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Everybody, without exception, should make it their New Year Resolution to visit Cartagena, Colombia in 2013. If it’s not already on your list of things to do before you die it should be.
In case you were looking for a good reason to visit here’s This Is Cartagena’s Top 10 Reasons to Visit Cartagena in 2013.
A tropical paradise with a unique architectural heritage, idyllic Caribbean beaches, a fascinating history, vibrant cultural scene, gastronomic gems and locals as warm as the Caribbean sea have made Colombia’s colonial gem one of the hottest travel destinations in the world.
There’s myriad reasons to travel to our favourite Caribbean city but if you are wondering when is the best time to visit Cartagena, here you have ten really feel-good reasons to help you make up your mind and book your flight today.
What you waiting for?
1 - The Hay Festival | January 24-27
Bill Clinton calls it ‘Woodstock for the mind’ and who are we to argue. The world’s pre-eminent literary festival, the Hay, travels from Wales to Cartagena for an inspirational event at the end of January.
Top of the bill at this year’s Hay Festival are two Nobel laureates: Peruvian scribe, Mario Vargas Llosa, and the German-Romanian author, Herta Müller. British booker prizewinner, Julian Barnes is the cherry on the cake.
Other literary talents on the well-read list include Fernando Savater, Erri De Luca, Patrick Deville, Elsa Osorio, Leonardo Padura, Antonio Colinas, Lila Azam Zanganeh, Dinaw Mengestu, Gioconda and Belli.
Running over four days there are presentations by more than 90 writers, film-makers, musicians, philosophers and chefs.
Peruvian signer, Susana Baca will headline with a concert at Plaza de la Aduana on 24 January and the foremost figure of t, Gastón Acurio will be cooking up a storm with his views on the Cocina Novoandino culinary movement.
2 - Carnival de Barranquilla | February 9-12
OK so the Barranquilla Carnival isn’t in Cartagena but it’s probabaly already too late to get a cheap flight to Barranquilla so why not fly in to Cartagena, spend a day or two in the most beautiful city on Colombia’s Caribbbean coast then head up to Barranquilla on the This Is Cartagena party bus.
Held in Barranquilla, officially the happiest city in the world, over the four days before Ash Wednesday signals the start of Lent, Colombia's Carnival is a fantastic mix of fantasy parades, mega-concerts and more than a dash of debauchery.
Nearly two million people make this not only Colombia's biggest folkloric 'fiesta' but also the largest Carnival outside Brazil.
The sense of anticipation for the country’s most riotous celebration builds up after New Year with pre-Carnival parties thrown every weekend.
More than 200 groups parade on the main day Saturday, February 9 in front of temporary stands holding thousands of tanked up spectators.
If you are interested in participating then gringos are accepted into a handful of those performing that are less concerned with winning prizes for their choreography. It’s an unforgettable experience. As are the salsa, reggaeton and vallenato fiestas organised every evening in some of the top hotels in Barranquilla.
3 - Cartagena Film Festival | February 28 – March 6
Latin America’s longest running film festival involves a glittering week of film and glamorous parties where you can rub shoulders with the stars of stage and film against a truly spectacular colonial backdrop.
Under the guidance of Monika Wagenberg, the 53rd version of the Cartagena Film Festival, FICCI promises to be bigger than ever.
Details of the headline acts are being kept tightly under wraps but there are rumours that Batman Returns star Christian Bale will be making his first visit to Colombia to attend. Much depends on whether he gets the nod in the Oscars nominations.
Last year’s star of the show, Gael Garcia, is also believed be making another appearance in 2013.
The doors of the city’s cinemas are thrown open to the public for the week fro more than 110 films. A glamorous crowd of filmmakers, stars of stage and screen, writers and aspiring types schmooze the nights away in spectacular, anything-goes parties held in some of Cartagena’s remarkable colonial properties.
4 – Easter Week | March 29-31
Easter week is a peaceful time to visit Cartagena. Colombia’s predominantly Catholic population takes the darkest day in the religious calendar pretty seriously and it is a time for families from the interior of the country to get away from it all and take in a little sun, eat well and spend their days celebrating Cartagena’s rich cultural heritage.
With seven important churches in the walled city, Cartagena – like its sister-city Mompox – are two of Colombia’s most important religious centres during the Easter holidays.
While the flagellation and parades that have made Mompox so popular during this holiday period, pilgrimages are less prevalent in Cartagena but the Caribbean city still takes its duties seriously.
The sound systems in the barrio are less raucous during the holiday period and steak gets taken off the menu and replaced with fish for the most sacred days of the religious calendar.
If you want to take one of the Easter tours that go to the sleepy river village of Mompox, departures can be arranged from Cartagena, although accommodation is an issue so if you are interested in making the 7-hour trip along the River Magdalena from Cartagena you would be well advised to book up sooner rather than later to avoid disappointment with your sleeping arrangements. The best hotel in town, La Casa Amarilla gets booked up well in advance.
5 - Fashion Week | May 27-29
Fashionistas storm the fortress in May as Colombia’s prettiest city provides a beautiful backdrop for designs by some of the country’s most talented designers.
There’s more to Cartagena’s fashion scene than bikinis and beach accessories as this stylish three-day celebration illustrates. Colombia’s Caribbean coast has produced some of Colombia’s best designers, Silvia Tcherassi and Francesca Miranda, Jon Sonen and Beatriz Camacho have lit up some of the world’s most important catwalks over the years.
Once a year they like to show a little closer to home and the Cartagena fashion week is growing in confidence and beginning to stand up to bigger, brasher shows in Medellin and Cali.
This year’s Cartagena Fashion promises to be the biggest yet with plans to take over historic squares of importance like the Baluarte de San Ignacio for some of the star turns. Strike a pose!
6 - Gourmet’s Delight | June 2013
Get greedy for a good cause with a month-long celebration of the gourmet delights of Cartagena. The online guide, This Is Cartagena together with the city’s best restaurants lay on a delightful diet at a discount and to benefit some of the city’s finest foundations.
From the popular couple of Vera and Don Juan to Caribbean gems, La Perla and Tabetai and the street-side fritangeras and ceviche shacks, June is the month when the city’s best cooks open up their kitchens to the delight of foodies from all over the world.
You can learn the tricks of the trade from chefs trained in international Michelin-star restaurants and embark on a gourmet exploration of the city moving along every step of the food chain from the fresh fish markets of Bazurto to the European porcelain plates of Hotel LM.
Better still take advantage of the shoulder season to have the city pretty much to yourself . Low season means the city is trading at a discount and the tips in June go to a good cause – some of the best foundations doing more to make the city a more equitable place to live – so you can feel good getting greedy!
7 – Kite-flying | August 2013
August is kite-flying month in the city. The kids really get into and what better reason to come to Cartagena than to return to your youth and the unbridled joy of flying a kite in the company of thousands of like-minded free spirits. Better still take two weeks out to help kids who really need a break to do the same with Alex Rocha, a tour guide who runs a Youth Center in one of the most marginalized communities in Cartagena..
Rocha is trying to make a difference in his barrio, San Francisco, a neglected part of town that looks down on the airport.
Why not give up your summer to help him in his crusade to inspire the children at his youth centre, give them a step up in life. Teach them how to make a kite, leave behind a little English, or some basic computer skills and the message that there are people out there that care. Then let them take aim for the skies. As they say, ‘a voyage of a thousand miles begins with a single step’. What you waiting for? Take that first step.
8 – Halloween | October 31, 2013
Few countries beyond the US, take Halloween as seriously as Colombia. People get very excited about dressing up in Cartagena and the rest of the country. If you’re thinking of trying your luck here during the witching hour on October 31 you better get working on your costume now if you don’t want to feel under-dressed on the big night.
Macabre has never been so much fun as a Halloween with the happy-go-lucky crowd that hits the streets in Cartagena during the weekends before and after Halloween.
It all starts with the kids in Avenida Piñango in Castillogrande early evening. The fun continues after the witching hour with plenty of fearsome revelry in the city’s clubs and bars.
9 – Independence Day Celebrations | November 8-11, 2013
November in Cartagena, Colombia is an unforgettable experience. The city vibrates with the collective energy of a million people dancing, partying and running amok with everything they've got. Cartagena celebrates its Independence from the Spanish with an ambitious scheduling of floats, fireworks, flowers, flour, parades, parties and performances. The parades and the parties coincide with the little matter of the Miss Colombia Beauty Pageant, still a big thing in these parts.
The anticipation builds steadily during the year with all roads leading to Cartagena in the first week of November. By the time the fiestas finally roll around folk are in a full-blown frenzy. Soak up the street music, folkloric parades and beauty pageants or get yourself an invite into the exclusive parties in the most luxurious hotesl. Up and down the city there’s something for everyone.
The highlight of the festival is the Ballaneras, a riotous regatta that includes pretty much every boat available in the city.
10 – New Year’s Eve in Cartagena.
Cartagena has become one of the hippest places on earth to celebrate New Year. A glamorous crowd descends on the city for open-air gala dinners, exclusive parties and to play around in the islands. There’s no doubt that Cartagena gives reveillon in Rio de Janeiro a run for its money as the most spectacular Latin American setting for a New Year’s Eve.
From year-to-year the New Year spectacle goes from strength to strength with a glittering crowd of jetsetters flying in for the biggest night of the year.
There’s more than fireworks exploding and the electric and intimate atmosphere of the walled city, makes for a brilliant evening.
Be warned if you’re planning a luxury house party, the best houses go quick so get booking NOW!