A majestic walled city, considered one of the most beautiful colonial cities of South America — only rivaled by Cusco, Peru “The Imperial City”. Cartagena will mesmerize you with its warm Caribbean air, as well as, the extent of its beauty. Lose yourself in the maze of its alleys. Stroll between small squares shaded by large ficus and their aerial roots. Admire the remarkable architecture of the colonial houses enhanced by colorful facades on which bougainvillea flowers and vines extend majestically to the above wooden balconies. At the bend of a church, where 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 hurry you back on the sidewalk. Leaving you to listen to the coachman relating the story of the city as the carriage is passing by.

To beat the heat be sure to treat yourself to some delicious tropical fruits and other homemade delicacies sold by palenqueras. The notorious black women of Cartagena dressed in bright color dresses while carrying an overflowing basket of fruit on their head. Originating in the San Basillo of Palenque village, located in South-East Cartagena and founded by slaves on the run, the palenqueras are now fully ingrained in the city’s folklore.

Inside the Cartagena city walls, it is hot, hot, hot. Day and night, you’ll have to deal with the scorched heat. The air is constantly saturated with humidity and even after a big tropical downpour, the temperature drop is hardly noticeable. Blocked by fortifications, wind is rare, so walking on the city walls facing the seaside, is not only a very nice stroll, but 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, located between the beaches and the bay, dominate the landscape. Meanwhile in the Southeast, the trendy Getsemani sees tourists coming at days end to mix with 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 ancient city.

Walking tour 
This said, a guided tour can also be very interesting and a good introduction to a 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 (~ US$11,00) 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 surethe horse is in good health, as some horses, unfortunately, are 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 lovely colonial houses. Their terrace roofs are pleasant spots to drink a coffee during the day and at night, they turn into nightclubs. At the foot of them, a colorful gallery framed by arches, called “el portal de los dulces”. This, The Sweets Hall, houses white-painted wooden stands displaying 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. For this reason, the administrative offices were erected around it during Colonial times. Here, you will also see the Pedro of Heredia’s house, founder of Cartagena, as well as a statue ofChristopher Columbus.

Convento de San Pedro Claver y Fundación Museo Afrocaribeña
The San Pedro de Claver Sanctuary’s Museum was opened by the Jesuits in 1950 in their 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 into 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 various names before wearing the one of the adjacent Church and thus of the Saint, who 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 awe-inspiring places of the city. Modern rusty metal sculptures from the famous artist Colombian Edgardo Carmona, represent some of the scenes of Carthaginians everyday life.

Plaza Santa Teresa
This place, lively once the sun goes down, is lodged between the luxury Charleston Hotel and the city’s fortifications, and from where you’ll appreciate its beauty at its best.

Fortifications
These large stone block walls of the city were built at the end of 16th century following the attack of the legendary Sir Francis Drake. As one of the most comprehensive of the continent and one of the most well preserved walls in the world, the fortifications are listed as part of the UNESCO World Heritage. Today, you can wander along top of it and enjoy 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. Here you’ll find restaurants and cafes terrasses, musicians and artisans. The beautiful Church San Domingo, oldest in 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 as Plaza Simon Bolivar (Simon Bolivar Square), this small park is a favorite for the local Carthaginians. Come here to lounge in the shade of the sumptuous trees, some even centenarians. At the four corners of the park, find majestic fountains, popular to young and old, looking for a bit of freshness. In its center, proudly sitting on his bronze mount statue, Simon Bolivar, the liberator.

Around the site, you’ll find some remarkable buildings such 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, with a « Mi Amore » or « My Love ». In the evening, come admire troop 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 appeared for judgement. Inside, discover its dungeons with 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. Construction began in 1575, but in 1586, with a single tower 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, is officially known as the Teatro Adolfo Mejia. It was designed and built by the same architect who designed the clock tower on the land of the former Merced church. It opened in 1911 with Floral Games, a series of historically related poetry contests with floral prizes. Inside, discover the Italian marble stairs and sculptures. The Grand Salle of the theater has been built in a horseshoe shape with lodges and balconies divided by cedar lace partitions.

La Presentacion – Casa Museo de Arte y Culture
A sublime building inside, under colonial occupation, was first an Aguardiente emporium — the most popular alcoholic drink on the Caribbean coast, made of anis and later 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 lush vegetation, you’ll find various exhibition rooms, a 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 that 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 Convent 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 independence of Bolivia, Colombia, Ecuador, Panamá, Perú 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 bar.

Argentinian Restaurant Marzolan
Aside from serving delicious meat (and vegetarian) dishes— enjoy 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 than that of 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

An 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 with its architecture, murals, small shaded streets, but especially for its warm and friendly people who, each evening, particularly the weekend, meet on the town square. It’s an experience you can’t miss!

During the day, take the plunge into the torpor of the tropical heat while the district is very quiet. Stroll down its small streets to discover its few colonial buildings, graffiti and superb murals.

In the evening, with its small restaurants and his Church, the Plaza of Trinidad is a meeting point for inhabitants and tourists. While having an arepa (typical small griddle-fried corn cake), a beer or ice cream in hand, you can admire and applaud the impressive street artist performances. 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 Cuban salsa groups 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. After 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
Castillo San Felipe Barajas
This 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 them control over not only the land access point to Cartagena, but it also granted an excellent viewpoint on the maritime invasions. Audio guides, come highly recommended as there are no explanation signs. You can easily lose yourself in its rooms, tunnels, dungeons, and walks on its walls.

Immerse yourself in 1741, the year during which the English Edouard Vernon, lead its armada of 27,000 soldiers, 186 warships and 2000 guns attacked and besieged for 3 months the fortress which was 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 of 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 necessary
Price: $3000 COP for the cellulose version).

But experiencing the journey on one of the old colorful buses, which are waiting just outside the terminal main entrance gate, is definitely the best way to become immersed into the Cartagena Caribbean atmosphere. The bus will lead you there 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, especially 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 you can also 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).