomed reprieve from the starch-heavy Columbian staples. Wash down your ceviche with one of Malagana Café’s signature Corozo Margaritas and you are locked and loaded for launch into the Getsemaní night.
Getsemaní nightlife is notorious for late starts and rowdy crowds that party into the wee hours. One refreshing under-the-radar alternative is Donde Pacho. Reminiscent of a deli-grocery on New York’s lower East side, at Donde Pacho you can select your wine off the shelf, settle in at one of a half-dozen tables, and nibble contentedly on a generous plate of cheese and charcuterie in the company of a largely local crowd.
As the clock approaches 11 PM, the dance and music venues in Getsemaní come alive. Bazurto Social Club and Mr. Babilla are reliably happening haunts, but the best watering hole in Getsemaní remains Café Havana. Café Havana single-handedly put Getsemaní on the map of Cartagena’s night scene when it opened in 2006. Perennially packed, Café Havana is the go-to spot for festive crowds, killer mojitos and thumping Cuban salsa tunes.
Worthwhile Outside the Hood:
There are some good reasons to venture outside of Getsemaní. Just be sure to set out in the early morning or late afternoon, to avoid the swarms of cruise ship day trippers and withering mid-day heat.
Shopping within Getsemaní is virtually non-existent beyond consumer staples. The exception is Ocho Reales, a quirky collection of seafaring salvage items, some imaginatively re-purposed for landlubber utility.
If you crave serious retail therapy, take the 10-minute walk into Old Town. Once there, bypass the homogenous trinket vendors in favor of the carefully curated collection of indigenous crafts at Columbia Artesanal ( Callejon De Los Estribos No. 2-40). If you long to possess one of those ubiquitous Cartagenian door knockers, head toward the north side of the walled city to peruse the antique and replicated treasures of Anticuario El Arcón. The nearby Parque San Diego makes for enjoyable loitering, with a congenial mix of locals, visitors and the occasional spontaneous street entertainer.
Likewise, there are few ‘must do’ sights in Getsemaní. The main thing to do in Getsemaní is to ‘be in Getsemaní’. That said, it’s only a 15-minute walk, from Getsemaní to Cartagena’s fascinating Castillo San Felipe, a stout, hilltop fortress built by the Spaniards in the 1600’s. A visit to the Castillo San Felipe offers an illuminating look into Cartagena’s colonial past, as well as, a panoramic view of the dynamic Cartagena of today.