I traveled light, but eager to know Cartagena de Indias. I arrived a month ago and I chose Getsemaní, a neighborhood located in the heart of Cartagena, because it is the favorite one of the “backpackers”, a typical kind of tourist who wears backpacks and stays at cheap hostels.
I came to this gorgeous location exited to find what Cartagena has to offer. But, without going any further, I wanted to sit on any corner and chat with the inhabitants of this traditional neighborhood. I also wanted to go to its main square and have some fun dancing to the sounds of reggaeton, champeta, salsa and reggae. This is the correct way to know and learn about the popular local customs, by listening to the people tell their stories about growing up in this area, getting to know the dialect and unique expressions they use every day. They open themselves to you and share with you all the memories that make you understand why they refuse to sell their houses and leave this neighborhood.
All my expectations were exceeded. Cartagena, and especially Getsemaní, are valuable and beautiful corners of our world. And I want to emphasize in the fact that I didn’t need a fortune or having 4 suitcases to have a great time in this charming city. The plan was to spend little, so I could extend my trip as long as
possible. That is how I could stay for over a month in this magic colonial place thanks to the recommendation of a good friend who is madly in love with these amazing locations.
As the days went by, I could notice that Getsemaní is the favorite area of Argentinians, Chileans, Brazilians, and Europeans. Whether they are alone, with a couple, or spending time with a group of friends, these adventurers arrive at any moment of the year to hostels and hotels such as Balcones de Venecia – located
in la Calle Tripta y Media – and the Hotel San Roque – located in la Media Luna - looking for shared or single rooms. After they find a place to keep their backpacks secure, they go out to walk around the neighborhood, where they take the time to have a friendly talk with locals, whom are always smiling and welcoming people from all over the world with open arms. Language is not a barrier.
In general, they spend several weeks or even months living in this lovely area. Its perfect location, just a few steps away from the famous Torre del Reloj and the Julio César Turbay Ayala Conventions Center, is just one of the many reasons why you enjoy staying in there. Apparently, these types of tourists love making unconventional plans, the kind that allow them to stay for long periods of time, spending as little as possible, and having fun away from the traditional tours.
Dressed in fresh and comfortable clothes, that included a thin shirt, some shorts and a light pair of shoes, I liked to walk every morning to have breakfast in a local store where a cup of coffee and a “mogolla” – a sweet round bread – costed me less than a dollar. And, if you add 35 more cents, they give you a piece of local cheese that goes well with everything.
The secret to get a cheap but delicious lunch in Cartagena, is to look for a homemade restaurant or find a good promo in one of the several supermarkets you find downtown. In my humble opinion, Cartagena, among different cities in South America, has the largest offer of dishes, and gladly I got to taste them all in Getsemaní without having to go inside any fancy restaurant. I was lucky enough to try delicious recipes such as “mote de ñame” with melted and creamy cheese, coconut rice, fried fish, creole chicken soup, arepas o empanadas, as well as a tasty steak covered in an especial “panela” sauce. I could also enjoy a wide variety of ceviches and, in the night, I used to put together a menu with local snacks, a slice of pizza, or some fried delights.
You can find everything in Getsemaní, but the best part is how warm local people are. I was able to spend time with them playing domino and soccer; I practiced my "not so good Spanish"; by talking to the neighbors in front of their houses or patios, where they gladly welcomed you. One of the things I liked the most about this place, is how all of them know each other and are always willing to help each other. These social and helpful people have nothing but the best treatment towards tourists.
I will never forget the nights I shared with them in the Plaza de La Trinidad, where I listened to Champeta music, enjoy watching some street performers dancing for a few coins, and I had fun watching children playing around the church’s staircases. I will also keep in my mind the chess matches with some local folks, the fun moments we had playing with a rag ball on the streets, having a cold beer in the famous club Mister Babilla – by the Avenida del Arsenal – and dancing some salsa music in the classic bar El Rincón de Getsemaní. Whether you go out to a bar, or spend the evening sitting on a bench in front of the church, the night life of Getsemaní invite you to have nothing but great times.
The cool attitude from locals and visitors; the relaxed daily life; the valuable colonial architecture; the old big houses painted with striking colors; the peace you feel in their narrow streets; the people gathered in corners, shops or terraces; the fried or fast food offer in the main square; aging walls with amazing murals as well as charming balconies full of flowers; the free classes of champeta or zumba at la Plaza de La Trinidad; going to the local store in the morning; get to discover great restaurants, simple and elegant ones, like the Hotel Capellán’s Clero, visited by both locals and tourists; the Wednesday’s parties at the hostels located in the la calle de la Media Luna; the old walls that you can see in the Calle del Pedregal, with over 400 years of history; the proximity to the Historical Center and some nearby beaches; the authentic kindness of the local folks; all of these reasons, and so many more, make of Getsemaní a great destination recognized worldwide.
Fieldtrips such as camping in Playa Blanca (to 40 minutes speedboat ride from Cartagena), are some of the best plans for these tourists that stay away from traditional activities and places such as the Castillo de San Felipe, some museums and churches, as well as the ride in carriage around the colonial streets.
Foreigners like me are all part of this “landscape” that you get to see around the streets of el Espíritu Santo, Media Luna, Calle Larga, La Magdalena, Guerrero, Pedro Romero, Calle del Pozo, Calle de La Sierpe, Las Palmas, Lomba, Siete Infantes, Tripita and Media, Callejón de las Chancletas and el Angosto. Remember that this is a living neighborhood that keeps its authenticity thanks to its warm and kind people.
¡Visiting Getsemaní, one of the best neighborhoods in the world, is one of life’s pleasures, especially if you live in Cartagena! A low-cost experience, almost a free one, to enjoy without complications on this place that commercially resurfaces and has the attention of big hotel chains. This is the true heart of Cartagena, definitely, an unforgettable destination.