(Edge): It's a little surreal, taking in an intensely frantic, loud flamenco dance while downing a personal-sized pan of delectable paella with chorizo, chicken, and pork at El Burlador Gatrobar. Why surreal? Because I'm not in Cartagena, Spain. I'm in Cartagena de Indias, Colombia.
With its Spanish colonial history, walled Old Town architecture (a port city founded in 1533), and dark-skinned Afro-Caribbean population borne of the slave trade, Cartagena stands almost entirely apart from its country's other best-known cities, Bogota and Medellin. Further distinguished by sun-kissed, balmy weather and a cuisine incorporating local Caribbean coastal ingredients like the cranberry-hued corozo fruit, there is one significant commonality worth noting, however: LGBTQ-friendliness.
Homosexuality has been legal all across Colombia since 1981, and civil partnerships were approved by the constitutional court in 2011 and instituted during 2013. Same-sex marriage equality followed, and the first full-fledged, legal wedding took place in May 2016. Cartagena certainly makes for a picturesque and romantic marriage and honeymoon setting, with elements that draw favorable comparisons to San Juan, Puerto Rico and Puerto Vallarta, Mexico.
SEE AND DO
First, take in a bit of history with a visit to the Castillo de San Felipe de Barajas, a 17th Century stone fortress on a hill with great views and some creepy tunnels, and explore the Old Town, a UNESCO World Heritage site, with its beautifully painted buildings and shops filled with colorful local art and souvenirs. Take in more local history, architecture, and maybe the ghost of a tortured soul or two at Palace of the Inquisition Cartagena.
Feeling modern? Hipster hood Getsemaní is known for its urban street art murals, indie shops like FeedFish Independent Designers (specializing in cool locally made accessories, fashion, graphic novels), and other design-centric goods, and bars/cafes.
Beachcombers should get their sand and ocean on, and perhaps a waterfront foot massage and ceviche, at lively Playa de Bocagrande (one note: while Colombia is quite safe thanks to a 2016 peace accord, do notleave valuables unattended here or anywhere).
While coffee is almost synonymous with Colombia as a major export, it's not so easy to find contemporary third and fourth wave cafes in Cartagena. For a fine cold brew, pour over, and tasty pastry, however, make a beeline to Folklore or Café del Mural in hipster Getsemani.
Savor a survey of well-prepared Caribbean-Colombian staples like posta negra cartagenera - beef in a dark, sweet sauce made with Coca-Cola - at unpretentious La Ollo Cartagenera, the more touristy Candé, the seafood-heavy and upscale Club de Pesca, or with a modern fusion twist from outstanding chef Federico Vega at El Santisimo.
Locals have a sweet tooth, so be sure to pick up some of the confections hawked by street vendors around the walled city.
While there isn't a lot of specifically LGBTQ nightlife in Cartagena (gay bar La Plancha closed earlier this year) definitely check out Bar Le Petit Cartagena. Come evening, Getsemaní pops with hipster bars, music, and also the Cuban-themed Café Havana, which will scratch an itch for rum and live Cuban tunes.
Just feet from Playa De Bocagrande with awesome ocean and beachfront views, the InterContinental Cartegena de Indias also boasts a fabulous outdoor pool and is conveniently connected to shopping mall (and de facto cruising spot, a Grindr status check will reveal) Centro Comercial Nao.
On a budget? Millennials and digital nomads of all ages will love upscale, design-centric hostel and social hub, Selina.
If a chic boutique property in buzzy Old Town is more your style, the Ananda blends historic architecture with 2018 luxury plus a rooftop pool and sunning areas.