A little less than a year ago, I found out I’d be going to Cartagena in Colombia to attend a family wedding, and I knew nothing about the country, other than that it was in South America and the national language was Spanish. Well, I gotta say before I arrived ten months later, I still didn’t know that much about the beautiful and colourful country, and when I stepped off the plane into the suffocating heat, I knew I was going to be in for a serious wake up call.
Not only are the people very friendly, even though there was a language barrier, but also the streets, beaches and alleyways just exuded culture and vibrancy. Each street you walk down has a different flair with vibrant colours on every wall. I loved that the Old Town still remained inside the walls, giving off a very historic feel. I loved seeing the ocean just a few hundred meters away. I loved the way the skyline lit up at night and the way their national beer, Aguila, tasted. I also really liked the exchange rate – about 3000 pesos for $1 USD.
Now, we were only in Cartagena for a few days for the wedding, but I still feel we got a really good sense of what the city was all about. Despite being almost scammed from an Airbnb host, we had an amazing time. After being told by our Airbnb host that she can’t give us the apartment we originally had booked (the one with A/C), and then were showed the room with no fan/window in the stifling heat, we immediately booked it out of there, and eventually found a great little hotel right in the Old Town.
I highly recommend staying at Hotel Aqualina. For $70 USD, we booked a room that could sleep four people, so it’s great for sharing with friends. It was the only room they had left! The rooms were super clean, comfortable, great A/C and included a homemade Colombian breakfast in the morning. The Hotel was located right in the middle of where we wanted to be for the wedding, and super close to some of the bars nearby. Sam’s family stayed at Pasion Boutique Hotel, which is more high end, for two nights, and loved it. They had spacious rooms and a beautiful rooftop pool overlooking the city.
We stayed in close proximity of the hotel in the Old Town, but no matter where you are, there seems to be a lot happening on every corner. We ate dinner and grabbed drinks at several different hole in the wall restaurants throughout our stay. There’s a great kebab shop near the corner of the hotel, Pasion Boutique if you’re in a for a quick bite!
One night, we walked to the famous bar on the top of the Old Town Walls called Café Del Mar. This was one of my favourite places we went to during the stay. Café Del Mar is a huge open air bar/club with a DJ that spins in the old Dungeon Walls. The drinks were fairly average priced (9000-15,000 pesos for beer and cocktails).
The next day, Sam and I walked around the Old Town Walls for about three seconds before realizing it was REALLY hot in Colombia in the summer! With our shirts immediately drenched, we decided it would be more fun to relax at the house where the wedding was being held and put our feet in the pool. If we hadn’t decided to walk at the hottest part of the day, we may have made it all the way around. I hear it’s a beautiful walk in the late afternoon.
The night before the wedding, we went on a party bus to celebrate the bride’s birthday. It’s an open-aired party bus that tours you around the city, filled with dancing, bottles of whiskey and competitions. It was an amazing night celebrating with Kelly’s (the bride) Colombian family and Sam’s family. I was excited to see what was to come with the wedding. After the party bus, Sam and I went out with her brothers and cousins to a club close by. I thought it was interesting to watch how they party, taking small shots every 30 or so minutes and dancing in between. It certainly is different to the “let’s get hammered early” mindset of America. I also learned that the best way to attract a girl is to be a good dancer – a concept very foreign to my American friends. It was a really fun night filled with non-verbal communication and hand gestures!
The next day was a flury of events. The women were all getting their make up and hair done for hours. The men were trying to remain calm and collected. The entire house was transformed into a magical wedding venue. DJ, lights, live music, beautiful center pieces, two bars – the works. It was all unbelievable. More and more of her family started to arrive. Almost all of them only spoke Spanish, which made for seriously entertaining introductions.
The ceremony itself was beautiful – spoken in both Spanish and English. After the ceremony, there were drinks and delicious h’orderves, and the two families mingled as the bride and groom took a horse drawn carriage around the Old Town to take pictures. When they came back after a half an hour or so, it was dark. We all lined up near the entrance of the house with sparklers. As they got out of the carriage, huge fireworks went off and we all welcomed them in. It was quite the spectacle!
Dinner was absolutely delicious, and the party continued for a long longggg time. Sam even caught the garter… With his teeth! There was a party hour, a relaxing hour, an hour to eat late at night, then the real party time. It was crazy! My favourite part was the Hora Loca, which is an entire hour dedicated to crazy dances. There were professional dancers, hats, masks, whistles, boas. Everyone dressed up, danced around the pool and all went LOCA! It’s safe to say that I was ridiculiously sweaty after the whole ordeal! I definitely needed a bit of a break after that!
I loved meeting her family, speaking my limited Spanish with them, learning how to dance and having a great time. The party ended for me at 4 am, but the real party didn’t stop until 8 am! Sam was a trooper and stayed up all night with the rest of the partygoers. The real hero of the weekend was Sam’s grandmother, who is 84 years old and stayed up until 2 am. What a legend!
All in all, it was such a great experience, completely different from anything I’ve ever experienced, even the Irish Wedding in Sligo! Colombia is a beautiful country, and while it may have a unsafe rep among the travel community, I think as long as you are smart and aware, you will be completely fine! Huge thank you to Sam’s brother and sister-in-law, Alex and Kelly. I’m so grateful for being invited and being apart of your special day.
Have you been to Colombia? What has been your favourite part?