Cartagena Travel Guide
Introduction to Cartagena
Serving as the backdrop of the movie Romancing the Stone, the history of the city of Cartagena is far more intriguing and exciting then the movie lets on. Serving as a well-fortified port that shipped much of Latin America’s gold wealth to the Spanish Empire, this was a city that was prosperous, and as a result, it attracted many interlopers that sought to raid it over the years.
While things are far more tame in the present day, the mix between modern infrastructure and this city’s colonial past make Cartagena a place that should be a lock on your travel itinerary in Colombia.
Cultural Attractions in Cartagena
Dedicate your first couple of days towards exploring the Old Town of Cartagena. This walled city contains scores of Spanish colonial buildings that will take at least that amount of time to explore properly.
When you aren’t enjoying the many restaurants and bars (including many local favorites, which serve some of the Caribbean coast’s best cuisine) located within its boundaries, make time for churches like Iglesia de San Pedro Claver, which was headed by a priest that dedicated his life to helping newly freed slaves from the West Indies to begin a new life in a new country.
Another place you should check out is the Palacio de la Inquisición, which is the museum that explores the horror of the Spanish Inquisition, as this was a place where many people accused of crimes against Catholicism were charged and tortured for their sins.
While there are many great contrasting views of Cartagena’s modern skyline from the top of the walls of this city’s old quarter, the best overall views of the entire area can be had from Convento La Popa de la Galera.
Situated atop a hill that stands 150 meters above sea level, the panoramic shots of both the skyscrapers that stretch along the best beaches that Cartagena has to offer and the historic districts of Getsemani and the Centro Historico are legendary, but the intimate interior of this convent and its beautiful courtyard also make this attraction a must do when in Cartagena.
Equally great views can be had from the Castillo San Felipe de Barajas, which was a mighty fortress that helped keep this vital Spanish trading port safe throughout much of the colonial era.
Designed with superior sight lines from land and sea approaches, and with a nested bunker design that made attacks on it extremely difficult, it played a huge role in making Cartagena an effective part of Spain’s efforts to ship the golden wealth of the new world to the coffers of the Spanish crown back in the old world.
Walking its ramparts will yield views that one can have at the former attraction, while allowing you to take in an attraction that played a vital role in this city’s past history.
Other Attractions in Cartagena
As far as Latin American cities in the tropics go, Cartagena is one of the few cities that can challenge Panama City in terms of heat and humidity. If the intense equatorial sun is starting to get to you after a few days of exploring this area’s historical attractions, then taking a day to go out on an excursion to some of its best beaches will refresh your body and spirit.
The beaches in town tend to be crowded, dirty, and plagued with touts, so hiring a tour company to take you out to either the Rosario Islands or to Playa Blanca will prove to be a smart investment.
The latter destination isn’t as far as the Rosario Islands, but the beach is no less beautiful, as the white sands, light blue waters, and droopy palms that everyone expects in a Caribbean beach destination can all be found here.
The snorkeling that can be had off the Rosario Islands are truly remarkable, as there are many marine life species such as sting rays and dolphins that often frequent its waters, and with a well-appointed (but very expensive) resort, you may find yourself staying here when the time for the tourist boat to leave for home arrives.
Have you always been intrigued with the mud treatments that some spas offer, but never took advantage of the opportunity that it presented to you at the time? By taking a trek out to the Volcan del Totumo, you can make good on this desire for a fraction of the price that you would pay at home.
Forming a caldera above the surface of the Earth, this pool of geothermally heated mud is hot enough to soothe your aches and pains, but cool enough to bathe in safely. With massage attendants on site, and a lagoon nearby to wash the muck off your body after the fact, it is a relaxing day trip for those stressed out by the trials and tribulations of the road.
Want to experience some of the best nightlife that Colombia has to offer? When in Cartagena, do not miss the chance to ride the Chiva Bus, which is a mobile bar and dance party that will allow you to meet travelers from across Latin America and around the world.
With musicians playing the best of local Colombian folk music, and countless bottles of rum being passed around the bus throughout the tour’s duration, it will be the start to one of the more legendary nights that you will have on your Latin American adventures.