Cartagena

Cartagena is a city where you can immerse yourself in history, simply by walking through its colonial neighbourhoods. Set on the north edge of Colombia on the Caribbean Sea, Cartagena was an important port city for the Spanish. They left behind fabulous architecture in their homes, churches and even a castle.

The Walled City

The Walled City of Cartagena has everything you want in a colonial town. It has old buildings that have been beautifully renovated and freshly painted in bright colours. It has narrow, cobblestone streets that are safe to walk, day and night, and it is a living, usable space. As with all old towns there are squares which allow people to congregate and churches with splendid architecture. The streets are lined with homes that were elegant estates and official offices, that are now boutique hotels and fancy restaurants. The Walled City covers such a large area that you can easily spend a day admiring the buildings and not see the same one twice. One of the most unusual sites is a sculpture of a large naked woman in front of Santa Domingo Church. Her breasts are bright gold from being rubbed by many passing tourists. The ‘Fat Lady’ was donated to the city by Colombian artist Fernando Botero.

Palenquera women dressed in bright long skirts, carrying baskets of fruit on their heads add even more colour to the streets. These women are descendants of African slaves who escaped slavery and established their own communities outside of the city. In the late 1700s these slaves were officially freed and the women became fruit sellers in Cartagena. Their descendants continue this tradition today.

Surrounding the Walled City and neighboring Getsemani, is an old defensive wall. Built in the 1500s, the 4km long wall is made of stone and coral. Some sections of the wall are over 5 meters thick and at its narrowest it is still at least 1 m thick. It’s in remarkable shape considering its location next to the violent Caribbean Sea. We walked along the top of the wall where from one spot you can look down the narrow streets of the old town; turn and see tall new high-rises along the water; or turn again and see the long coast with waves crashing into the shore.

Getsemani

Getsemani is also within the walls of Cartagena but is a different community than the Walled City. You can tell that Getsemani is where the commoners lived, not the aristocracy of the Walled City. It’s the same today. Getsemani is filled with hostels, coffee shops and cafes that are less expensive than the Walled City. The narrow streets and renovated colonial buildings in this area are quaint, charming and equally colourful. Even though Getsemani doesn’t get the same attention as the Walled City, it is as nice as any Old Towns we have visited around the world. Getsemani is definitely worth your time to visit.

San Felipe de Barajas Castillo

Sitting on top of the small Hill of San Lazaro is an impressive-looking Fortress. With thick stone walls, 68 canons, numerous bastions and lookouts, the Castillo provided protection against attacks from the sea. Inside the Fortress are walkways between lookout posts and even a series of underground tunnels leading from one side to the other. This would allow soldiers to safely move within the fortress in case of attack. Today the fortress is a museum which allows you to see the tunnels and bastions up close. As with many historical buildings, this one looks more impressive from afar than it does inside.

In addition to having wonderful colonial neighborhoods, Cartagena has an impressive modern skyline. Lining the coast are several tall high-rise apartment and office buildings. In front is a busy marina filled with sailboats and yachts.

Playa Blanca

An hour boat ride from the Walled City is a long beach with white sand living up to its name Playa Blanca (White Beach). Given its proximity to the city, it wasn’t a surprise that it is a very popular beach. There were more people here than at Grand Beach on August Long Weekend (that’s for my Winnipeg friends). You can walk the length of the sandy beach but will be constantly asked if you want lunch, a cervesa or a sunbed. After spending a few days on a pristine Tayrona beach, we weren’t very interested in sharing our paradise with thousands of people.

Coming Next: Top Ten Pictures from Colombia

For extra pictures from Colombia, click here. For pictures from our other blogs go to Gallery at monkeystale.ca

To read about more of our adventures go to Destinations.

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36 comments

  • Geez, ANOTHER great post from you two!! An enjoyable read and I loved the photos, especially that lamp-post water fountain. I don’t think I’ve ever seen such a combination before! Keep well!

    Liked by 1 person

    • I was wondering if you went and what the difference was compared to now. They really have done an amazing reconstruction of the entire area. We went to Panama City’s old town next which wasn’t nearly as nice. I wonder if it’s closer to how Cartagena was in the 80s.

      Liked by 1 person

      • We flew to Panama on our way back and fled that city after 2 days. But Cartagena was a great place to start. I even got offered a job teaching English there and was very tempted, but we had just started our trip and did not want already to stop somewhere.

        Liked by 1 person

  • Wow, Cartagena looks fabulous! I love the ‘local girl’ shot. The fat lady statue is quite startling. And it doesn’t look busy at all. Are there many tourists? They seem to be all at the beach.

    Liked by 1 person

    • That little girl was so cute. She ran up to us, played for about 20 minutes and then ran off. I think her parents run a restaurant at the beach. There aren’t many tourists in Colombia in general so the sites were usually pretty quiet. The beach was full of Colombian tourists who don’t seem to go to the colonial site until the evening when it’s cool. I guess they’re smarter than us!

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  • Why don’t we build cities like Cartagena’s old town anymore?

    How was the vibe there? I’d like to visit Salvador de Bahia, which strikes me as being not too different from Cartagena, but the thought of having to leave behind my camera and being on the lookout (lest I get mugged, or worse) is a putting a bit of a damper on things for me.

    Liked by 1 person

    • I know, these colonial cities are so gorgeous. So different from our bland modern cities. Cartagena is very safe, but there are police walking around the tourist spots. We walked everywhere and never felt unsafe but we weren’t out at midnight when it’s less safe. We had our good camera but left the larger more obvious lenses at home so it looks like a normal camera. Thieves though are more interested in phones and cash. We met 3 different people who had their phones pickpocketed in the daytime. And heard of one lady robbed at knife point. So it is South America. We always kept the camera in a good day pack that is difficult to open. We kept our phones in the pack or zipped pockets on the street. We only took one out when we really needed it. Colombians are really trying to improve their image, I’m not sure that Brazilians are.

      Liked by 1 person

  • Hi guys, this place looks terrific. Isn’t it great when you read a blog post set in a place you haven’t even considered, but makes you go Wow! as you read the words and see the pictures. It might just have to go on our wish list now, looks absolutely terrific.

    Liked by 1 person

    • Thanks Phil & Michaela! We were so impressed with Colombia and with Cartagena at the end of the trip, we definitely saved the best for last. If you do go, we’re posting Travel Tips Colombia next week and talk about safety among other things.

      Liked by 1 person

  • What a delightful virtual return visit to Cartagena for me! It was quite crowded when we were there, but that’s probably because we went at Christmas/New Year’s time a few years ago. I was both pleasantly and less happily surprised with Cartagena, but when I see your photos and read your post, I remember all the good things about it. It was a strange mix, we thought, but certainly physically appealing and eminently photographable!

    Liked by 1 person

    • We were there at the end of January. There were quite a few Colombian tourists but the didn’t go to the colonial sites until the evening so we had it to ourselves. We drove through a rough neighbourhood, but for the most part Cartagena was very enjoyable. We stayed about a 30 minute walk away from the wall and found it to be one of the safest cities in Colombia.

      Liked by 1 person

  • Wonderful photos of Cartagena, a city we really enjoyed a few years back. This post brought back a lot of good memories of our time spent there. Definitely was one of our favorite places in Colombia. Especially Getsemani where we stayed and heard amazing Latin jazz in the evenings.

    Peta

    Liked by 1 person

  • This post is so full of colour—it puts a smile on my face. The Palenquera women with the fruit bowls on their heads are a beautiful sight, as are those colourful streets of Getsemani. Great photos!

    Liked by 1 person

    • Old Town in Cartagena is one of the most beautiful heritage centres we’ve ever seen. We visited Mumbai and they do have some nice old architecture, but in Cartagena, almost every building in the walled city has been beautifully restored so it feels like a museum.

      Liked by 1 person

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