With its rich colored buildings, vibrant culture and playful ambiance Cartagena is a city unlike any other. Whether channeling the days of writer Gabriel Garcia Marquez and strolling through romantic Old Town or enjoying salsa on warm balmy nights, this Colombian city has a little something for everyone. Of the many sights and attractions this seaside city boasts, the old adage of “never judge a book by its cover” has never proved truer than in its unassuming neighbor, La Boquilla.
When planning a trip to Cartagena most reviews suggest a day trip to Volcán de Lodo el Totumo, a mud volcano nestled on the outskirts of the Old City. Most day trip packages will sweep guests away from Cartagena for an adventure at the Volcán de Lodo el Totumo where people can swim in a natural mud bath said to have healing properties. Although a unique experience, the Volcán de Lodo el Totumo day trip has all the trappings of a standard tourist attraction complete with price traps and attendants who standby ready to sell treats or take photographs for tips.
Perhaps the real star of the Volcán de Lodo el Totumo day trip is La Boquilla, a small fishing village where our guide took us for an authentic, Colombian lunch. Unlike its rich and colorful neighbor, La Boquilla is a poor village nestled just 20 minutes outside the Old City walls. When our guide pulled up into the small town, passing humble homes and sandy streets, he stopped the tour van at a restaurant on the waterfront. I use the term “restaurant” loosely because this place was simply a set of chairs and a wooden table underneath a banana leaves cover, placed inches from the waves. Our group sat down and our server brought out two types of (uncooked) fish that had been freshly caught that very day, gesturing for us to choose which ones we would like to have him prepare. With red snapper unique to the Colombian coastal region, our group looked forward to enjoying an authentic Colombian dish—no frills, no fuss.
Our server returned bringing Pargo Rojo Frito, a Cartagenean favorite, which features a crispy-fried red snapper with a side of coconut rice and plantains. Of all the dishes that I had tried in Cartagena up until that point, my taste buds rejoiced over the simple flavors that danced across my palette. When I travel I always search for authentic meals that represent the city I’m visiting and in this case, La Boquilla had exactly what I was looking for.
In the words of the airplane pilot who flew us home, we’re back from paradise and home to reality now. My first night back I must have heard the words “welcome back to reality,” at least a dozen times. I know that every dream must have a reality, every honeymoon must end; but for now I’m happy to have experienced Cartagena and look forward to the day my airplane pilot says, “welcome back to paradise.”