The best time to visit Cartagena is between December and April, and the weather at Christmas and New Year is just perfect. I also like the city in mid-November, because it is a time of local celebrations; beauty pageants, regattas and school holidays all make it feel festive.
It’s not a beach resort à la Phuket or St Barths – you won’t find the very chic stores or familiar brands. It feels more like old San Juan in Puerto Rico; it’s all very local and authentic, which makes it a pleasure to wander the picturesque plazas and streets, shopping for artisanal things. I always tell friends to look for woven hammocks and mochilas, the traditional cross-body bags that are now so in fashion.
Artesanías de Colombia is a wonderful resource, because all of the goods – textiles, pottery, furniture – are sustainable, with most made by Colombian women who support families living in areas ravaged by drug trafficking. 34-49 Carrera 5 (+575-660 0435; artesaniasdecolombia.com.co).
For more contemporary finds, head to Casa Chiqui, a souk-like store full of fun beachy things and unique hostess gifts overseen by the incredibly fashionable Chiqui de Echavarría, who I like to call the tropical Daphne Guinness. She has a huge assortment of products from all over the world, and it’s always exciting to see her latest finds. 36-127 Carrera 6 (+575-668 5429; casachiqui.com).
The daytime vibe is a bit bohemian – always bright and playful – and quite relaxed, so it’s a good idea to head to OndadeMar for the best range of bikinis and stylish cover-ups in town. 3-13 Calle 32 (+575-655 2542; ondademar.com).
The streets of Cartagena’s old town are primarily cobblestone, so heels are out – as are sequins or anything else too flashy. But for a night out, you’ll need a pair of the lavish costume earrings from Mercedes Salazar, a boutique full of stylish Colombian designs. 31-56 Calle Ricaurte (+575-668 7429; mercedessalazar.com).
The expertly curated concept store St Dom is another favourite; there’s a striking selection of clothes and homewares by Colombian designers and it’s a lovely minimalist space. 33-70 Carrera 3 (+576-635 4380; stdom.co).