April 15, 2023 – Saturday – Cartagena, Colombia

2023 Panama Canal Cruise

I am up by 6am to witness the beautiful sunrise as the ship enters Cartagena harbour. The ship docks in an industrial area called Manga, but it is not far from the city.

Sunrise over Manzanillo

I take the Land and Sail excursion, which tests my endurance since we start off by climbing to the top of the fortifications at Castillo de San Felipe de Barajas. Thankfully, the bus driver has cold bottles of water waiting for us as we reboard. We are then dropped off at the old walled city, where our guide takes us to a couple of his “preferred” street vendors before we go to the Mister Emerald shop to cool off and use the washrooms. We are to meet back here in 35 minutes, so I immediately get out of that tourist trap and wander around the old city. I take photos of ornate doors, brass knockers, and beautiful old second story balconies that overhang the streets. Centro is a picturesque part of the city, but the heat and humidity are oppressive, and the street vendors are persistent.

Once we regroup, we walk a short distance past the Naval Museum to board a motorized catamaran which takes us on a tour of the Bahia de Cartagenas harbour area, where we see the modern side of the city. We are dropped off at a dock adjacent to our cruise ship, so it’s an easy walk from the end of our excursion. I’m exhausted, and so glad to board the air-conditioned ship, have some lunch, and then get freshened up!

I have a 6:30pm reservation for Nami Sushi this evening, but go to the Tamarind bar to have a pre-dinner Martini half an hour before being seated. Thankfully they are not hosting the martini hour today, so the service has returned to what I expect: a lovely quiet respite from the hustle and bustle of many of the other venues around the ship this afternoon.

Thai Basil Szechuan Shrimp

Once seated in Nami Sushi, I decide to try the Wasabi Cocktail – Momokawa Silver sake, lychee liqueur, sour mix, agave syrup, orange juice. It is sweet but has nice flavours. I have the Hamachi, Scallop & Salmon Ceviche to start, which is my fave, but not quite as good as I had on the Koningsdam last year. The Thai Basil Szechuan Shrimp with lobster rice is my main course – huge shrimp and perfect medium spiciness to the sauce. I don’t have room for dessert! The a-la-cart charge is US$24.78 instead of $38 at Tamarind. It’s pretty sparse in the restaurant this evening, probably because there is a Seafood Boil event happening in the Lido Market (which I’m avoiding, due to the expected crowds).

The captain made it clear with an earlier announcement that departing from Cartagena on time is important so we don’t miss the scheduled transit time for the Panama Canal tomorrow.


Aruba to Cartagena – sea day

April 14, 2023 – Friday – sailing from Oranjestad, Aruba to Cartagena, Colombia

2023 Panama Canal Cruise

The ship is sailing from Aruba to Cartagena today in some choppy seas, so this area is living up to its reputation as one of the rougher areas of the Caribbean weather-wise. I see Flying fish off the bow of the ship late this morning while walking the Promenade Deck, so I return to my stateroom and use my 100-500 zoom on my Canon R5 to capture some mediocre photo and video. It’s exceedingly hard to capture the brief moments when flying fish are in the air!

There is another spectacular sunset this evening as we sail along the Colombian coast, with just a hint of Green Flash visible as the Sun descends through some cloud layers (see banner image above). These conditions enlarge and distort the solar disk but the Green Flash is not nearly as apparent as on April 11th.

Jerk Pork Ribs

I enjoy Jerk Pork Ribs for dinner in the Main Dining room this evening. Since I always share a table with others, I converse with lots of my fellow Canadians most evenings in the various venues aboard ship.

Pianist John Bressler performs again on Main Stage this evening. He gives another wonderful performance, but doesn’t do as much funny banter this time, since he wants to give us more piano playing accompanied by his raspy singing voice! John Bressler | Facebook

I enjoy sea days where I can relax, enjoy the warm breezes from my balcony and the outside decks, and take in the onboard activities and entertainment.


Santa Marta, Colombia

2011 Incan Empires Cruise

Friday, November 25, 2011 – Day 5 – Santa Marta, Colombia

Police and protesters block our way
Police and protesters block our way

I get up early to take a tour to Taroya Park, which involves walking through Colombia’s jungle. The ship arrives on time and the tour bus takes the highway out of town on the way to the park, but soon comes to a stop because there is a protest blocking the road. Police are there, and apparently the protesters are upset over not having power in their neighbourhood, despite having the wiring in place. Eventually our guide comes back with the news we can’t proceed, since this is the only road to the park. Our guide gives us three options: return to the ship and get a full refund, be dropped off for the day at the resort hotel, or take a city tour. Both the city tour and the resort option include a folkloric dance at the Irotama Beach Resort.

Like most on the bus I choose the city tour, since in addition to the folkloric dance, we will see the main cathedral in town as well as the Gold Museum. Our first stop is the Irotama Beach Resort, which is 20 minutes out of town near a resort area. They have a beautiful beach, and offer us refreshments before the show starts. I choose a Colombian beer, which tastes very nice as I sip it under the palm trees. The folkloric dancers look quite similar to the ones I previously saw in Costa Rica and Martinique, but the young dancers do a great job. Apparently all Colombian children learn three folkloric dances when they are in school. See banner image above.

Our next stop is the main cathedral back in the centre of the city. Santa Marta is very much a third world city with dirty ditches lining the streets, narrow sidewalks, fruit vendors and old buildings with rickety balconies overhanging the streets below. As we enter the cathedral, our guide talks about Simon Bolivar, who liberated several Central and South American countries in his time, including Colombia. He is very much revered for his selfless sacrifice, since he died in this city from tuberculosis when he was in his early forties. The cathedral is impressive, with many alters decorated beautifully, however I’m most impressed with the large plaza surrounding the cathedral. It is a lovely civic space with no cars, shade trees, and some nice shops on the perimeter.

Iguana in a tree at the Santa Marta Botanical Garden
Iguana in a tree at the Santa Marta Botanical Garden

Our final stop of the day is the botanical gardens. We see lots of native flora and fauna, include the obligatory iguanas in the trees, butterflies, and there are several monuments to Simon Bolivar. Our guide shows us an old sugar cane plantation home where Simon Bolivar died, including the actual bedroom with original furniture. I learned about Simon Bolivar in grade school, but didn’t appreciate how much the people in Central and South American countries revere him. He was someone who bucked the system and believed in people power.

Our guide has some interesting things to say about Columbia and the reputation the country has with the drug trade. He feels the major cities are safe for citizens to go about their business and for tourists, and illustrates the point by asking us a question. What are the two major industries of Medellin? The obvious answer is Drugs, but the real answer is: Shipping tropical flowers to the United States, and being a centre of excellence for plastic surgery! He tells an interesting story on the second point. Apparently the two largest markets for plastic surgery in Medellin are women from the United States and Brazil. Another major market are young Colombian women who want breast implants. Apparently they often get their parents to pay for the surgery!

Julian Gargiulo
Julian Gargiulo

After the ship departs port and we have a wonderful dinner in the main dining room, I go to see the entertainment in the main show lounge. Julian Gargiulo is a classically trained pianist and does a great job playing the grand piano centre stage. He showcases some of his own compositions along with Chopin, and finishes with a classic Beethoven piece.