For Lina Benedetti, creative director of swimwear brand Benedetta, travel is one of her biggest sources of inspiration. “I’ve always loved a good adventure, and I really feel the happiest wandering places I’ve never been before,” she tells TZR. Yet for the Cartagena, Colombia native (who is based there as well), it’s returning to her hometown that truly allows her to harness the fruits of her explorations. “When I come home from traveling and I am again surrounded by my own space and community, I can feel all that inspiration feeding my creativity, and it spurs life in me and my work.”
That’s no doubt, in part, because of the “home-y, big family” feeling that Benedetti experiences when she’s there. “It’s one of those small cities where we all know each other and running into your neighbors and friends is an everyday kind of event.” It was actually that feeling of closeness, heightened by the pandemic, that played a big role in the creation of one of her recent collections. “With all the hurt in the world, we came together in our little bubbles and felt community,” she explained. “My little group and I would dress in our best clothes, safe and tested, and just be together. That sense of community really drove me in my designs and in naming the collection ‘Living in a Bubble.’”
In fact, Benedetti says that there’s not really a particular creative group or robust art scene that propels her designs. “Rather, it’s about the essence of this place and [the people] — grabbing my creativity from the natural landscapes, accented Spanish architecture, global and diverse communities bringing exciting newness with every trip, and the close-knit feeling of just being close and comfortable with those around you.”
Of course, there are some specific spots and experiences in Cartagena that energize Benedetti more than others. So, TZR sat down with the creative director to learn them all. From the city’s historic downtown to the nearby islands, these are the places and activities in her hometown that most influence her creations. Consider this your creativity-sparking guide.
Wandering The Centro Histórico
The Centro Histórico, or Cartagena’s historic center, is a weekly destination for Benedetti. With its narrow streets and Spanish Colonial architecture, it’s no wonder why. In fact, the creative director describes it as the most picturesque neighborhood of the entire city. “It feels like a much-needed dose of magical realism,” she says.
Exploring this area is also a beautiful way to experience Cartagena’s culture — “one filled with laidback people, sweetened mangoes, zapotes, mamones, and fresh coconut water,” Benedetti explains. “Walking through these streets is walking through, and with, our community — and it makes you slow down and take a moment for connection with people and their stories.”
Dancing At Donde Fidel
Benedetti is pretty straightforward about who should visit Donde Fidel, a “more secret spot” where locals meet and dance. “If you’re a salsa lover, Donde Fidel is a must. If you’ve never tried salsa, Donde Fidel is a must. If you think you hate salsa, you’ll love it at Donde Fidel,” she says.
According to her, that’s because there’s no dress code and no judgement: “You can just be yourself and dance the night away to our magnetic local rhythms.” Visitors can also expect drinks, but don’t hold out for any wild or extravagant cocktails. As Benedetti explains, the refreshments are “super straightforward,” so you'll likely be served either “the coldest beer you’ll ever have” or a local rum (and that’s pretty much it). “This is a simple spot to experience local culture, music, and hospitality in an energizing environment that keeps you grounded to our city.”
Enjoying Nature On The Islas Del Rosario
According to Benedetti, the Rosario Islands, or Islas del Rosario (which take roughly an hour to access by boat from Cartagena), are a truly beautiful spot. “The turquoise waters, blue skies, colorful houses, and canoes with the fresh fish and lobster are just paradise — it sounds totally fake, but is 100% real!” she says.
Benedetti explains that it’s through her plentiful time spent there, watching stars with no city lights or noise, that she’s developed a strong connection with nature. “While work keeps me pretty busy, you can find me here at least once a month,” she continues. “I think it’s so important to have these small spaces of stillness, especially in nature, where we can ground ourselves and further our self-awareness and creativity.”
Finding Handcrafts In San Jacinto
Though San Jacinto is a town about two hours away from Cartagena, the creative director says this is “where the good stuff” is made. “For me and my company, Benedetta, handmade fashion is important — essential, really,” says Benedetti. “When you know where your clothes come from — the community, people, and place where your favorite brands were born and built — you tend to treat your clothes, closet, and wallet better, and think more critically about where and how your clothing was [crafted].”
That’s one of the reasons San Jacinto is on this list. Benedetti says that it’s a town in Colombia that makes notable handcrafts. Since each piece at Benedetta is handmade, San Jacinto is a place that she feels super inspired.
“It’s in San Jacinto where you will find our famous colorful handmade hammocks, and while you walk through the small town, no matter where you look, you'll see colorful [pieces] and warm, welcoming creatives that devote their lives and livelihoods to their craft,” she says. “Is there something more inspiring, more awe-inducing, than being surrounded by such committed passion as a designer?”
Watching The Sunset At Cafe Del Mar
For Benedetti, watching the sunset in Cartagena is a must — and there’s no better place to do that than from the Spanish walls that surround its historic center. “When we gather to watch it together, I’ll often suggest heading down to Cafe del Mar, a chill, alfresco spot on the top of the walls,” she recalls. Benedetti says her routine is to meet friends and family there at 5 p.m., which is when the DJ starts playing music to set the mood. “It’s really a magical moment and the most beautiful way to end the day — and the perfect spot to impress out-of-town friends and family with the city’s spectacular views.”
Birdwatching At Aviario Nacional De Colombia
“Aviario Nacional de Colombia (the National Aviary in English) was a place originally created to promote and enhance local conservations around our local fauna and to admire and interact with them — and I couldn’t be more thankful for it,” Benedetti shares with TZR. And it’s not just because she herself loves to be in Cartagena’s natural landscape, but because the animals there are free to be in a beautiful environment as well.
“What an incredible gift that is!” she says. “Speaking to it now, it really makes me think and recognize my own privilege in living [and] being in such a beautiful place — and having the freedom to pave and create my own path.”