Photo Credit: Camila Melo
How Traveler Tracie Mckeown Finds Culture And Cuisine In Colombia
After visiting Cartagena, Colombia in June 2021 for her sister’s 40th birthday, communications professional Tracie McKeown, 36, discovered a Latin American culture and cuisine rich in history and diversity.
Cartagena is a historic, port city on Colombia’s coast. Its streets are paved with cobblestones and the Old Town, near the water, is enclosed by towering stone walls. The city’s colorful buildings and landmarks make it a prime travel destination for tourists from all over the world.
Before traveling to Colombia, McKeown and the other 4 travelers on the trip had to have negative PCR COVID test results before boarding the plane. Two people in their group took a rapid test instead, however, a delayed flight gave them time to acquire the correct test to travel.
Upon arriving in Cartagena, McKeown noticed a language barrier that made it somewhat difficult to communicate with the locals.
“If you don’t speak Spanish then you aren’t going to know anything, and it’s really a big barrier in communication,” McKeown said.
Despite the language barrier, she managed to communicate enough to enjoy her stay. The group stayed at a Marriott hotel near the beach and was delighted by the eye-catching views out into the ocean.
“It was right by the beach and the view was amazing,” she said. “It was probably one of the best views I’ve had while on vacation.”
While in Cartagena, McKeown indulged in the local fare and took in all Colombia had to offer when it came to food. She loved how cheap and delicious the lobster was, and found comfort in eating fresh red snapper every day during her week-long visit.
“It was fresh, and it was flavorful, and you could go almost anywhere, and it was always great,” she said. “Some of the other stuff people tried we were like ‘eh I don’t know about that’ but the fish was always fresh, you knew it was going to be cooked to perfection, and it would be seasoned well.”
Although the food was outstanding, McKeown’s favorite part of her trip was visiting the village of San Basilio de Palenque. The first free town of enslaved people in the Americas, McKeown’s visit opened her eyes to the rich cultural history of Colombia that is often overlooked.
The San Basilio de Palenque tour was an experience of a lifetime. McKeown and the other travelers were picked up by the village locals and treated to an authentic, Colombian lunch while touring. When they arrived in the village, they were greeted by children who performed a welcome dance for them. One of the villagers even took them to their grandmother’s home, where she invited them in and cooked them fresh, homemade candies.
“You see a lot of the more Europeanized version of Cartagena, but to go into that city, where they are really trying to expand the black experience and keep that culture and that narrative alive, that was probably the most enriching part of the trip,” she said.
McKeown’s Colombian getaway was an experience that taught her to appreciate historic Afro-Latino culture. She recommends everyone travels to the country at least once and says to be aware of peddlers and to wear small, zipped purses to avoid purse snatching.
“It’s a lot of world to see and how much culture can revitalize you just being around different ways of thought and how they move,” she said.