Cartagena, Colombia has been in the news for all the wrong reasons over the past weeks, in the wake of a scandal implicating a group of US Secret Service agents alleged to have hired prostitutes while on the job.
Earlier this week, we were amused to see The Daily Show‘s Jon Stewart, poking fun at the sensationalized media coverage of the scandal, using a mock ‘Very Lonely Planet’ guide to Colombia:
The Daily Show’s nicely doctored ‘Very Lonely Planet’ guide to Colombia (see original clip here)
And he was right to tease. The characterization of Cartagena in the clip by CNN’s Drew Griffin paints a lewd portrait of the historic Colombian city: ‘The sex tourist trade here is very popular – you’re going to be approached on just about every corner.’ He confirms the shocking presence of ‘single scantily-clad women’ in a discotheque visited by the Secret Service agents.
Is this really the Cartagena a traveler will encounter? Lonely Planet Colombia guidebook author Kevin Raub has this to say: ‘While prostitution is legal in Colombia, I’m sorry to report that Cartagena is not, in fact, the world’s best preserved colonial brothel. Like any big city, those seeking certain services can find them, as they can in New York, Paris, Tokyo and Vienna. Cartagena’s Old Town remains one of the most unspoiled and cinematic examples of colonial Spanish architecture in the Americas. A visit here should not be missed, Secret Service behavior notwithstanding.’
For a fuller picture of Cartagena, here is how we introduce the city in our latest guidebook:
Cartagena de Indias is the undisputed queen of the coast, a fairy-tale city of romance, legends and superbly preserved beauty lying within an impressive 13km of centuries-old colonial stonewalls. Cartagena’s Old Town is a Unesco World Heritage Site – a maze of cobbled alleys, balconies covered in bougainvillea, and massive churches casting their shadows across plazas…Cartagena is a place to drop all sightseeing routines. Instead, just stroll through the old town day and night. Soak up the sensual atmosphere, pausing to ward off the brutal heat and humidity in one of the city’s many open-air cafes.
Cartagena’s Old Town is the #1 recommended experience in our Colombia guidebook (as it is in the upcoming guide due out in August 2012), and we’ve waxed poetic about the city’s culture and colonial charms in every edition going back to the first edition. Given the increasing popularity of Colombia as a travel destination over the past decade, this won’t be the last time you hear about Caratgena – hopefully next time it hits the news it’s for the right reasons.
And if you’re really looking for a dirty good time, take a day trip to Volcán de Lodo El Totumo (Totumo mud volcano) 50km northeast of Cartagena and bathe in the lukewarm mud bath bubbling up from the deep. You’re guaranteed to leave with a smile. You might also leave with something extra caked around your nether regions, but at least this kind of dirt won’t get you sacked.