Cartagena is an old colonial city that is located on the Caribbean coast of Colombia. Alongside, the sky-scraper-packed Boca Grande, Cartagena are among the legacies of the former Spanish colonial domination of Colombia. Cartagena is popular for its numerous castles, history, culture as well as the colourful buildings located in the region.
A short history of Cartagena
Cartagena was founded on June 1st, 1533. It was found by Pedro de Hereditary, a Spanish commander, who had taken over a once deserted Caribbean village called Calamari. De Heredia started to build his own settlement in the region. The first people who had settled in the new settlement were ship sailors that had come all the way from a town in Spain called Cartagena to begin a new life in Colombia. As a dedication their Spanish origins, they had named the new settlement as Cartagena de India’s. At that point, the settlement had about one church and 200 residents. However, a fire gutted all the wooden structures of the city in 1552. But these were promptly replaced with stone structures by order of the Governor.
Due to lots of treasures discovered in the city as well as it’s reputation for economic prosperity, the city had been invaded numerous times by lots of conquerors from several other European countries. During this time wealth and treasures were being transported to Cartagena, Colombia from Cartagena, Spain. This had giving the city massive wealth to erect mansions. Due to this, the city had seen an influx of people from different parts of Columbia looking to make a lot of money.
At the dawn of the 16th century, a necessity to fortify the city led to the construction of a great wall as well as a fortress to surround and shield the city against further invasions and attacks. During this time the port of Cartagena, was the largest in the whole of South America.
Since I live in Peru and Cartagena is only just over a 3 hour flight with Viva Air, which actually belongs to Ryanair (Ireland) strange, but lowest prices and typical Ryanair. Now, the reason for mentioning them is that since we are talking about Colombia, Viva Air offer direct internal flights within Colombia and for very competitive prices too. So, check them out.
Some attractive features of Cartagena
With its rich colonial history, Cartagena has enjoyed direct support from Spain getting riches in form of treasures, money and economic opportunities from the country. This had led to a rapid evolution of the region. With a current population of about 1 million, it has had its own fair share of tourists and visitors. However, it still continues to attract tourists due to some pretty outstanding unique features that the region has to offer. Below are some of the things you can see and do in Cartagena in Colombia.
Ok, now down to the interesting part. Cartagena offers and bit of everything, from rich history, Resorts, a colonial Spanish city surrounded by a massive wall, to Pablo Escobars mansion on the Island of Rosario, which apparently had more than 350 rooms, can you believe that, it must have been massive. Anyway, more Narco stories in my Medellín post coming up this week.
The reason behind the wall and the castle from the 15th century (mentioned below) was due to Cartagena’s location and really the defense of the city due to pirates and enemies of the Spanish Crown, so, of course, security was of utmost importance. So, when you walk around it, you will see a lot of canons and that. It is quite nice and a reminder of how far we have come.
When you visit Cartagena, you tend to either stay in Boca Grande, which is at the photo at top of this page, massive resorts, all inclusive, super expensive, beach front hotels, basically relax or you go to Cartagena city centre, which is by the way within walking distance and it is a nice walk as well. The annoying thing here is that everyone wants to sell you something, beware of scams, people selling you things and then never turning up. I would recommend going through the hotel you are staying at as they tend to work with tour agencies who are reliable and give a good service.
The Rosario Islands are the highlight while staying in Cartagena, if you do not go there, it is like visiting Peru and not going to Machu Picchu. Although the beach above looks nice, check out the Rosario island water.
The Rosario Islands are primary an archipelago and are located in the National Park of the Caribbean coast. It’s distance from Cartagena is about an hour by bus. The Islands have a beautiful and panoramic landscape with some of the finest beaches in the South American region. The archipelago can easily be reached from Cartagena being just about 100 kilometres away. The islands have a beautiful nature, cool breeze and is a hotspot for relaxation. However, most people go to Baru beach first by bus as it is cheaper and quicker and most tours off the bus experience.
This place is quite nice, they say there are about 28 individual islands, most are quite small, however, there is a huge one, which you will see as the boat takes you through. So, the question is, what can you do here? You can swim with dolphins, I have always found this to be a scam and you do not swim, you basically have a life jacket on and float and the dolphin swims by and you can pet it.
So, you go here, pay a little extra, probably a fair few $USD, but if you like it, it is an option. They take you to a place nearby where you can snorkle and have some fun, explain about who lives here, which place Pablo Escobar owned and then you are taking back to have lunch in Baru. There are other options related to the islands, some are more party related, coctails and basically noise, and normally more expensive, so if you are not one for large crowds, loud music and most likely a few drunks making a fool out of themselves, I would recommend just the tour of the islands themselves.
Baru is where you go to from Cartagena, and then a speedboat to the Rosario Islands. It is also the place where you have lunch and many people, usually backpackers will stay, as there are hostels, food is quite cheap and the beach is quite nice. However, it takes over an hour to get there from Cartagena.
The castle is called San Felipe de Barajas. It was built in the 15th by the Spanish and was completed some time in the 17th century. It is considered to be the largest in all South America. I wanted to fly the drone there, but since it is close to the airport I could not go any further. It is open daily from 8am to 6pm. Do not go at 5pm lol as it takes around 2 hours to see the whole place. Bring water as it can be very hot and not a lot of shade up above.
Getsemani is a favourite tourist attraction in Cartagena. It is a place that has lots of youthful vibes and several side attractions to keep visitors busy for the entire duration of their stay in Getsemani. People can take a tour around the Cafe del Mural, which is a cafe and a coffee shop that is located on a unique street. On that Street, there are lots of colourful murals lined artistically on several walls. The cafe had got its name from this artistic genius. While there, you can do lots of things, taste their rich coffee, and take lots of fresh fruit juices, cakes as well as herbal teas. With wifi people work on their laptops or mobile devices while at the café.
Getsemani has two awesome places to eat out. They are Oh La La – which is a French-owned restaurant that combines Caribbean food flavours as well as Cafe Lunatic, that has a rotation of fruit juices and fresh fish if they are available. While visiting Oh La La, people can decide to take cooking classes, which are available in both English and Spanish.
Cartagena is a place in Colombia that richly enjoys the best of both worlds. Visitors can see the rich influence on the cultural heritage of the city while they can also catch glimpses of the local South American influence in the city’s culture. All these are interspersed with the amazing natural endowments of the city in terms of landscapes, landmarks, beaches, clear skies, food and so on. It is a tourist hot spot in South America. The local currency is “pesos Colombianos”, which is about $1USD – 3 pesos, or just over 3.