I believe everyone should be able to safely explore our world and find inspiration through travel, so I was really pleased to be invited to attend the 36th annual global convention of IGLTA, the International LGBTQ+ Travel Association. IGLTA was founded in 1983 and is the world's leading network of LGBTQ+ welcoming businesses in tourism. At the conference I learned Colombia was declared South America's Leading LGBT Destination by the World Travel Awards in 2018. Bogatá, Medellín, Cartagena and Barranquilla all promote LGBT-friendly events from pride parades to music and theater festivals with Colombian zest. Visit Colombia in February for Carnival in Barranquilla, in August for Medellín's Flower Festival, or in late October-early November for Cartagena's Pride or Halloween Fest!
For many, Cartagena comes alive through the evocative writing of Gabriel García Márquez.
Virtuoso story except below by Joel Centano
A visit to this port on Colombia’s Caribbean coast quickly reveals how it inspired the works of the country’s native son and Nobel Prize-winning author Gabriel García Márquez. Known by Colombians as “Gabo,” the godfather of magical realism called the city “the most beautiful in the world” and noted that all his novels held threads of Cartagena in them. Adorned with flower-accented balconies, colonial churches in pastel hues, and a sixteenth-century Old City still encircled by towering walls built to ward off pirates, Cartagena remains mythical and magical.
For those hoping to follow Gabo’s footsteps in Cartagena and beyond, your pilgrimage on a customized journey can include a walking tour of up to 30 locations significant to his life and works. Here are eight to get you going!
1. THE CLOCK TOWER: In 1948, García Márquez, then a 21-year-old journalist, first entered the Old City through the tower’s portal. Decades later, in his autobiography, Living to Tell the Tale, he would remember that moment: “It was enough for me to take a step inside the wall to see [Cartagena] in all its grandeur in the mauve light of six in the evening, and I could not repress the feeling of having been born again.” Inside the tower, Los Martires bookshop sells first editions of his works.
2. SIMÓN BOLÍVAR PARK: On a bench in this public square named for South America’s “great liberator,” a pesoless García Márquez slept during his first night in the city.
3. ANIMAS BAY: Fairs García Márquez once frequented at Bahía de las Ánimas (Bay of Souls) inspired One Hundred Years of Solitude’s gypsy market, where Melquíades revealed his metal ingots, which he called the “eighth wonder of the learned alchemists of Macedonia.” This year marks the 50th anniversary of the author’s seminal novel. 4. PLAZA FERNÁNDEZ DE MADRID: This leafy plaza was the model for the Park of the Evangels in Love in the Time of Cholera, where protagonist Florentino Ariza famously pined for Fermina Daza on an “obscure park bench” shaded by almond trees. Near the plaza’s northeast corner, look for the heroine’s white house and vine-clad second-story balcony. 5. SANTA CATALINA DE ALEJANDRÍA CATHEDRAL: Dating to the sixteenth century, Cartagena’s iconic landmark was the site of Fermina Daza’s marriage to Dr. Juvenal Urbino and, later, Urbino’s funeral. 6. PORTAL DE LOS DULCES: Shop for locally made sweets in this arched passageway (the Arcade of the Scribes in Cholera), where Fermina Daza rejected Florentino Ariza after he first called her “the crowned goddess” – vendors now sell candy by the same name.
7. EL CORO LOUNGE BAR: García Márquez once reported on the bones of a girl with 72 feet of copper-colored hair, found in a crypt within a former convent now reborn as the haute Sofitel Legend Santa Clara hotel. The experience would later inspire Of Love and Other Demons. Today, the crypt is still accessible (sans skeleton) in the hotel’s bar. Just across the street stands García Márquez’s seaside home; the writer wintered in Cartagena – and bent his elbow at El Coro – until his death in 2014. 8. UNIVERSITY OF CARTAGENA: Cap your tour with a visit to the school’s Claustro de la Merced, where a portion of García Márquez’s ashes lay in rest near his sculpted bust.
GO Avianca operates daily nonstop flights to Colombia from six U.S. cities, plus connections to 22 destinations within the country. SEE Customized Colombia experiences could include everything from tracking endemic birds in the Amazon to tracing Gabo’s path in Cartagena. A 13-day journey might start with three nights in the city, plus visits to the capital, Bogotá; UNESCO-designated San Agustín Archaeological Park; and Caño Cristales (“the river of five colors”). STAY Highly suggested at the 30-room Casa San Agustín, a boutique hotel reimagined from three colonial-era homes: reposing on its rooftop terrace and swimming in its courtyard pool, which is gracefully framed by remnants of Cartagena’s historic aqueduct. A former convent dating to 1621, the Sofitel Legend Santa Clara features 123 rooms with city, sea, and courtyard views, including a Fernando Botero Presidential Suite adorned with the Colombian artist’s paintings and books. Look for historical crypts and confessionals amid contemporary touches such as an 8,600-square-foot spa.
At both hotels, Virtuoso travelers receive a complimentary room upgrade (if available), breakfast for two daily, and a $100 dining credit.
Call or email me when you're ready to see Colombia come alive off the page!