I thought that two weeks in Cartagena would have my body used to the heat, yet even on that 14th morning as I stepped into the sunbaked hostel courtyard; the hot blast of air had me instinctively scrambling back into the air conditioned dorm. No, I’d never get used to the heat. I was not brought up in an inferno, and I guess that my old, stubborn body just doesn’t want to acclimate to any new climates.
Pick a Hostel With AC
Treat yo’ self. In how many sweat puddles did I lie, mostly naked, with stray hairs plastering my moist face and a fan spreading the body odor of my roommates around a dingy dorm before realizing that this need not be for an extra $3? Too many. I’d rather skip a meal than skip a good night’s sleep. Awakening in a crisp room and knowing that you can seek refuge from the heat at any time is a great incentive to actually get out and explore. If there is one place to splurge on a hostel, it’s Cartagena.
Wake up Early
As in, before the sun has fully risen. Because the moment that that blazing orange ball flings its searing rays upon the narrow cobbled streets, the temperature will rise five degrees Fahrenheit. This is the time to go for a run so that you don’t feel like a melting blob for the remainder of the day. Most people take pictures of the famously colorful streets in the evening, but I’d say that morning is even better. The streets drip in a golden hue and nobody is out but a couple of fruit vendors pushing their carts of pineapples and papayas. And when it comes to produce, the early bird gets the worm.
Juan Valdez is the Colombian equivalent of Starbucks, except that its coffee deserves praise. And while drink sizes run significantly smaller, Juan is very generous with his air conditioning. Drinks are on the pricey side, but the WiFi is free and open, so if you don’t exactly have to buy a drink… although who could resist an ice coffee coming to the rescue during a midday slump?
The best beach for swimming in the city, Bocagrande, lies about 10 minutes walking distance outside of the centro. Not exactly photogenic, but the murky waters do entice with their promise of rinsing the stale sweat and street from your blistering skin. If you must have a photogenic beach for social media-worthy pictures, go to Playa Blanca— a 45 minute boat ride and 1.5 hour bus ride outside of the city. Probably named for the narrow strip of white sand lined by an endless array of tiki-huts, Playa Blanca has very bright blue water. Just watch out for jet skis.
Everyone else does. Cartagena can seem a ghost town by day, with old buildings and heat phantasms. But just before dusk, humans line the old city wall to eagerly bid the sun a farewell as it moves on to torment some other part of the world for a few hours. Then, more street vendors come out, stores open, restaurants open, and people slowly stroll the streets, relishing the absence of sweat.