Best Bars in Cartagena to Watch Sunset

Best Bars in Cartagena to Watch Sunset

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My favorite part of living in Cartagena is listening to the sound of the ocean while I write, but second comes the sunsets.

The most popular spot to watch the sun dip over the ocean is from the old city walls. So why not combine that with the mellow vibe of a good drink in your hand? Below are three bars on the walls where you can do just that. For fun, I also included a few more rooftop bars with breathtaking views.

Each of the first three bars will cost around 30,000 pesos for a cocktail (less for beer), but in my opinion it’s well worth it. Here’s a GOOGLE MAP of where to find them all.

Cafe del Mar

This the best known of the three bars on the walls. Lots of space, nice views directly out over the sea and toward the skyscrapers in Bocagrande. Can have a bit of a party vibe, depending on the night, so not always the place if you ‘re looking only to chill.

El Baluarte

This bar has the best cocktails of the bunch, and it’s right in the center of town overlooking both the ocean to one side and inland to Plaza de Santa Teresa, where the Hotel Charleston and the Naval Museum are located. Convenient if you are heading to dinner or any other activity in the historic centro after your drinks.

Casa de la Cerveza

This is my favorite of the last three. It doesn’t look out directly over the ocean like El Baluarte and Cafe del Mar. Instead it’s on a corner of the ramparts with 360 views over the lagoon and Castillo San Felipe on one side, the skyscrapers of Manga behind, and the towers of Bocagrande toward the ocean. This is where the photo at the top of the page was taken as I watched the pelicans dive.

This location is close to the Getsemani area of town, which is fun to wander at night. Lots of great bars and restaurants and a neat mural wall I could stare at for hours.

Insider Tip: Getsemani has a free open air Zumba class on Sundays at 7.30pm in Plaza de la Trinidad. The class is given from the steps of the church and is a blast, either to participate or just to watch with a beer in hand. If interested, you can see a quick video I created here on my author Facebook.

Rooftop Bars in Cartagena

If you’re interested in other rooftop bar options, here’s a few that I particularly like.

Movich Hotel

Also a great place to catch the sun going down, although it does have a 50,000 peso minimum (think a drink and an appetizer each). Good option go go hand out at their pool in the afternoon for a few hours.

Townhouse

This is fun hotel with a rooftop pool that is fun day or night. On the way up the elevator, check out how each floor of the hotel has wall and door art by a different artist. Drinks were less expensive here than any of the bars above.

You can find locations for all the bars above and a few more in the Map of Rooftop Bars.

Prefer the sunset without the booze? Juan Ballena has a great article on Best Places to View the Sunset in Cartagena. I second his recommendation of the mall, Plaza Bocagrande, which looks right over the beach. Also a good spot to escape into air conditioning if you’re wandering that area during the day!

Want more rooftops? Hatsoff, a fellow Brit Nomad, also has a great article on 5 Rooftop Bars in Cartagena.

Interested in hearing more about my travels and adventures and path to publication as an author? Follow my FaceBook page where I post regular updates on my exploits (more than on this blog). Or sign up for my somewhat irregular newsletter.

First Impressions of Cartagena

First Impressions of Cartagena

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Beyond Friendly, Great Food, Insane Heat…and Boobies

Three weeks ago today we arrived in Cartagena, Colombia, our new home for the first part of 2018.

I wanted to share my first impressions, especially for those of you who may be most familiar with Cartagena from the movie Romancing the Stone (complete with imagery of narcos and running from them in the jungle). That movie was actually shot in Mexico, by the way, but that’s for another day…

First, the Heat

We were worried about this before we arrived and it turns out we were right. It runs 80 to 90 degrees Fahrenheit most days, but actually feels closer to 100 degrees with humidity.

A little considered impact of this heat: we have not yet worked out how to buy ice cream and get it home from the grocery store (no joke). One day we naively believed we’d solved this dilemma by purchasing ice cream bars in the pharmacy in the lobby of our building. Only to find they had melted before we completed the elevator ride up to our apartment.

Saying that, our new apartment is located on the 24th floor facing the ocean and has such an amazing through breeze that we don’t use the air conditioning at all during our day at work. Plus, at night it’s much cooler. In the evenings walking into town is delightful. No jacket required.

The Walls

The first thing that strikes you wandering this city are the walls around the old town. Cartagena is one of the world’s best known fortified cities and the massive walls and turrets make for some great photo opportunities and an amazing place to watch the sunset. Watching the sun dip below the horizon over the ocean is one of the city residents’ favorite activities. For some bars to catch a sunset from the wall, don’t miss my post, Best Bars in Cartagena to Watch the Sunset.

However, we’ve also realized the walls are a royal pain in the ass! If you want to exit the old city by foot to get to our apartment building (very close on the other side), there is only a small tunnel on our side that closes at night (that’s me in it in the photo). If a taxi wants to exit from the grocery store to our place below is a view of the tortured route it has to take.

So the walls are beautiful, historic, but today sometimes rather impractical! Hard not to see the irony that they built this fortification in the 1600s to keep out the invasion of Brits like me. And today it’s still kind of working.

 

Our Taxi’s Route home (forgive the crude drawing).

Beyond Friendly

They say Colombians know how to enjoy life and our real first experience of this city has been searching for an apartment. We expected this to be challenging, but the reality is we felt like the whole city wanted to help us. From our first taxi driver, to a friend we made online in the expat forum on facebook who took us around apartments just to be helpful, to the person serving breakfast in our hotel who actually found us our place, EVERYONE was searching for an apartment that met Honey and my requirements (enough space for 2 separate offices).

 

As we wander, it’s hard to miss the smiles on the street. Although we look like gringos, we feel welcomed and safe.

We asked a few people what the impression of Americans (and Brits) is here, and the answer was refreshing. Somewhat paraphrased:

“We’re just so happy to have visitors from abroad coming again that we really want them to enjoy their time here”. That’s certainly been our impression so far, and the result is that we found a great place to live and work!  Here’s the view from my new favorite new reading spot.

A Few More Snapshots

I’m sure I’ll write in future posts about the money ($300 US dollars makes you a millionaire in Colombian pesos) and the language (very different to Mexican words and accent).

For now, let me leave you with a few more shots of this colorful and friendly Caribbean city, which is a unique juxtaposition of old and new. Think Miami Beach meets New Orleans meets city walls that are uniquely Cartagenan!

 

Oh right, the Boobies..

See, I knew you’d keep scrolling down (smile). I had heard that Columbia was one of the world’s plastic surgery capitals and yes there are a lot of ridiculously beautiful women here wearing very little clothes (especially in the tourist areas).

I’m afraid no photos on this one, so you’ll just have to believe me the outfits are rather similar to what you’d see at the Burning Man festival in terms of level of covering up body parts (or rather not). Seeing as I refuse to get all stalkerish and take photos you’ll have to put up with this google link if you want more.

Till next time!

 

Top San Miguel Experiences

Top San Miguel Experiences

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Sadly our time in San Miguel, for this year at least, has come to an end. Honey and I are heading back to the San Francisco Bay Area for the holidays and have just made a decision on where to base our nomadic selves for early 2018 (Cartagena, Colombia, anyone?).

I reckoned, for those of you considering a visit, I’d share my top must-not-miss experiences in San Miguel de Allende, Mexico. This is in addition to my favorite activity which will always be hanging in the rooftop bars. I wrote a popular post on the Best Rooftop Bars in San Miguel de Allende.

Due warning: this post might also be an excuse to share the best of my photos from the last ten months!

Bask in the Colors

This might be my favorite part of San Miguel. Just wander the town and enjoy the colors and seasons. It seems like every day is a festival here and often you’ll come across some random parade. Sometimes even the locals don’t know why today is a party.

Cañada de la Virgen Pyramids

Yes pyramids, in Northern Mexio. Archaeologists didn’t count this area as within the zone where they would find pyramids and yet just recently… tada! We took the tour with Albert Coffee with one of our guests and I thoroughly recommend it.

Murals and Street Art

This is a part of San Miguel that many miss, but in the last seven years the neighborhood of Guadalupe has come to life with amazing murals covering the sides of houses and warehouses, some by world famous artists who come to San Miguel just to paint.

You can start at Via Organica cafe and wander from there, but the absolute best way to see and understand the murals is a tour by Muros en Blanco given by Colleen Sorenson, who has been one of the biggest proponents of supporting street art in San Miguel (ten years ago it was forbidden).

Horseback Riding through the Cactus

Just amazing to see the seasons change from flowering cactus to waterlogged rivers to dry again. There are lots of outfitters around town, but we’ve been loyal to Beth of Leisurely Country Horseback Riding who runs a great half day ride up to the top of a mountain ridge with friendly local guides and horses.

Hot Springs

A fabulous way to relax and refresh after spending a few days wandering the city.

There are several hot spring pools just outside of town (a cheap ten to fifteen minute taxi ride). La Gruta, Escondido Place, Los Senderos being the ones we’ve enjoyed. This picture is Los Senderos.

Doors and Door Knockers

A bit like the colors, if you wander around Centro you’ll come across the most fascinating doors and door knockers. There’s a reason that Doors of San Miguel gives you hundreds of results on google images!

Bug Watching

If you follow my blog you may have seen my post admitting to a VW Beetle Obsession.

I finally got a photo of the gringo who drives around town in a car piled high with plush toys that changes by season. For Easter the car was piled high with bunnies and eggs. Valentines brought pink bears and hearts, and this photo has red, green and white for Mexican independence day in September.

Below are a few more of my favorite shots from the last months including a bug on top of a bug?

Rent a Car and Get out of Town

As if the items above weren’t enough to keep you occupied for a week or two (add in walking tours, museums, great dining and rooftop bars), there also the option to rent a car and get out of town.

We visited Queretero (quaint downtown), Guanajuato (colorful and fun), and the Sierra Gorda mountains and Huasteca Potosina (need a few days for this trip but amazing waterfalls and very different food). Bajigo rents car for a reasonable price per day, all insurance included.

To finish, here’s two shots of gorgeous Guanajuato.

Rooftop Bars of San Miguel de Allende

Rooftop Bars of San Miguel de Allende

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The town of San Miguel de Allende doesn’t have beaches, so the best location to enjoy fresh lime margaritas and watch the sunset is one of San Miguel’s numerous rooftop bars.

Since my partner and I seem to have made a habit of hanging out at them, here’s our view of the best rooftop bars in San Miguel, with a few restaurants thrown in for good measure. There’s a map of rooftop bars here which even includes a few that aren’t in this blog post. There’s also a post here on the Top San Miguel Experiences.

The Big Daddys of San Miguel Rooftops 

These are four bars you’ll see referenced in the tour books. In my opinion Quince and Rosewood have the best views, cocktails, and staff.

Luna Tapas (Rosewood)

Luna Tapas (Rosewood)

Luna Tapas Bar (Rosewood)

Probably the busiest of the rooftops and also the best view. Make a reservation on weekends or holidays.
How to Find: Inside the Rosewood hotel. Enter the lobby, turn left before the main courtyard and take the elevator to the top floor. On busy weekends they have a waiting list on the ground floor.

Quince Rooftop

Quince Rooftop

Quince Rooftop

This is the best of the bars in Centro in my opinion, with 360 degree views and a fun flirty wait-staff.
How to Find: Located on the street down the right side of the Parroquia (15 Cuna de Allende). You’ll enter through a courtyard. Head up the stairs on your right beyond the fountain.

Quince web site

Mama Mia

Mama Mia

Busy busy popular!  On weekends and holidays there’s a waiting list at the very front entry of the building.

How to find: Entrance to Terraza bar is on left about half way into the restaurant.
Photo courtesy of Mama Mia.

Mama Mia Web Site

La Azotea

La Azotea

Nice chill bar that sometimes has a DJ spinning.
How to Find: Upstairs above El Pueblo Viejo restaurant at Umaran 6 in Centro (turn right inside before you reach the restaurant).

Photo courtesy of Pablo O from San Miguel (via TripAdvisor)

La Azotea Facebook

La Chula

La Chula

Funky more locals place. Good DJ spinning some nights. This is where to come for late night dancing (if you can get in), but skip the food.

How to Find: A few doors down from Mama Mia

La Chula Facebook

The Hidden Gems

Here are some less mobbed San Miguel de Allende rooftop bars with stellar views and a more laid-back vibe. To be honest, most of these I prefer to the bars above. Once you get sick of hanging one street off the Jardin (main square), you can’t go wrong with any of these!

El Palomar

El Palomar

El Palomar Hotel

It’s a climb,but you’ll be rewarded with the best view over the  whole city. So high that it’s best to avoid when windy!

How to Find: Head up San Francisco from the Jardin and it’s 3 blocks up the hill on right side. Enter hotel entry from San Francisco (stone doorway), turn left into hotel and climb, climb, climb!

El Palomar Web Site

Salon Oaxaca

Great Tlayudas

Mezcal, worm salt optional

Salon Oaxaca

Awesome Oaxacan style food (try the mushroom tlayuda- it’s like a filled Mexican flatbread).  Ask the friendly owner downstairs to tell you about his different mezcals, all brought in from Oaxaca.

How to find: it’s on Insurgentes. Go through the bar and out to the right, up the stairs to the roof deck.

Salon Oaxaca Facebook

Chiquita Sunset

Chiquita Sunset

Great wood-fired pizza, beer and wine. Order downstairs by the pizza oven before climbing up to the deck on top of this tiny hotel.

How to Find: Up the hill from the Jardin on Corroe. To reach the terraza go straight past the beer wall on one side, up the stairs, past the 5 or so hotel rooms, around the corner and up more stairs.

Chiquita Sunset facebook

Nena Hotel

Nena Hotel

An excellent alternate to Rosewood. Awesome views of the Parroquia and downtown. It’s located right opposite on same street as the Rosewood Hotel, but on opposite side of the road and the view is from a little less high. Try the margaritas!

How to Find: On the same street as the Rosewood Hotel. Enter the courtyard and go straight pass the fountain, through the lobby and up the stairs to the right.

Nena Hotel Web Site

Bond 007

Bond 007 Gin Bar

More of a bar to hang out than a restaurant. Good mezcal and one of best gin selections in town.

How to Find: A short walk away from the Jardin on Hidalgo. Once you find it, keep climbing the stairs from the street and keep climbing past the first bar.

Bond 007 Facebook

Terraza Vorhal

Terraza Vorhal

Nice views of downtown and a great place to grab a drink if you’re headed to dinner at Hecho en Mexico or CarneVino. The bar located here previously didn’t make it – so we’ll see if this one does!

How to Find: Right opposite the Instituto on Ancha de San Antonio just before corner with Orizaba. Enter the liquor store and go up the stairs straight opposite the door.

Vorhal Facebook

More Options with Great Food

Here are some more awesome restaurants that have great food options, but don’t forget there’s also Baja Fish Taquito for tacos and seafood and Chiquita Sunset for pizza (above).

Baja Fish Taquito

Baja Fish Taquito

Baja Fish Taquito

Great fish tacos close to the jardin, with beer and wine to match.

How to Find: A few gentle blocks up the hill on Mesones. Enter and go up the exceedingly narrow stairs on your right.

Baja Fish Taquito Facebook

MX Sushi

MX Sushi & Terraza

Nice sushi and lounge atmosphere.Great fish tacos close to the jardin, with beer and wine to match. Try the MX roll.

How to Find: Enter the restaurant and head up the stairs at the back.

 

Pegaso

Pegaso Restaurant

Great food menu with amazing deserts and rumored the best flan in town. Friendly staff and fun decor (the items on the wall are for sale).

How to Find: It’s on Correo one block away from the Jardin. Entry is left and up the stairs. Nice view away from town to the houses on the hill behind downtown.

El Pegaso Facebook

The Best Bar in Town

Of course, if I’m honest my favorite bar is our own back patio. So easy and accessible, and there’s always cold beer ready in the fridge.

How to Find: Give me a call and come on over!

 

Our own rooftop
Of Hope and Hummingbirds

Of Hope and Hummingbirds

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Tales from the Querying Trenches

One of my favorite activities (or lack of activity) in San Miguel is to watch the hummingbirds in our garden. Lately, as I’m deep into book querying (that’s when you search for an agent), I’m increasingly drawn to these tiny flying frenzies, and I’ve been trying to figure out why.

My life as a writer is more peaceful than my previous corporate life, even if full of micro disappointments, as writer’s lives tend to be. So why relate to a bird that lives every day on the knife-edge of oblivion?

I’ll be lying in the hammock, immersed in a book when I hear that familiar machine gun volley of chirps and a bright azure spark will be hovering by the feeder, its wings thrumming, guzzling sugar water as if its life depended on it. Which, in fact, it does.

I believe that daily frenzied struggle, with no option to quit, is why these birds have me captivated.

As I wait to hear back from agents on my book, attempting to strike a precarious balance between optimism and despair, I’m increasingly drawn to the avian equivalent of the little engine that could. 

You see, evolution dealt these little critters a hard blow. Originally derived from swifts (you can see the similarities when they dive), hummingbirds lost more and more weight as generations went by. They developed a unique figure-of-eight wing flap, all to better to hover next to flowers. But this helicopter-style flight (they can fly horizontally and upside down) takes a huge toll on their metabolism.

Flapping one’s wings at up to 80 strokes a second requires their tiny heart to beat over 1200 times a minute. With a frighteningly fast metabolism to power all that activity, they must find and consume more than half their body weight in sugar every day, just to survive. 

Which means every time a hummingbird stops eating, they risk dying. At night, to avoid a scenario where their bodies stop functioning for lack of sugar, they go into a state of torpor, aka short term hibernation (where their metabolic rate drops by 95% and heart drops to only 50 instead of 1200 beats a minute).

The fact is that very morning a hummingbird risks being too weak to kick-start its own heart and never waking up again.

So why do hummingbirds speak to me as a writer?

I’m sure you’ve heard the phrase ‘write or die’, but it’s not as if I believe that to be true.

For me, writing is a privilege I’m afforded because I’m not living on a knife edge, unable to pay the rent this month (although it helps to pay rent at Mexico rates!).

However, this lack of struggle (not writing for survival) also increases the temptation to quit, or at least to stop believing. When an agent doesn’t appreciate my ‘”voice” or doesn’t “connect with my characters”, it’s all too easy to fall into the self-pity trap of thinking perhaps I’m not cut out for this writer thing?

And then there’s writer jealousy. You know that habit of comparing oneself to other writers that pokes in uninvited and asks questions like “Why did she get an agent before me?” or “Did you see how much more beautiful her writing is than yours?”.

Even while writing this blog post I discovered an essay from a writer who passed away, which talks of hummingbirds with more eloquence than I ever could. This happens to me rather often. My style and voice are commercial and I pine after literary writing, despite knowing that particular style isn’t my gift to share with the world.

I’m going to pause and quote some of that amazing essay by Brian Doyle, because part of my journey is learning to appreciate the work of others who have different talents and I just adored his writing.

“Hummingbirds, like all flying birds but more so, have incredible enormous immense ferocious metabolisms… Their hearts are stripped to the skin for the war against gravity and inertia, the mad search for food, the insane idea of flight. The price of their ambition is a life closer to death; they suffer more heart attacks and aneurysms and ruptures than any other living creature. It’s expensive to fly. You burn out. You fry the machine. You melt the engine. Every creature on earth has approximately two billion heartbeats to spend in a lifetime. You can spend them slowly, like a tortoise and live to be two hundred years old, or you can spend them fast, like a hummingbird, and live to be two years old.”

From The American Scholar: Joyas Voladoras (Flying Jewels)

Beautiful, right?

I’ve finally realized what appeals is hummingbirds’ very audacity to believe in their right to exist.

For me, hummingbirds represent an invitation to gratitude. Most nights I go to bed without fear of not waking up tomorrow. Without fear that if I stop fighting, I won’t survive and neither will my family. That’s a privilege most on this planet don’t have. And for this I am grateful.

Will I find a publisher for my first book? I sure hope so, but regardless I continue to learn and evolve as a writer. Watching their frenzied fight is a reminder that I have a gift to give, whether others yet recognize it or not.

As Doyle points out in the article above, we only have so many heart beats in this life.  I’ve chosen to use mine writing.

I’m also proud to be part of an amazing community of writers through the Women’s Fiction Writers Association who support each other on this great journey of creativity – including coping with rejection. And for this I could not be more grateful.

From now on, every time I see a hummingbird, I’ll consider it a call to touch base with that gratitude.