The Coolest District In Colombia
Cartagena, Colombia. Photograph by Ms Jodee Debes
A guide to Cartagena’s Getsemaní district, what might just be the hottest part of town in all of Latin America.
You know the tide is turning in Colombia when the hottest topic of conversation is rent prices instead of narcotics. But such is the focus for an average evening in Plaza de la Trinidad in the Getsemaní district of Cartagena, a colonial city on the north coast of the country. When night falls in the plaza, street vendors sell gargantuan arepas (a type of empanada) and corner shops with beer pumps pour out glasses of ice-cold Aguila for barely 75p.
Yet beer and snacks aside, living costs are soaring in Getsemaní, a once defiantly working-class neighbourhood that was left to rot in the narco-war years of the 1970s and 1980s when those who could afford to do so moved to the Miami-esque beach-side new town of Bocagrande.
Now revived with a cascade of shops, bars, restaurants and galleries, there is still a certain romantic languor to Getsemaní that doesn’t exist in other parts of the Old Town, most of which is teeming with persistent touts and chain coffee shops geared towards cruise ship passengers. Getsemaní life is evolving in a more organic and community focused way than elsewhere in Cartagena and, in our opinion, is fast becoming one of the coolest neighbourhoods in South America. Here’s why.
BAZURTO SOCIAL CLUB, AVENIDA DEL CENTENARIO
Pop art meets pugilism at this legendary Getsemaní bar and live music joint where the former house band, the Bazurto All Stars, have gone on to become major national stars with a stream of reggaeton hits. Among the artwork in here is a life-size cut-out figure of Kid Pambele, a local boxer who, in the 1960s, twice became world junior welterweight champion. Thursday night is the time to come for top-notch live champeta music, a beguiling mix of Afro-Colombian styles known locally as Colombian therapy.
Demente, Plaza de la Trinidad
Photograph courtesy of Demente
Now almost six years old, this Getsemaní trailblazer offers top-notch tapas, served by convivial bar staff, and a retractable roof for the all but inevitable blistering night heat. Oxtail sliders and whole fried sweet chilli peppers are recommended, as is the artichoke pizza fresh from the wood-fired oven. The decor goes beyond the usual quirky Latin clichés as well. Look out for the plates painted with quotes from Colombian poet Mr Raúl Gómez Jattin.
Centro Cultural Ciudad Móvil, Calle del Espíritu Santo
One of the pioneers in the evolution of Getsemaní, Ciudad Móvil is a hybrid beast of many brightly hued colours. Work your way inwards from the art gallery as you enter from Calle del Espíritu Santo to the whitewashed back room where there are regular salsa, capoeira and breakdance classes. Finally, out in the tree-shaded back yard, are a bar and restaurant that serves bruschetta and brioche lightly coated in Colombian coffee.
Cháchara, Calle de la Sierpe
The interior foliage, huge wicker chandeliers and chicharronci (pork crackling) with yucca fries are appealing enough to locals and visitors, but it’s the artwork by the entrance that’s the notable yet subtle show stealer here. The outer walls of the restaurant are covered with small childlike cut-outs of houses filled with human figures neatly torn from discarded newspapers, a piece of typically funny and surreal public art by legendary Brazilian artist Mr Bel Borba (known as the pied piper of street art).
Di Silvio Trattoria, Calle de la Sierpe
Photograph courtesy of Donde.co
From Williamsburg to Brixton, any gentrified urban neighbourhood needs to have a high-quality pizza joint. Di Silvio (which also has a branch in Bogotá) takes the top spot in Getsemaní on location alone, perched as it is by Plaza de la Trinidad. Step inside and you’ll see huge wall-mounted prints of cheese graters and mezzaluna kitchen knives. Alongside some perfectly blistered thin-crust pizza, there’s a glut of other decent food, including crostinis and spaghetti Di Silvio with bacon, blue cheese, almonds, dried tomatoes and parmesan. Oh, and for a true local touch, the Cartagena pizza is topped, surprisingly successfully, with plantain.
Arrabal Gastrobar, Calle de San Juan de Dios
Perhaps more than anywhere else, this slinky and dimly lit hideaway represents the massive changes taking place in Getsemaní. The old timers may blanche at the prices (around the £26 mark for a main), but the unctuous octopus and calamari ceviche and the insanely potent conozo martinis make it an evening worth forking out for.
KLM flies from Amsterdam to Cartagena from £769 return (klm.com)