I should preface this piece with the fact that I speak extremely limited Spanish. By “limited,” I mean hola, gracias, and baño— spoken with an expression that reads like either inquisitiveness or (more likely) confusion. That being (very limitedly) said, I can’t begin the express how magical Cartagena is. My boyfriend, Julian, and I went to Colombia rather impulsively as the vacation spot to celebrate our six-year anniversary because neither of us had been to Latin America before. Friends urged us to go, specifically to the “Walled City' of Cartagena, a grid-like hub with narrow streets and pastel-painted exteriors. So we did—and it was amazing.
It's a coastal city, so there's plenty of excellent seafood to be had. But if I'm being totally honest, the best vaguely culinary experience came in the form of the washed, yellow cans of cheap beers Julian and I drank on the roof of our hotel directly under the noon sun. Cartagena is certainly a city for lovers—by sundown, couples are nestled by the stone walls facing the ocean up and down the coast.
But the city's best ambassadors when it comes to beauty are the women. I came across three in particular—two of whom I met in person and a third by email. All three were empowering, different, and unsurprisingly beautiful.
About two minutes from our hotel is a store called Casa Chiqui , an eclectic mix of eastern and westerns totems in a homey interior. The owner is an exuberant woman named Chiqui de Echavarria who splits her time between Cartagena and Paris. She remarked, “In our culture, it is a tradition for women to take care of their physical appearance. Here women have vigorous beauty regimes. Our women are intelligent, sensual, and happy—this makes them very beautiful.”
Our conversation had developed into an email exchange about beauty routines—my favorite kind of conversation. She ticked off familiar names I knew and loved, such as Biologique Recherche and SK-II, and told me about these vitamins called Imeeden, which she has been using for 20 years. Holistically, she noted using calendula (both externally and internally), coconut, tropical fruits high in antioxidants, avocado, and chamomile vapor for her skin.
A few days later, I stopped by Silvia Tcherrasi’s hotel and spa. I knew of Silvia first as a designer and, then, through the numerous accolades she received from travel publications. Via email, she described her hotel to me as such:
Wellness and relaxation are important parts of the hotel. This project was created to be inspired. I wanted to express my vision of style beyond fashion. I studied interior design, so the fashion-hotel model was a perfect opportunity to do it. Fashion and hospitality are totally connected, both create experiences and inspire. My approach to design is casual luxury oriented. I believe in calm and relaxed luxury, without pretensions, and the hotel reflects perfectly this vision.
I had an appointment at 5pm for a massage (yes, life is quite hard) and was greeted by Nadia, my masseuse. The experience was serene, and afterward, I picked Silvia’s brain on beauty routines.
“My mother taught me to wash my face after I wake up—it’s my sunrise ritual,” she told me. “I use water and soap to clean my skin and, of course, I always use moisturizer and wear sunscreen. I never ever go to sleep with my makeup on. In Colombia, we incorporate honey, ginger, and brown sugar into many beauty routines. I love the combination of ginger and orange—it’s the signature fragrance of the hotel.”
On the last day, Julian and I headed to Getsemani—a neighboring town with a similar colorful disposition, wider streets, and less foot traffic. Walking around, we found a charming restaurant called Oh! La La , whose owner was a Colombian-born French woman named Carolina. After days of eating mostly fried fish, I was happy to discover the menu was filled with words like quinoa and quiche. Carolina greeted us in English and sat with us as we finished desert. She described her restaurant as a memory of her childhood, her father, and the farm she grew up in. I snapped her portrait before we left.
Leaving Cartagena, I kept thinking the city is so photogenic—but the town is not traditionally perfect. There are cracked exteriors and walls that are run down. It’s saturated in noise, taste, and color, and it exudes a personality similar to Silvia’s idea of beauty. “Flaws can enhance the beauty of a woman, adding character and personality,” she had told me. “I don’t believe beauty is perfection,” When our taxi drove us toward the airport, I looked at the palm trees along the road, all bending towards the ground from the wind, her point couldn't've rung truer.