Giovanna Campagna was raised in Manhattan, but her Colombian roots run deep. Growing up, she would spend a few weeks every year with her aunts, uncles and cousins in Cartagena, and she always knew that she wanted her work to be connected to her background. She and her cousin Cloclo Echavarria founded CREO Consulting in 2014, with the mission of helping Latin American designers break into the international market. It started as a showroom, and has grown into a powerhouse agency and platform for Colombian and Latin American fashion and design, with clients like Pepa Pombo and Esteban Cortázar. While putting together a recent pop-up for Cortázar at Collete in Paris, the success was proof that their instincts were right: “It affirmed what we always believed – that the creative output of Colombia can and should compete with the best in the world,” she said. Here, Giovanna shares what she thinks makes Colombia so special and some of her favorite spots in Cartagena.
Tell us about your relationship to Colombia.
My mother is Colombian, and my father is American. I have a huge extended family of countless cousins, aunts, and uncles on my Colombian side, so it tends to dominate! As I got older and the political situation in Colombia began to improve over the past 10 years, I saw this renaissance happening. I knew that I wanted to be part of it and that I wanted my work to somehow bring me back in touch with my roots.
What’s your favorite part of being there?
The people, the warmth of the culture, and the food! The fruit is so incredibly fresh and diverse, unlike anything you can find in New York. I always start my days with a huge plate of papaya, pineapple, and pitaya (a local fruit). My mother always laments that everything—the tomatoes, the eggs—tastes better there. And she is right.
How would you describe it to someone who has never been?
I love when people describe Colombia as stimulating all 5 senses, because nothing could be more true. For sight, there are incredible colors in the streets, on the buildings and the flowers on the balconies. For taste, you have the amazing fresh food. Sound is of course, the music—salsa always seems to be playing somewhere. Touch, for me, is the warmth of the tropical sun in Cartagena. For smell, you have the incredible flowers—Colombia actually has the largest variety of orchids of any country!
The most special thing in Cartagena are the homes, which are essentially restored colonial houses from the 1600s. One of my cousin’s homes was the first old colonial home to be restored in the 1970s. Her grandfather had the imagination to come to Cartagena and transform one of the incredible old houses at a time when no one was going there yet or paying much attention to the Old City.
What does a perfect day in Cartagena look like?
It always includes a lot of family time. I am so lucky to have the most wonderful, hospitable cousins in Cartagena, including my co-founder, Cloclo, who always makes a visit feel magical. When on holiday, there is a bit of a Cartagena “routine” that everyone falls into.
We wake up to a breakfast of sliced papaya and pineapple, Colombian coffee, and arepas (traditional corn cakes). At about 10 A.M., we take a boat out to the islands of Barú and spend the day on the beach tanning, swimming, and eating fresh fish, rice and plantains for lunch. At 5 P.M., we come back to the Old City by boat, wash the sea & salt off and take some time to rest and recharge.
Then at around 7 P.M., it’s time to get dressed for a night out. We may meet in the courtyard of one of the beautiful, colonial houses for a cocktail at around 8, then all get together for dinner at 9 (or even 10). The rest of the night would be spent dancing somewhere like Quiebra Canto or La Havana, and it would be no surprise if we were to stay out until 3 or 4! The one unspoken rule, however, is that no matter how late you stay out, everyone is expected to be up early for breakfast and ready to get on the boats to do it all again the next day. In New York, I need my sleep, but I somehow have unlimited energy in Cartagena! I think there’s some magic in the air.
What are your favorite restaurants there?
I love La Vitrola. It is the classic old-school restaurant of Cartagena and has a very glamorous, old-Havana style, with live music on festive nights. Order the Carpaccio de Mero. I also love Alma, the restaurant in the Casa San Augustin (which is the most beautiful hotel in town). Everything they serve is delicious, and the space is always fun for a large group dinner or an intimate date. And Cartagena actually has amazing pizza! I always order the carbonara pizza at Juan del Mar. I recently tried Demente for the first time recently, it is a restaurant in the up-and-coming area of Cartagena called Getsemaní. This neighborhood a chic, hipster vibe. You should request to sit in the open courtyard in the back. Order the tapas to start, and then a pizza from their brick oven for your main.
Any great cocktail spots?
Townhouse has a great rooftop bar and café. Also, the Movich Hotel has a chic rooftop bar where you can go for drinks and watch the sunset. Located in the Old City, this is a perfect place to stop before dinner.
What about late-night dancing?
The best is the salsa bar, Quiebra Canto, right outside the walls of the Old City.
What local specialties should everyone try?
La Paleteria is delicious for popsicles. My favorites are the “Arequipe,” a Colombian version of Dulce de Leche, and “Lulo,” a sour, green fruit that’s difficult to describe, but delicious in ice cream (or vodka!). You should also try La Esquina del Pan de Bono, a local bakery that serves delicious Colombian cheese breads, dubbed “Pan de Bonos.” If you are lucky, you can get one right out of the oven.
Where’s the best shopping?
My aunt’s store, Casa Chiqui, is an absolute treasure trove and the most unique shopping experience in Cartagena. It is a must-see and should be at the top of your list! What I love about it is that it gives a glimpse of interior style of private Cartagena. It’s really an extension of her famed house, as everything in it can be found in her home in some version. It started because she would travel around the world, from Bali to India to Mexico, buying things for her houses in Cartagena, and eventually collected more than she could use. So she eventually turned her passion for interior design (and her storage units) into a business.
One of my favorite home items she has are oversized artisanal werregue baskets, hand-woven by a community of indigenous Colombian artisans. She also recently started selling fashion pieces, like kaftans, slippers, and jewelry and bags that she designs herself. I always pick up gifts for friends back in New York here, like a mochila or a pair of her signature earrings.
Other great stores: St. DOM, which carries all Colombian designers (many of whom we work with!) and L.A. Cano, a famous heritage jewelry brand, that has a beautiful shop in the Old City where you can pick up their pre-Columbian inspired designs.
The new developments of Bocagrande and El Laguito—very touristy!
Any side trips you’d recommend for someone visiting Cartagena?
I have been dying to go to the town Filandia in Colombia’s Coffee Region, which is meant to be very beautiful and authentic. Friends have told me about a restaurant there called Helena in Finlandia, which is meant to be incredible. Tayrona National Park in Santa Marta is also a beautiful natural escape not far from Cartagena.
What’s your most cherished Cartagena memory?
Late nights dancing on New Year’s Eve with my cousins and friends until the sun comes up. Every New Year’s Eve, the entire city transforms into a celebration. Restaurants in the Old City even put their tables and chairs right in the middle of the street—you can’t avoid partying that night!