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Cartagena as we’re used to seeing it portrayed, lovely, colourful and picturesque. It is lovely. But Cartagena is also a heavily corrupt and unequal place, with heaps of garbage and abandoned public construction work as soon as you leave Old Town. You can always stay inside the bubble, but you’ll miss more than half of Cartagena. So get prepared for an imperfect, sometimes ugly, but more complex real Cartagena and you won’t be disappointed at the sight of a city different from the postcards. I’m not trying to show the entire city through this post, but I’ll share my experience and pictures of the places I usually visit when I go to Cartagena.

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Old Town.

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People debating the peace negotiations between the government and the FARC-EP guerilla, and whether to vote “yes” or “no” to the peace agreement.

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This, too, is Cartagena.

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The “settlement” area in Torices neighbourhood, Cartagena. Two minutes walk from the five-star hotels.

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Garbage, garbage and political propaganda.

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But, the beach is free for anyone. There’s usually garbage at the beach too and the water isn’t the least crystal clear, but it’s warm.

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And the sunset in Cartagena can be as romantic as described, from any place.

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A street lunch with Dulfry and Yuly in Torices. Chicken, pasta, beans, rice and salad on the same plate. Accompanied by a delicious soup. 6000 pesos. Pure happiness.

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My friend Yuly’s cozy and eco-friendly hostel Casa Yulda.

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Check it out if you want a place to stay in Cartagena, beyond the touristic bubble.

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Ice cream at La Paletería in Old town. I’d need to go here twice a day for a week to try all the temptations. As my friend Yuly and her son Dulfry from Cartagena say “A day without ice cream isn’t a proper day.”

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Favourite restaurant and cocktail hangout El Bistro. Relatively cheap seafood for 25.000 pesos and cocktails for 13.000.

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Old town by night.

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Sunset watching from the city wall of Cartagena.

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Popular romantic meeting places in the city wall.

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And simply a splendid place to listen to the waves, feel the wind and reflect on life in Cartagena. (My full gratitude to Yuly Castaño for this photo.)

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