Today I take you through the enchanting Cartagena: Colombia’s most famous and touristiest city. Not surprisingly, Cartagena is simply beautiful, cozy, good food, a historic center and also close to paradise islands. An explosion of colors and scents. A city in Colombia’s Caribbean region, where residents are in no hurry and go through life dancing. Colorful houses and cute balconies everywhere. A city you really must have seen if you are in Colombia. Read on and, like me, fall in love with Colombia’s most beautiful city.
Cartagena: history on the Colombian coast
If you’re looking for history, Cartagena is the place to be. With a 13-kilometer-long old city wall and a World Heritage-listed historic center, you’ll feast your eyes here. Cartagena was founded in 1533 and within no time the city turned into the most important Spanish port on the Caribbean coast. Today you will find many interesting museums, beautiful old churches and, of course, the old city wall over which you can take delightful walks. Cute balconies, colored houses and cozy squares mark the streetscape of this romantic city. Both day and night, strolling through the picturesque streets is a delight. And for photographers, this is the place to be!
In the 16th century, Cartagena was taken over by pirates no less than five times. In response to these pirate attacks, the Spanish decided to build several forts around the city to protect it. The most famous is Castillo San Felipe: the largest fortress ever built by the Spanish in any colony. Not only very interesting and a bit scary to walk through the deep dark tunnels, but from this fortress you have a great view of the old and new city, and you can see that Cartagena is more than just the old center. The place is very touristy and in the heat you have to walk up a bit. So I would recommend you arrive early and bring plenty of water.
The other side of Cartagena
Cartagena has become Colombia’s main tourist city in recent years, something that is not all positive. I know of no other place in Colombia where it is so expensive to have dinner, have a drink and stay overnight, even more expensive than in the capital. Still quite affordable for foreigners, but just way too expensive especially for residents of Colombia, making it increasingly a destination for the wealthier Colombian. By now, the population has become quite attuned to this massive influx of foreign tourists. What you see in many tourist countries or places, that salesmen just hang on you, that phenomenon does not exist (yet) in Colombia. Except in Cartagena, that is. But these drawbacks should not spoil the fun: Cartagena is and remains a beautiful city that you absolutely should not miss during your visit to Colombia!
Where to stay in Cartagena?
Outside the city walls is a district called Getsemaní, what is very popular among visitors. You will find a wide range of ho(s)tels, restaurants and entertainment venues. However, I myself am more of a fan of the Old Town. It’s great to wake up in such a cute environment: nothing can beat that as far as I’m concerned. Unfortunately, you do pay more, so as a budget traveler it will be cheaper in Getsemaní. During my first visit to Cartagena, I stayed in the San Diego neighborhood: wonderfully quiet in the old town. The second time, during my sister-in-law’s wedding, we stayed in a nice little hotel in El Centro: Puertas de Cartagena. We had a large room with air conditioning, private bathroom and a delicious breakfast. The hotel is quiet and has a nice patio where you can rest in the shade in the sweltering heat.
And there are many more great hotels and hostels in Cartagena!
Love at first sight
There is nothing finer than flying from Bogotá to Cartagena on an early morning and back the next evening. Just the warmth, the summer feeling, strolling around in cute dresses, eat tasty coconut rice eating on terraces and, above all, enjoying the photogenic downtown. Marvel at the old balconies, the pink, blue and orange houses, all the sweets they sell here and dance along to the rhythm of the Caribbean. In short: fall in love with this Colombian gem!
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