Spanning an area of 16 blocks northeast of El Centro, Cartagena’s San Diego neighborhood is home to some of the Walled City’s most picturesque streets and plazas, not to mention some of the best restaurants this Caribbean city has to offer. Here’s a guide to some of its best bites and sights.
Off-the-beaten-path, bohemian, alternative… all of these words could be used to describe the vibe of Cartagena’s San Diego neighborhood. Its narrow lanes lined with colorful one-story holiday homes and modest houses are the perfect setting to steal a rare moment away from the crowds of El Centro, while its plazas offer shade and oftentimes live entertainment by the city’s talented street performers.
The Main Attractions
San Diego is home to Cartagena’s most unique souvenir shops and bars. Each is housed in what used to be the city’s dungeons during Colombia’s civil war. Your mission: visit all 23 vaults.
Santo Toribio Church
Though the exterior of this colonial church isn’t much to look at, step inside for a glance at its drop dead gorgeous wood-paneled ceilings crafted by the Spanish Moors and its baroque-style altar coated in black lacquer and gold foil.
Insider’s Tip: There’s a bullet on display inside the church that was fired by a pirate during mass in 1741. As it hurt no one, the parishioners decided to keep it as a symbol of God’s divine intervention.
Plaza Fernandez de Madrid
This San Diego plaza is named after one of Colombia’s national heroes during the revolution, Fernandez de Madrid. His statue stands tall at the plaza’s center. This is also a great spot to grab a drink or a meal and enjoy the often live music that finds its way to this part of the city at all hours.
Where to Eat
For Caribbean cuisine at a good price, head to La Mulata on Calle Quero. Their rotating daily set menu is always chock full of delicious local fare, like lobster salad, and grilled octopus, as well as an assortment of fresh juices.
Here’s a concept you’ve probably never heard or experienced before. El Interno is a restaurant located in San Diego’s women’s prison and staffed by the prison’s inmates. It’s a chance to dine on gourmet cuisine and give back by supporting women about to transition to life after prison.
This restaurant is one of Cartagena’s best. The menu features fusion cuisine that combines Caribbean flavors with a little French-inspired flair. The chef and owner, Federico Vega, honed his craft in the kitchens of Paris and London.
You may have seen this San Diego haunt on the late Anthony Bourdain’s show No Reservations. Ever since, it’s been a must-do on traveler’s lists and therefore making it a bit harder to get a table at peak dining hours. Nevertheless, if you can snag one, it’s well worth the effort for a plate of their delectable ceviche.
For something a little different, visit Cuba 1940’s. It’s a bar restaurant that feels more like a time machine, transporting you to the Cuba of yesteryear as soon as you step inside. They even have live Cuban salsa music on Wednesday, Thursday, Friday, and Saturday nights and a room for smoking Cuban cigars.
Good things are shared