Sublime walled city, probably one of the most beautiful colonial cities of South America — the imperial city of Cusco in Peru might be its only real competitor —, Cartagena, the Caribbean heat on top of, will appeal you by its mesmerizing beauty. Lose yourself in the maze of its alleys, stroll between its small squares shaded by huge ficus and their aerial roots, while enjoying the remarkable architecture of its large colonial houses enhanced by colorful facades on which bougainvilliers and vines extend majestically to the above wooden balconies. At the bend of a church where the mass or a wedding will be celebrated, the click of clogs on pavers immediately followed by the vombrissement of the wheels of a barouche will prompt you to go back on the sidewalk, listen to the coachman relating the story of the city as the carriage is passing by. Treat yourself with delicious tropical fruits and other homemade delicacies sold by palenquerias, the notorious black women dressed with high color dresses, holding on their head an overflowing fruit cart. Originally originated from the San basillo of Palenque village, located in South-East Cartagena and founded by slaves on the run, the palenquerias are now fully part of the city’s folklore.Inside the Cartagena city wall, it is hot, very hot. Day and night, as the air is constantly saturated with humidity, you will be overwhelmed by the heat. Even after a big tropical downpour, the temperature drop is barely noticeable. Stopped by fortifications, the wind is rare and walking on the city walls facing the seaside, is not only a very nice walk, it is also salutary. Outside of the old city, life is hectic and car traffic is intense on the principal axes. Southwest, in the chic neighborhood of Bocagrande, the skyscrapers dominate the strip of sand on the ocean side and the bay, on the continent side. Whilst South-East, the trendy Getsemani sees tourists coming at the end of day and mix to the local population on the lively Plaza of Trinidad.

To see

The old city

Unmissable! To discover it, just let yourself get carried away by your mood through the cobbled streets of the ancien city.

Walking tour 
This said, a guided tour can also be very interesting as a good introduction to the city loaded history. The appointment with Edgar and its famous yellow umbrella is scheduled every day at 10:00 and 16:00 on the Santa Teresa square, in front of the Museo naval Del Caribe (Caribbean Naval Museum). The tour is done in English and Spanish and last about two hours.

Horse-drawn Carriage
In the evening, you can also travel the city by horse-drawn carriage. Count around 30,000 COP (~ € 8.5) for a one-hour ride (30- and 45- minutes tours are usually also available). The majority of the coachmen only speak Spanish, which means that most of the explanations on the city lavished during the ride will probably escape you if you do not have good notions of the language of Cervantes. But that does not really matter because wandering in carriage at the twilight is magical, to say the least. However, make sure of the good health of your horse, because some horses are unfortunately in poor condition.

Advised Itinerary in the old city

Puerta / Torre del Reloj
Puerta del Reloj, or the clock tower, is not only one of most representative symbols of the city but also its main gateway. It was built in the nineteenth century.

Plaza de los Coches (horse-drawn carriages square)
Located just behind the Puerta del Reloj, this small place, where once slave trading took place, is surrounded by pretty colonial houses whose terraces roof are pleasant places to drink a coffee during the day but also high places of city nightlife. At the foot of them, a colorful gallery framed by arches, called “el portal de los dulces” (the Sweets Hall) is housing white-painted wooden stands presenting old-fashioned jars full of sweets.In the center of the square, the statue of Pedro of Heredia, founder of the city, is still watching over its administered.

Plaza de Aduana
The largest square of Cartagena was originally used for parades, reason why the administrative offices were erected around it during the Colonial times. There, you will also see the Pedro of Heredia’s house, Cartagena founder, as well as a statue of Columbus.

Convento de San Pedro Claver y Fundación Museo Afrocaribeña
The San Pedro de Claver Sanctuary’s Museum was opened by the Jesuits on 1950 in the Jesuits cloister to honor the memory of the Saint Pedro de Claver, who, during the seventeenth century, dedicated his life to the protection of thousands of slaves brought in the city. The Museum has a broad collection of Pre-Columbian, religious — one of the most comprehensive —, and Afro-Caribbean art objects. There is also a collection given by the family of Zapata Olivella, doctor, anthropologists and Writer Colombian.
Entry: $12,000 COP (~ US$4.00)

Plaza San Pedro Claver
The square had different names before wearing the one of the adjacent Church and thus of the Saint whom nowadays, the city honors the social work he dedicated throughout his life to the victims of slave-trade. This place, surrounded by beautiful colonial homes is one of the most beautiful places of the city. Modern rusty metal sculptures from the famous artist Colombian Edgardo Carmona, are representing few scenes of Carthaginians everyday life.

Plaza Santa Teresa
This place, lively as from the twilight, is lodged between the luxury Charleston hotel and the city’s fortifications, from which you’ll appreciate its beauty at its best.

Fortifications
The big stone blocks city wall was built at the end of 16th century, following the attack of the legendary Sir Francis Drake. The fortification is one of the most comprehensive of the continent and one of the best preserved wall of a walled city in the world, which allows it to be taken in the UNESCO World Heritage listing. Today, you can wander on it and have a drink on one of the terraces perfectly located to admire the sunset above the sea.

Plaza Santo Domingo
Located in the heart of the historic city, this lovely place is probably the most famous and most touristy as well. There you’ll restaurants and cafes terrasses, musicians and artisans. The beautiful Church San Domingo, which is also the oldest of the city, is frequently roofing sumptuous wedding celebrations. Just in front of it, comfortably lying on her pedestal, la Gorda Gertrudis (the Big Gertrude) of Botero has become the ultimate meeting point.

Parque Bolivar (Bolivar Park)
Also known under the name of Plaza Simon Bolivar (Simon Bolivar Square), this small park is the Carthaginians favorite place. They come here to lounge in the shade of the sumptuous, some even centenarians, trees. At the four corners of the park, majestic fountains, popular by whether young or old, looking for a bit of freshness and in its center, proudly sitting on his bronze mount statue, Simon Bolivar the liberator. Around the site, you’ll find some remarkable buildings as the Inquisition Palace, the Gold Museum and the Cathedral of Cartagena.In the late afternoon, the Palenqueras, in their very colorful dresses, will charm you with their delicious tropical fruits and other sweets, apostrophizing you with a « Mi Amore » which means « My Love ». In the evening, come admire troops dancers singing and performing to the sound of drums, the country’s most beautiful folkloric dances.

Palacio de la Inquisición
The Inquisition Palace, built in the Baroque style, whose facade exhibits superb wood railings and balconies, was once a courthouse where heretics but also those suspected of practicing black magic were appearing. Inside, you will discover its dungeons, its instruments and torture rooms.
Entry: $19,000 COP (~ US$6.00). Regularly, the Museum offers free entrance on Sunday.
Information: www.muhca.gov.co

Catedral de Santa Catalina de Alejandria Cartagena de Indias
The Cathedral of Cartagena is majestic. Its construction began in 1575, but in 1586, as just a tower remained to be built, it was partially destroyed during the capture of the city by the pirate Francis Drake. The construction resumed in 1598; and in 1612, a Florentine style dome and marble on the facade were added.

Teatro Adolfo Mejía
Built in the European Operas house style from the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries, the Teatro Heredia, officially known as the Teatro Adolfo Mejia. It has been designed and built by the same architect who designed the clock tower, on the land of the former Merced church. It has been opened in 1911 with Floral Games, a series of historically related poetry contest with floral prizes. Inside, you will discover the Italian marble stairs and sculptures. The Grand Salle of the theater has been built in horseshoe shape, with lodges and balconies divided by cedar lace partitions.

La Presentacion – Casa Museo de Arte y Culture
In is a sublime building which first was during the colonial occupation, an Aguardiente emporium — the most popular alcoholic drink on the Caribbean coast, made of anis —, then a college, the Art and Culture Museum House welcomes exhibitions, concerts, plays, shows dance and other visual arts events. Organized around a beautiful patio with a lush vegetation, beautiful gangways log in between them and a number of floors, the various exhibition rooms, cafeteria, small shops, a theater, a Cultural Center and the beautiful hotel El caustro. In the Center of the patio, you will find the well who supplied the city with water during the droughts.

Plaza de Los Estudiantes
This lovely Square of the Students got its name from the adjacent University of Cartagena.

La Casa Bolívar
Near the Covent of San Augustine, is located the first house where Simón Bolívar lived. Simón José Antonio de la Santísima Trinidad de Bolívar y Palacios was a Venezuelan military and political leader who played a leading role in the independency of Bolivia, Colombia, Ecuador, Panama, Peru y Venezuela from the Spanish Empire.

Parque Fernández de Madrid
Another beautiful square around which you will find many small restaurants, a cacao museum as well as many bars including the very original KGB.

Argentinian Restaurant Marzolan
In addition to the fact that serve delicious dishes meat — they also have a vegetarian option —, this restaurant first impresses by its outdoor and indoor ultra kitsch decoration made of photos, jerseys, street nameplates and other unusual objects all devoted to the country of Maradona. Do not forget to look a little more closely to what is fully covering the interior walls.

Plaza San Diego
Much quieter that the Santo Domingo square, here you can enjoy a drink on one of the terraces surrounding the plaza.The streets following are remarkable for their beautiful and colorful colonial houses.- Calle of tumbamuertos (Carrera 9)- Calle Los puntos (Calle 37)- Calle of the necesidad (Carrera 10)- Calle of the Moneda (Calle 36)- Carrera 7

Outside the Old City

Getsemani

This area adjacent to the walled city is a village within Cartagena. Without the splendor of its neighbor, but still very colorful, this popular borough seduces by its architecture, its murals, its small shaded streets but especially for its warm and friendly people who each evening, and particularly the weekend, meet on the town square. It’s an experience you can’t miss!

During the day, plunged in the torpor of the tropical heat, the district is very quiet. Stroll in its small streets to discover its few colonial buildings, its graffiti and superb murals.

In the evening, with its small restaurants and his Church — which is the animation hub — the Plaza of Trinidad is the meeting point of the inhabitants and tourists. While having an arepa (typical small griddle-fried corn cake), a beer or ice cream in hand, they admire and applause the impressive street artists performances. The performances can be so impressive that the atmosphere even turns electric.
Continue the evening in the incredible decorated Havana Cafe (Thu-Sat) where two excellent groups of Cuban salsa are performing every night. Put your dancing shoes on and get ready to wiggle until late.
Cover: $20,000 COP

Every Wednesday, the Media Luna hostel houses a gigantic evening where mainly tourists are found, but not only. The party starts at 10:30PM at the main bar with a live band performance. And as from 1:00AM, the craziness continues on the rooftop until the end of the night.
Cover: $20,000 COP (Free for the hostel residents).

Castillo San Felipe Barajas
The fortress, originating from the 16th century and located at the top of the San Lázaro hill, just outside the old city, is the largest fortress ever built by the Spanish within their colonies. It allowed to control the only land access point to Cartagena but it also granted an excellent viewpoint on the maritime invasions. With the audio guide, which is really recommended, given that there is no explanation signs, lose yourself in its rooms, its tunnels, its dungeons, walk on its walls. Immerse yourself in 1741, the year during which the English Edouard Vernon leading its armada made of 27,000 soldiers, 186 warships and 2000 guns attacked and besieged during 3 months the fortress, then under the authority of the Spanish Admiral Blas of Lezo, who was at the head of an army of only 3,600 men and 6 ships.Do not forget not to take adequate water supplies because it’s very hot up there.
Price: $25,000 COP, $10,500 COP (student). Audio guide: $15,000 COP
Website: www.fortificacionescartagena.com

Convento de la Candelaria or la Popa
At the top of the Popa hill, the view on Cartagena de India is breathtaking. Each year, on February 2nd, the faithfuls commemorate the Virgin by climbing the hill to the convent.

How to get to Cartagena?

From the bus terminal

Bus: the terminal is located about 11 km East from the city center.The brand new white and orange air-conditioned Transcaribe Metrobus, connect on priority roads the terminal to the doors of the old city.Hop on a bus going to « Portal » or « Madre Bernarda », then take one of the lines passing by the city center: T100 (Center and Express), T101 (Center, omnibus), T102 (Crespo) and T103 (Bocagrande).Price: ~ $1800 COP.Purchasing the magnetic transport card is necessaryPrice: $3000 COP for the cellulose version).

But doing the journey with one of the old colorful buses, which are waiting just outside the terminal main entrance gate, is definitely the best way to fully jump inside the Cartagena Caribbean atmosphere. The bus will lead you directly and for a few hundred Colombian pesos, to the India Catalina statue, just at the old city entrance gate.

Taxi: the price is about $20,000 COP. Don’t hesitate to negotiate, specially if the price is higher than this. This price is for the whole taxi and has to divide between the different passengers, if you’re not alone.

From the airport

Bus: here also you can choose between the official transcaribe bus (ruta T102 portal – Crespo,) or take one of the »colectivos » to the center, which will cost you about $2,100 COP.

Taxi: before taking the taxi, grab a voucher from the official desk located in the baggage claim area. On it, the taxi fare will be printed.Price: $18,000 COP to the city center or Getsemani (zone 1).