November 2017 - Bermuda for Thanksgiving Trip Report

About a year ago, I knew there was no way I wanted to stay in NYC for Thanksgiving weekend. I grew up here my whole life so the magic of the holidays in NYC is not as appealing to me as it is for others. I also really hate the cold and knew I wanted to go away, but where could I go that would be close by, warm, and easy to travel around?

In Feb. of last year I found a pretty good deal to visit Bermuda for about $1,300 including flight and hotel. I've been stalking going to Bermuda for a few years and in general I would say going in the summertime, it usually costs more than $1,500 for flight and hotel. I booked on as usual, because if you also use, which is a cash back rebate site similar to and you get like 3% cash back on vacation combos.

I've always heard amazing things about Bermuda and always wanted to check it out. So is going to Bermuda for Thanksgiving weekend worth it? I will break down the pros and cons.



  • Such a short flight! I think it's just 2-2.5 hours away from NYC. Note there is also a one hour time difference.
  • Locals are really friendly. I don't find that to be the case at all island countries but in Bermuda, it felt very safe and people were helpful. There's a significant expatriate community due to all the companies that have offices there for tax purposes so you'll see a good mix of people.
  • No Zika. Apparently, mosquitoes can't thrive in Bermuda since there is no standing body of fresh water. Bermuda is surrounded by the salty ocean.
  • Easy to get around. You can't really rent a car due to limits on cars on the road, but it's pretty easy to get around on the local buses. There's not that many roads either, so everything kind of moves directionally.
  • Gorgeous clear blue water. Even on a cloudy day, the water was a brilliant shade of blue! It's because Bermuda sits on very white sand reef. So diving, snorkeling here is good.
  • The island is on the same latitude as the Carolinas, it's not as far south as the Caribbean islands. As such, Bermuda is not within the usual path of hurricanes.


  • Everything on the island is expensive! Particularly the food. There are some affordable options but for the most part, eating here is as pricey or more than an average meal in NYC.
  • Weather in November is hit or miss. I was there from Wed through Sunday during Thanksgiving weekend and it rained pretty hard all day half the time. It was warmer than being in NYC (it was about 60s-70s) but the rain was a drag.
  • Not much to do on the island. Yes there are a ton of beaches to explore and some caves and museums to see, but if you're a well-traveled person, this place won't be as interesting from a cultural or activity perspective. There are things to see, but at this point in my traveling, I'm sick of seeing naval fortresses unless they're intricately designed/different. On the other hand, if you haven't been to many other islands, you may find their local attractions more appealing.
  • Had the weather been nicer, I would have liked to gone on a glass bottom boat tour since the water seems to be clear. I probably would've had a nicer time in the summer but it's also more expensive to go then.


Bermuda was a good weekend getaway from NYC but would I recommend it for Thanksgiving weekend? Yes, if you've always wanted to check it out and you want to get a better deal than going in the summertime. No, if you travel a lot and have been to a lot of other island getaways. Of all the islands I've been to, this is probably one of my least favorite. It was very pretty and nice, but just boring to me. The weather played a factor as well. I think the weather was pretty good the weekend before we arrived so it's a gamble. When it rained, it rained pretty much the whole day and at times, very heavily. The food was good, but not that amazing that you should go there just for that. Plus it's so expensive to eat there. However, it really is an easy trip from NYC so I'm glad I got to see it but I would never want to return unless I was going there for free! 

I stayed at the Princess Hotel in Hamilton, Bermuda (a Fairmont resort) and it was good for its location. It's not on the beach, it's close to downtown Hamilton (a 10-15 min. walk) but I picked that in case the weather wasn't great. They have a free shuttle to the beach though which gets PACKED so definitely line up early for it. 


  • Horseshoe Bay is gorgeous. Pink sand beaches hug the turquoise shoreline. In off season though, there are no services (ie bring your own food, beach towel, chair, etc.)
  • Eat at Hog Penny Pub. Apparently the inspiration for Cheers, the Boston pub, the food here was delicious (ate twice) and they have a good pre fix deal during the weekday. Can make rsvps on Open Table.
  • Lunch at Lost in Triangle (LIT)--best fresh fish tacos! A local casual sports bar, but the owner catches the food he serves. Came back twice for the fish tacos, didn't try much else. So filling, healthy, and tasty. It's in the heart of downtown Hamilton.


  • Barracuda Grill--it's one of the most highly rated place to eat seafood but I thought it was overpriced and overrated. It's elegant and service was great, but in terms of quality and price, Hog Penny which is right next door is a much better deal and experience.
  • St. George--it's the other larger city in Bermuda but really not much to see there. It's about a 30-40 min. ride from Hamilton by bus, unless you're really bored and have nothing to do then go visit but not a must-see, in my opinion. Ferries do not run from Hamilton to St. George in off-season.
  • Royal Navy Dockyard--tourist attraction. Go if you've never seen anything similar, otherwise nothing to write home about this place. You can take a ferry to here from Hamilton during off season though.

Feb. 2017 Trip Report: Houston, Texas

I wanted to go somewhere for President's Day weekend, but wanted to go somewhere much warmer than NYC but not longer than a four hour flight and reasonably priced. My two options were Savannah or Houston, and since I was treating my mom, she picked Houston to bank on the weather (turns out Savannah's weather was about the same, and was sunny the whole weekend while it rained half the time while we were in Houston--oh well!). We booked the trip back in November and was able to get a direct flight and hotel stay through Expedia for just under $600 per person. 


Where We stayed in Houston

I stayed at the Whitehall Houston, which is right at the edge of downtown Houston. While I enjoyed our stay overall, I was kind of disappointed in our room. The hotel gave us a handicapped room, which I wouldn't have mind except the shower area seemed small. It was basically a small area with a curtain and it just seemed that water would get everywhere since there was no door/tub/etc. So I called the lobby to change rooms and they were nice enough to allow us to, but the next room we had were right behind the hotel elevators! As we were settling into the room, I kept hearing rolling mechanic sounds and it took me a while to realize it was the elevators! I didn't want to change rooms again though, the noise eventually lulled me to sleep but it was a bit annoying. Also, when we arrived, the room had two bottles of water that seemed complimentary so we took them. Then the next evening we were given only one bottle and the last day none! So I am confused as to whether we were supposed to get water or not. The hotel also only had valet parking available. Upon my research for hotels, I think that's the case for most hotels located in the city center but I thought the prices for Sunday were a bit excessive. Friday and Saturday night valet parking is $19/night but Sunday jumps to $29! So overall, I did like the hotel for its location and the staff was fine, but the minor things like the room comfort, water bottles, and parking gouge for Sunday night were the "cons" to me. The hotel was very clean though and also has an outdoor pool, which we did not use since it was not warm enough. So I would say stay here only if you can get a good deal.

Highlights of Houston

There are tons of resources online of what to do in Houston. The information that was most helpful to me for planning was Thrillist's list of 50 free things to do in Houston. I also was NOT in Houston on a Thursday, but if you find yourself there on a Thursday, a bunch of their museums are free so plan accordingly!

For our trip, we saw/visited:

  • The Heights' 19th Street Shopping District: This stretch of vintage/antique shops is about 20 minutes from downtown Houston. If you love antique/vintage shopping this might be worth a look. It's about two city blocks long, so you can pretty much browse the block in less than half an hour. Parking is free on the street.
  • Discovery Green: An urban park in downtown Houston, not much was going on when we went. You can stroll thru it in 15 minutes! Easy to find street parking (metered). Probably more lively in the summer. Had these cool flower sculptures below though.
  • The Downtown Underground Tunnels: It rained half the time we were in Houston. On the first day we arrived, it rained most of the day! Luckily, because we were staying downtown, we were able to get around the city center by going underground. These tunnels span over 6 miles and is meant for city workers to get around when the weather is too hot out or raining. There is NOTHING worth seeing in these tunnels though--everything below was fast food, fast food, fast food places and then a random Hallmark-type shop here and there. However, it was interesting to see all the people working in the area file thru the tunnels like ants on their lunch break. You can wander in/out of office buildings that lead into mini mall areas so you can probably kill an hour or two here if you just want to move around the city and the weather is bad, but otherwise, there is not much to experience here. Also, it's easy to get around if you just follow the color-coded maps. I think the tunnels are closed on non-office working days/hours though.
  • The Galleria: Another option to kill time when it's raining. This mall is about 20 minutes from downtown and it is HUGE!!!! Probably one of the biggest malls in America I've ever been to. It has every single store you can imagine for clothes/shoes/dept. stores, etc. It even has a indoor ice skating rink! 
  • Hermann Park: Huge park in the city center. Can be hard to find parking though there are dedicated lots. I think Lot C is the bigger one so a little easier to find parking. Can rent a paddle boat or just stroll around. This park seems bigger and more family-oriented (more picnics, more lawn space) than the Buffalo Bayou one (where you seem to find more bikers and joggers and distinct trails).
  • The Johnson Space Center: This was by far the best part of visiting Houston, especially if you are a bit of a space nerd like me! I've always been fascinated with space since I was a kid and to see scientists and artifacts from past missions was surreal. I was in awe of all those who work here and to think about all the work that goes into exploring a realm beyond Earth.

Tips on visiting the Johnson Space Center

Buy tickets online. When you do, you have to pick 'times' for when you want to do the tram tour and visit the shuttle (they call it the Orbiter tour online). I don't know if it's because we went on off-season day, but no one checked on the times you actually entered these exhibits but a lot of what I read online recommend that you get a timed entry. We went on a Saturday, and the center opens at 10 am. Definitely start your day as early as possible so you can see as much as you can. The highlights are the tram tours, the Journey to Earth movie, and then check out the Orbiter tour. Below is a picture of what you are allowed to board/explore at the end of the Orbiter (the Endeavor Shuttle!) tour.


For the tram tour, note there are TWO TRAMS. Although most reviews suggested to allocate 90 minutes total to both tours, it took me two hours because there was some congestion/crowding to get on the trams. Also, if you do buy tickets at the center instead of in advance, you can rsvp for timed entry later but honestly, I don't think they check unless it's super crowded. To risk wasting time, just take these tram tours ASAP. The two trams are the blue line, and the red line. Start with the blue line, which will take you to the Mission Control Center--which is 100% for reeeeeals! This stop lasted no more than 5-7 minutes. We were lucky and it turns out that just as our group arrive, the sun was rising above Earth from the vantage point of the International Space Station that's orbiting Earth. Sunrises like this last 3 seconds! And astronauts up there get to see a sunrise/sunset every 45 minutes during orbit.


At the end of the first tram tour, you will end up at Rocket Park. You get off and can explore some of the rockets that were launched on previous missions.


I thought this was the coolest thing to see in person. While this looks like a continuous unit below, it's actually 4 separate pieces (which you will see that it is as you walk alongside of it). You can see rocket park in about 15 minutes, after which you get back on a tram to the main center. This is where we had line congestion, because both blue and red trams take you here before ending back at the museum. So after you get off here on the blue tram, explore rocket park, go back to the museum, get online again to take the red tram, and skip the rocket park on the way back.


The thing to see on the red tram tour is the place where current missions are being prepared for. it's in a warehouse-type place that spans a couple of football fields, and you will see people at work and all the models they have. The 'next big thing' they seem to be working on is called Orion, and the mission is to one day send humans to Mars and to travel back!


After the tram tours are over, you can check out other parts of the museum but I think the other main highlight is the movie shown at the Journey to Earth theatre. It talks about the history of past space missions and is engaging. Then you can head to Independence Plaza (ie Orbiter tour aka visiting the shuttle) and see artifacts, including touching a rock from the moon (it felt smooth, after years of probably millions of people touching it!).


Above: Last spacecraft to return to us from the moon. Below: Model of what it was like for astronauts on the moon.


Overall, I really found the visit to the Space Center educational and interesting. It's great for kids and adults. If you have zero interest in space though then skip this!

  • Menil Collection: The Menil Collection is a small museum in the Museum District of Houston. They're probably most famous for Magritte artwork. It's a nice visit which you can do in 20-30 minutes. Free parking.
  • Houston Center for Photography: This place is literally a block away from Menil Collection. It's also very small, free, and you can see everything in 15-20 minutes. Worth seeing if you're in the area.
  • Buffalo Bayou Park/Rain Exhibit at the Cistern: The weather was not great the day we went to Buffalo Bayou Park so I didn't see much of it. However it seems like a great place for a hike, run, or biking activity with miles of trails. We also came here though to see the Rain Exhibit at the Cistern. It's basically an art show with light and thundering rain sound by artist Magdalena Fernandez. It's $10 though and you must rsvp for it. The whole show is 30 minutes and I thought it was cool but I can see people either liking it or hating it. The exhibit closes sometime this spring.
  • James Turrell's Skyspace: This art installation is on campus at Rice University. It's free and online it says rsvps are required but honestly, you don't need to make them! No one checks, and people on campus can easily wander in and out of the exhibit. The "show" starts right at sundown, although the lights turn on ten minutes before. It's basically a light show (no music or sounds), where the roof of this exhibit changes from deep blues/purples/reds/yellows, etc. It's meant to be meditative I guess, as you gave thru the hole into the sky but it was hard to enjoy with a bunch of rowdy school kids around. So your experience will depend on what you expect and who else is there. There are two areas of seating, benches on the ground floor and benches on the level above. Honestly, I thought the exhibit looked more beautiful on the outskirts. Tip on parking: Rather than pay for visitor parking on campus, just park a couple of blocks outside of the university on the residential streets! It's probably a 15 minute walk (or less) from the residential street to the installation. Just make sure to park near the Shepherd School of Music, or near West Lot 1 (you can google this Google maps!).

Above: The view from inside. Below: The view from outside (which I thought was more interesting!)

  • Houston Museum of Natural Science: It rained the morning we were leaving Houston and we had four hours to kill before going to the airport. Most museums are closed on Mondays but luckily the Museum of Natural Science was open! There is a parking garage (which is $20 for guests; there is street parking in front if you can find it) and tickets to all the exhibits are sold separately, which worked out for us because we only wanted to see an iMax movie and the Butterfly exhibit. The iMax move we saw was Wild Africa and it was wonderful! I loved it. I love nature films and this one was very well done and in 3-D. The film was shot lusciously and lasts 40 minutes. Admission was $11 and I thought very much worth it compared to other nature films I've seen in other museums (including NY!). The Butterfly exhibit on the other hand was just ok, you can see it all in 20-30 minutes and I was more interested in seeing some of the unique bugs/reptiles they had on showcase. The butterflies were nice to see but there wasn't too many of them or too much variety. Great for kids, but for adults, might be a bit boring unless you've never seen a butterfly before!
  • Market Square Park: This is an area of downtown Houston where they seem to have a lot of cool bars and restaurants. It's a quick 15 minute walk around the area and is probably where the nightlife is popping. Since I was with my mom, I didn't try any bars but the bar scene did look cool. We had dinner at one of the restaurants around here (La Fisheria) but I thought it wasn't good so I won't comment further on it except it was a waste of a meal for me!! Oh well. 

I love how you can grab a drink at the bar below and sit in the outdoor living room couch setting!

  • Kemah Boardwalk: If you have extra time, or visit the NASA space museum, you can drive out to Kemah Boardwalk after. It's about a 20 minute drive from the Space center (about an hour and change from downtown Houston), and basically this is where people go to eat seafood and go on rides. It's like a mini Coney Island/amusement park. Seemed expensive though but kids would love it. Food is probably overpriced as well but it's right by the water and the ambience is nice. There is free street parking but you have to look for it, and there's also parking lots where you can pay for the day. We got lucky and found free street parking though, just be patient! We just walked around here for 15-20 minutes to have a look since the weather was good but otherwise didn't stay long here.
  • Chinatown: Being Asian, I'm always curious about other Asian communities outside of NYC. Houston has a big Chinese/Vietnamese community and it was interesting to see it sprawled out over mini shopping plazas. There didn't seem like any place to really 'walk' around like you can in NYC Chinatown, but we did come across Hong Kong City Mall which had a ton of Vietnamese food vendors and a huge Asian supermarket to explore. Long story short though--I'd skip trying to explore Chinatown Houston unless you're really curious. Also, I didn't find the food that compelling (sorry! NYC Chinese/Vietnamese food is way better!)
  • Brookstreet BBQ: The highlight of all my meals was hands down this DELECTABLE place in the Montrose area of the city. I loved it so much we came back here on our last day before we went to the airport. Everything was very fresh, juicy, and flavorful and you can pick how many meats you want to try (ie 1, 2, or 3 different types of meats) and you get two sides. Most of what we tried was very good. I'm usually not a fan of brisket (find most places make it dry) but this place was soooo juicy. The St. Louis ribs were my fave, and the chicken was good too. Tried the pulled pork which was ok but I'm not a fan of pulled pork in general. The Mexican-styled corn was also yummy as was the bread (I have no idea what kind, but it was buttery) and the potato salad and baked potato casserole was also winners in my book.

Above: Ribs, pulled pork, and chicken. Below: briiiiiisket! Great value meals (never spent more than $35 for two!)

  • Good Dog Houston: Another good, casual spot to eat by the Menil museum. Can get a nice gourmet hot dog with different types of toppings. Not a place you have to go out of your way for to try, but if you're in this area and hungry, it's worth coming here to get a snack.

So...Is Houston Worth Visiting?

Overall impression: Houston is not terribly exciting, there is some stuff to do and I think it would be a great place for families to visit (lots of things for kids to do) but for an adults-only trip, I think there are better options (ie Chicago, LA, Austin). However, we did enjoy our time in Houston and the art scene was much more vibrant than I expected. I'm used to being able to walk around neighborhoods though and I found that you really need to drive to get around the city, which is sprawling. So yes, Houston is worth visiting if you haven't traveled to many other cities in the U.S., much less outside of the U.S., but if you're a seasoned traveler, you might find Houston a bit boring (and I don't mean that to be insulting, just that it's very family-friendly and not the type a visit a solo traveler or adventurous traveler might find as interesting).


May 2016: 5 Day Itinerary for Copenhagen (Part II)

Day Three

Day 3: On my 3rd day in Copenhagen, I decided to relax a bit and not rush around to see everything. I saw most of the major highlights the past two days so today I wanted to slow down a bit. I started off my day by heading to Fiskebar, yet another restaurant owned by ex-Noma people. See the trend here? I couldn't get a reservation to Noma (the #1 rated restaurant in the world) so I opted for anything else (which was not hard, there are a bunch of other restaurants owned by ex-Noma people I didn't get to go to!). 

Well, this restaurant is located in the Inner Vesterboro of the city, near the Meatpacking District. On the weekends, there is an outdoor food market right in front of Fiskebar where you can get fresh seafood, burgers, etc. Wish I had known about it earlier, I would've gone to Fiskebar on a different day and sample the different foods at the fair instead! Fiskebar was good, especially if you love oysters. However, this was a really expensive lunch. Probably because of the really expensive humongous oysters that are native to Denmark. Those are the ones to the left below. I had that, other oysters, and the cod. The oysters grown in Denmark were delicious though, so if you're an oyster lover you should try one since you're there anyway!

After lunch, I really wanted to go shopping. I took the bus back towards the downtown area of Strøget and came across a photography exhibit on Mario Testino. I didn't plan on going to any more museums, but I am actually fascinated by his work, after years of reading celebrity and fashion magazines. He's a well-known photographer amongst the stars and I've always been drawn to his images so I decided why not check it out? It was at the GL Strand and his work is on display until Sept. 18, 2016. 

After browsing the exhibit for less than an hour, I finally went shopping. I didn't buy too much, but I like to look to get inspired. Strøget is a very long shopping street with tons of stores. There are three local places I really liked:

  • Illums, a major dept. store. What I liked most is that they have this huge rooftop/food hall where you can hang out on the balcony and view the city from above. 
  • Illums Bolighus, an interior design/decor store. Initially I got this store confused with the dept. store, I thought they were one and the same but they are not! A lot of different home decor stuff resides in here. I bought a candle from here that I love the smell of. 
  • Hay Market, another interior design/decor store. Had a lot of cute things, there's also a mini Hay market inside Illums Bolighus. And apparently, there is one here in NYC as well at the MoMa Design store in Soho! Which I found out about after I came back.
View from Illums

View from Illums

The only other things I really bought in Copenhagen were tea and cookies. For tea, I went to Tante Tea. One type of tea that I love that i can't really find in America is Milky Oolong tea. I first found it a few years ago in Vienna but haven't come across it since. So I was super happy to see that Tante Tea had some! If you like black tea with a hint of milky flavor, definitely check it out. There are two locations for it, one of them being in the Torvehallerne market I mentioned in an earlier post. 

In the evening, I went to eat at the Copenhagen Street Food at Paper Island. So it was Saturday night and it was paaaaacked! But I realized that no matter where you go in Copenhagen, even though there's so many people around, it never feels crowded or overwhelming. There is always room or a seat to find. With so many food choices though, it was hard deciding what to try. I finally settled on a surf and turf burger and it did not disappoint!

Afterwards, I walked over to the Opera house and watched the sun set over Amalienborg Palace.

Day Four

Day 4: Sunday was day trip day! Most stores are closed on Sunday so it's a good day to go on a day trip where shopping is not the goal. I woke up early and caught the train from Norreboro to Kronborg Castle, which serves as the inspiration for Shakespeare's Hamlet. For this trip, I knew I wanted to get to the castle by 10 am so I could have breakfast near there and then pop in when it opens at 11. I bought a 24 hour metro pass (choose the one for all zones). I forget which train I took but Google Maps had accurate directions and train times! And the castle was the last stop. It took about an hour to get there, and then it's about a 15 minute walk to the castle. The day I went was very warm and sunny. Be sure to bring a hat and sunglasses!

Anyway, so when I got there Sunday morning there were not that many restaurants open. I ended up grabbing coffee and a pastry from Spisehuset, which is inside a cultural building right next to the castle. The nicest surprise of the day though was when I walked into the building and heard classical music playing and thinking it was a CD. It was not! There was string quarter! Next to a very casual food stand! It was such a nice way to start the day.

Visiting Kronborg on the outside was beautiful. It's right by the sea, across from Sweden. The doors open at 11 am to sell tickets to visit inside. In the courtyard above is where they will have live productions of Hamlet. Inside the castle, it's a quick but interesting walk through. The Royal Family used to live here but there is not much furnishings inside.

Where they held their grand parties.

Where they held their grand parties.

I stayed here until about 12:15 and then headed back to the train station to catch the bus to Louisiana Museum of Modern Art. The museum closes at 5 pm, so I went to catch the bus (not the train) since I knew it would drop me off directly in front of the museum. If you take the train back, you have to walk another 15 min. from that train station to the museum so why waste time? Also, the bus and train take the same amount of travel time (about half an hour). I think the bus I took was bus 388. When I got to the museum, I had lunch at the cafe. Overall, I thought the museum was FANTASTIC! I am not one to love all museums, but I really enjoyed this one. It's in a beautiful spot right by the sea as well, and they had a lot of interesting exhibits. The outdoor area was really nice to sit out in and relax for an hour. I had taken a sarong with me to serve as a blanket so I laid out on the grass and took a nap.

I really enjoyed my time at the museum and highly recommend a trip out here. If you only had time for one, I say make time for Louisiana over Kronborg. And bring a blanket or something easy to lie out on!

In the evening, I had dinner at a place in Norreboro. Norreboro is a nice neighborhood--I didn't spend too much time in it but a lot of places to eat and hang out in. I had dinner at Oysters & Grill. Definitely get the langoustines here! Very fresh and juicy. Also, it was one of the more affordable meals I had in Copenhagen.

Day 5

Day 5: No more picture posts! I was soooo exhausted on my last day in the city. All I did was some last minute shopping, took a nap, and went to the airport. But I did have two good eats before I left: Grod, which is in Norroboro and had a really creamy and yummy parmesan risotto, and I got a juice from Joe and the Juice, which is everywhere in the city and wish I had time to drink more of their really fresh juices! However, it turns out there is one here in NYC too (which I discovered when I came back) so will definitely check it out here as well. My flight home was at 6:30 pm, I got to the airport at 4 pm and was certainly enough time to get thru security, etc.

SAS Airlines was great too, the plane was comfortable and in good condition and the flight attendants were friendly!

And I've successfully re-capped my last trip before starting my next one in a few days... ;)




March 2016: 5 Day Itinerary for cartagena

My 5 Day Cartagena Itinerary

The Quick:

  • Day 1: Landed on a Wednesday around 1 pm. Explored the Walled City/Getsamani area.
  • Day 2: Visited Castillo San Felipe de Barajas. Walked around the Walled City/Getsamani area some more.
  • Day 3: Pool day at the hotel, salsa club at night
  • Day 4: Spa day at the hotel
  • Day 5: Catch flight at noon back to NY

And the Dirty Details (scroll all the way down to skip if you just want some other tidbits):

Along the Wall

Along the Wall

Day 1: I arrived in Cartagena's international airport at around 1 pm. Usually when I travel, the part that gives me the most anxiety (especially if I'm traveling alone) is how to get from the airport to wherever I'm staying, especially if I don't speak the language. Since I was nervous about my weak Spanish, I had asked my hotel, Bastion Luxury, to arrange for a private driver to come pick me up. This might sound snotty but the total cost was $11 USD!!! Why would I NOT do this for piece of mind and safety? The taxis are not metered so I was afraid of negotiating and getting a bad rate. I probably had nothing to worry about, but for me, I just rather not put myself in a situation I'll regret.

Anyway, getting through customs took forever and I was worried my driver would not wait. I was on line for almost an hour! When you arrive, there are two lines. One for locals and one for foreigners so just pay attention which one to take. After I finally made it through, the driver was right outside the luggage pick up with my name on a sign. He wanted to take me to the car right away but I stopped him and asked in my broken Spanish if we could go look for an ATM. He nodded and I re-entered the airport through the departure entrance and asked the security guard where the "banco machina" was. Obviously, "banco machina" is not how you say ATM but I didn't know the exact words at the time (it's "cajero automatico" and I was tired) but he laughed and knew what I was getting at! So FYI the ATM machines are all the way to the right side of the check in area, near the elevators. I also read that most Colombian banks have a daily limit as to how much you can withdraw. The one that I used certainly had that--I could only take out 300,000 pesos, or about $100 USD. However that turned out to be more than enough for the few days I was there. The screens give you the ability to withdraw in English too. In general I always withdraw money from the ATM rather than exchange cash since the rates at exchange offices/desks are generally not as favorable. Also, my Chase card doesn't charge me on any ATM fees for the first four times each month if I use a non-Chase ATM machine so this works for me.

After this was done, my driver took me into the Walled City, which is about 15-20 minutes away from the airport, hardly any traffic. Even though the hotel told me via e-mail that I could charge the ride onto my hotel bill, the driver was insistent I pay in cash (probably because he knew I had it). But this was fine, since I wanted to get smaller change anyway. Tipping drivers is not expected or necessary either. 

So my hotel. I loved it. Cartagena is known for their boutique hotels and Bastion Luxury was great. The staff speaks English well and check in was easy. 

So nice to come back to cold comfortable room after walking around the humid city!

So nice to come back to cold comfortable room after walking around the humid city!

My room was on the 2nd floor and had no windows. Which I was totally fine with. Ok, it had one window but the view was right into another room across the way. It was quite comfortable and rustic, with stone walls and a huge shower. It's so humid in Cartagena that coming back to a nice air conditioned hotel room was really lovely. The hotel (like other boutique ones in this city) offered daily breakfast which was delicious. There was always a huge platter of fresh exotic fruit (some I have never seen before) as well as eggs, bacon, and other things you could order a la carte. 

After checking in, I decided to explore the city so walked a bit around the wall. Although I planned to travel to Cartagena alone, it turned out a friend of friend was there the same time as me so we met up later in the evening for dinner at Malanga Cafe, which is in the Getsamani area. 

The smallest and cutest cafe on a rooftop in all the land!

The smallest and cutest cafe on a rooftop in all the land!

The food here was decent. I had the fish tacos and they were good. It was a bit breezy on the roof, which was a welcome respite. I do recommend this place for a relaxing dinner outside of the touristy area of the Walled City. Afterwards, we walked back to the Walled City (it's about a 10-15 min. walk btwn the Walled City and Getsamani and you do need to be careful which route you take. Basically, just stick to the main roads where you see people walking on too!) and found our way to Gabriel Garcia Marquez' house in Cartagena.

Nowhere in life is sadder than an empty bed

Nowhere in life is sadder than an empty bed

His family still owns it. He is the author of 100 Years in Solitude, which I read so long ago but remember it was easy to get drawn into the story. Around his house is where a few other nice hotels and restaurants are and it's nice to walk around, especially at night, when all the locals are out. Apparently much of the city isn't even open during the afternoon because of the hot hot sun, and as soon as it goes down, everyone come out to play and shops are open late!

Cartagena Night Life in the Plazas

Cartagena Night Life in the Plazas

Day 2: Felt like I had already seen much of the city just by walking around after dinner on the first day. Decided to do something touristy so my friend and I went to Castillo San Felipe de Barajas. We took a taxi there, it was cheap...a few US dollars (that we paid for in pesos but I can't remember how much exactly). You can walk there but I think it's faster and less hot to take a taxi. Most people advise that you go either early in the day or late afternoon to avoid the sun. We woke up late so we went at 11 am. It was fine though, just be sure to bring a cap/hat and shades! So was this place worth it to visit? Yes, I liked it. It's incredibly historic, dating back to the 1700s. And I love hiking and exercising so I didn't mind the steep walk up to the top. 

The fortress at high noon, no shade to be found...

The fortress at high noon, no shade to be found...

We came. We Saw. We Conquered.

We came. We Saw. We Conquered.

We spent maybe 2 hours here total. Afterwards we went to a nearby mall (that you can see from the fortress, it's like a 5-10 min. walk away) but there wasn't much to find there (that you cannot find in the US). Then we had lunch at La Cocina Pepina, which appears on many must-eat lists for Cartagena. In hindsight, this probably was the best meal we had there. Food was very authentic and fresh, but in general, I didn't find food in Colombia all that appealing. I thought food would have more flavor like Mexican food but it wasn't that way at all. For dinner we went to La Cevicheria, which was put on the map by Anthony Bourdain.

Ceviche and Lobster Paella at La Cevicheria

Ceviche and Lobster Paella at La Cevicheria

It was decent but not the best ceviche I ever had. We tried the trio of ceviches and had the lobster paella, which was a ton of food! The paella was good but for some reason I think I expected more. My friend ended up taking most of it back to her hostel and eating it for two days.

My favorite part of this day though, was walking along the Walled City at sunset and climbing through one of the holes. With our feet dangling over the ledge, we watched the sun go down as the cars zoomed by and the sea breeze cooled us.

Sunset watching, my favorite activity.

Sunset watching, my favorite activity.

Day 3: By Friday, we were tired from walking around 90 degree weather all day. So we decided to spend the day at the pool on my hotel rooftop!!! Apparently all the boutique hotels offer this in Cartagena and I could see why. It was a welcome relief to walking around sweating. I got up early enough to snag a cabana and thoroughly enjoyed the pool.

Ohhhhhh yeahhhhhh...

Ohhhhhh yeahhhhhh...

Pool time

Pool time

View of the pool at the hotel next door!

View of the pool at the hotel next door!

After lounging around most of the day, we had lunch at Vera, which is a swanky Italian place at the hotel on the other end of the street. It was a bit pricier than our other meals and it was fine, but not memorable. However, the ambience was very nice. Then we got dessert at Mila Patisserie, which was good if you like sweets. After dessert, we went back to the Getsamani area and spent the rest of the night salsa dancing to a live band at Cafe Havana. This was fun, and I would recommend this place for a night out. It's a good mix of locals and tourists. There is a cover charge on Friday night and it's better to go a little early (around 10 pm) to get seats at the bar or a table if you want to sit down. The club shuts down by 2am though.

So I didn't get back to the hotel until 3 am, and although I found the Walled City to be safe, all the hotels shut their doors at night!!! So when I came back, the entrance was locked. I knocked, but I knew no one would hear me since reception is a bit further away from the entrance. Luckily, I had international service on my phone so I called reception to let me in. I don't know what I would've done if I didn't have it. I probably would have gone to my friend's hostel, which was only 3 blocks away, and ask their reception desk to call mine. Hostels there seem much more lax about people coming and out of their places whereas hotels definitely were not.

Day 4: My friend left Cartagena so I spent this day alone. I was pretty much done seeing the city though so I spent the morning up in the pool again and in the afternoon, I went to the hotel spa because it was so cheap! Well, cheap compared to NYC. I did a two hour massage service which was only $110 USD and included tip! It was a great way to spend the afternoon. For dinner I went nearby to Restaurant 1621, which was highly reviewed and located inside another luxury hotel, the Santa Clara. It was so disappointing! The restaurant is in a beautiful space (you can sit outside in the garden) but the food was blah. I opted for the tasting menu since it was cheap (again, compared to NYC so why not try it!) but I wish I didn't and saved my money. None of the 8 dishes I had were memorable. I only remember my tuna being dry or overcooked and not really liking much of any of it.

Day 5: I was very much ready to go back to NYC. I was relaxed and did everything I wanted to do already. I knew the airport didn't have much but wow. It REALLY did not have much. Do NOT plan on eating at the airport at all. There's like two casual places where you can buy food but it all looks kind of blah. I had a sandwich since I was hungry. Also, it's not necessary to show up to the airport that early. Checking in was pretty fast and easy. It's a very small airport. If you can, eat before you go or bring food! Going back, I took a taxi from the hotel and it was about $3 USD.

What I Didn't Do

  • Visit the Rosario Islands. This needs to be planned a bit in advance though (especially if you want to avoid crowds) and I didn't have time.

  • Go to Bocagrande. Everything I read was that it's like the Miami of Cartagena and that it's really commercial and brand new and that's not what I was looking for. Why go somewhere that has all the same stores I can find in the U.S.? So I mostly stayed in the old part, the Walled City, which is rifled with charming colonial architecture and seemed more authentic. 
  • Go on a horse-drawn carriage. These are everywhere in the Walled City! I rather walk around and get lost on all the little side streets. Might be something fun to do though, especially if you like horses.
  • Buy anything. Although there were a lot of shops and I love shopping, I didn't find anything that special or unique to bring back. Depends what you're looking for. I really enjoyed wandering around and exploring all the artsy stores in the Walled City, though most were geared towards tourists.  
  • Eat street food. Maybe I would've had better luck?

Where to Stay

Best bets are staying inside the Walled City. You can easily cover the whole city in a day but it has a lot of character, despite all the tourists. The Getsamani area, a 10 minute walk from the Plaza de Paz (where the clocktower is) is "up and coming" and more artsy. See the blue dot route below, I thought this way was the 'safer' route to walk in between the two areas. It is relatively safe, but if you're a woman or traveling alone, I just recommend sticking with this route in the evening at least when going back and forth between the two areas (rather than the gray-line route). During the day I think either route is fine, but the blue route seems to be more heavily trafficked with tourists. Once you pass Parque de Centario, you're essentially in Getsamni, which also features a lot of interesting graffiti art throughout the neighborhood. Wander around for hidden restaurants.

What I Liked Most About Cartagena

It's saturated with its own culture. The people are nice, very friendly. I didn't think anyone tried to take advantage of me as a tourist (meaning, trying to overcharge me or harass me), nor did I feel discriminated against (which unfortunately happens sometimes, as an Asian). I loved walking all around the fortress that surrounds the city by the sea, especially during sunset. There's a couple of outdoor bars along the top of the wall where you can hang out and have a drink and listen to live music (Cafe del Mar being the most frequented one). It's very easy to get around and see everything, and staying at a comfortable hotel was a good idea when I ran out of things to do and I could just relax there. So for me, the trip met my needs but don't come expecting that you can fill a lot of time just staying in or near the Walled City for more than two days.

Other Resources for Cartagena