I am a sucker for a sunset. At least 40% of the camera roll on my phone consists of photos of the sun in its different stages of height and colour in the sky; sometimes politely excusing itself, disappearing into nothingness above – not on – the horizon, and sometimes bold and flamboyant; a whole attention-seeking Flamenco show covered in sequins and tight-fitting satin which illuminates the whole sky, setting a flattering orange-pink filter on everything; reality-turned-Instagram.
A sunset is a kind of death. The day comes to an end, the sizzling heat of the equatorial sun cools, and the night takes over with her mystery and softness; a change from the harsh lighting of the daytime. So why do we celebrate this death instead of mourn it? Because we know that the day, with all the beauty and life she brings, must rest in order to return tomorrow. Because night and day, darkness and light, death and life, are like Yin and Yang; they depend upon one another to exist, and one truly cannot be appreciated without the other.
Luckily, Cartagena is the Queen of Sunsets. It’s privileged location on the coast means you can watch the sun melt into the ocean, sometimes gracefully, sometimes obnoxiously, but always beautifully. The juxtaposition of the Spanish colonial walled city with the super modern high-rise buildings along the coast line makes for a charming and eclectic view. So here we have it: my definitive list of the best must-see sunset spots in the Pearl of the Caribbean.
Check the map below to find them for yourself!
Barú Island (Isla de Barú)
Once, when my boyfriend Miguel and I were in the early days of dating, we made a spontaneous decision. At around 4pm (way too late), we decided to hop on a local bus to the peninsular island of Barú, which winds around the whole city for an hour and a half, before leaving you in a tiny village called Pasacaballos, from where you have to take a moto taxi to Playa Blanca, the local public beach. It was an adventure. But the best part was arriving just at 6pm, when the sun was setting into the sea. The sea was no longer blue; it was glowing different shades of lilac and salmon-pink, the sand still warm on our bare feet. Nothing had ever felt more magical. I’m not sure I would recommend Playa Blanca for a day trip, but stay the night and reap the rewards.
Manga Bay (Bahía de Manga)
Back in the city, there are also plenty of treats in store for you. One of my favourite spots in the city to enjoy the sunset is in Manga, a residential and up-market neighbourhood 10 minutes in taxi from the walled city. Manga can officially be considered an island, as it is connected on all sides by bridges. And from the bay, you can watch the yachts and sailboats go by, with the stunning skyline of Bocagrande (see below) behind it. At the Club de Pesca you can even have a romantic dinner and drinks, with a stunning backdrop behind you.
Laguito, Bocagrande, Castillogrande
Along Cartagena’s “Miami” strip, the elite of Cartagena enjoy full, unrestricted views of the sun’s final dance into the sea. Whether you are on the 25th floor of a building, or down with the civillians on the public beach, the sunset is sure to take your breath away. At the shopping mall Plaza Bocagrande you can also enjoy the view from the balcony without having to pay for an expensive Airbnb or hotel.
Crespo Promenade (Malecón de Crespo)
Unlike the others in this list, the relatively new promanade of Crespo, built on top of a tunnel and lined with trees, isn’t so well known by tourists. I only discovered it when we moved to Crespo, the middle-class residential neighbourhood where the Rafael Nuñez Airport can also be found. The park, which is green and concrete in equal amounts, is great for jogging and dog-walking, and it leads right on to the beach, where swimming is banned due to the wild tides. The same view can also be seen from our living room, where I have spent many an evening working until late, gazing wistfully at the glistening orange ocean; the only time water can be confused for fire.
“The Gannets” Statue (Estatua “Los Alcatraces”)
One of the places I most love in Cartagena is somewhere that doesn’t have much at all. If you go outside the city walls by the Adolfo Mejía Theatre, you will find yourself in the Avenida Santander, a main road that circles the walled city. Perched on the edge of the sea, is a statue of alcatraz birds flying towards the ocean, which always seemed extremely romantic and beautiful to me. When I would go jogging along that strip just as the sun was setting, I would wonder what it truly represents. Turns out it is a homage to Daniel Lemaitre, a writer, poet and politician, who coined the term “Corralito de Piedra” in one of his books, which has become an affectionate nickname for Cartagena.
And here it is, in all its glory, the poem “El Alcatraz” by Daniel Lemaitre:
It comes when the day is dampened with winter
and, harbinger of the bold tribune,
flies through the stillness of the cove
the grey oar of melancholy…
Suddenly its flight is cut short; one might say
that it has been harmed by death in the past,
and it falls, as if it were abandoned
and breaks the blue glass of the bay.
Accurate, whilst swallowing, from its huge beak
comes the reflection of polished metal:
the tragic end of an early-rising fish!
Afterwards, a satisfied old philosopher,
as if nothing had happened,
it moves with the tide…
The top of the San Felipe Fort (Castillo San Felipe)
This is a privileged view as it isn’t every day one would get to see it, and it doesn’t come for free. Built in 1657, the San Felipe Castle creaks with the weight of its own history; the guided tours talk of pirates, indigenous tribes, and colonists. If you go at midday, you will get overly frazzled by the powerful Caribbean sun. My advice? Go at 4pm, and stay until 6pm when it closes, to see the sun set over Cartagena and its many lagoons.
Café del Mar / Café de “al lado”
A Cartagena sunset classic. If you came to Cartagena and didn’t take the classic “Sunset at Café del Mar” photo, did you really come to Cartagena at all? Positioned on top of the Baluarte de Santo Domingo (the wall that was built to protect the city from British pirates), you get 360º views of the sunset over the sea, and the city illuminated by it behind you. Want to be fancy and get cocktails? Go to Café del Mar. But the service is a little slow, and the cocktails aren’t life-changingly amazing. Want my local advice? Go to Café de “al lado” (Café next-door), affectionately named by students, backpackers, and locals alike, just grab a $3000 COP ($1 USD) can of beer and perch on the wall or a giant cannon. Same view, at a fraction of the price.
Now if we’re really talking fancy, I would recommend coming to the rooftop bar at the Movich Hotel. Leave the flip-flops at home and come in your best glad-rags (or just go casj like us in the photo above because, after all, we are in Cartagena), because this hotel is really nice and definitely worth dressing up for. Check out the Cathedral Santa Catalina de Alejandría from above, and peer into rooftop jungles, colonial buildings with princess towers, and of course, watch the sun’s dramatic exit, melting like butter into the sea, succumbing to the rising moon.