In recent years, Cartagena has become a popular destination and a new exciting port for you to explore. The Wall Street Journal even described Cartagena as the “New Hot Caribbean Destination” and also as the “ultimate antidote to the been-there-done-that Caribbean vacation.”
Ironically, this “new hot” destination is also one of the oldest cities in the New World, having been founded in 1533. And as such, its home to many interesting historic sites, including a romantic and colorful Old City that has been designated as a UNESCO World Heritage site.
If you’re lucky enough to have a Princess Cruise port stop in this colonial city, make sure to get off the boat and check out the following interesting sites.
Make sure to keep your camera at the ready while exploring this walled city. Here, you’ll find graceful colonial architecture, cobblestone streets, and romantic balconies. Old Town is also where you’ll find many of Cartagena’s most famous landmarks and sites, including the Torre de Reloj — clock tower — and historic churches such as the Iglesia de San Pedro Claver.
The walled Old Town is also home to a number of lively bars, restaurants and plazas. And be prepared to have your eyes dazzled by color. It is everywhere — on the buildings and on the inhabitants. Especially notable are the women fruit vendors. Garbed in bright hues and balancing fruit bowls on top of their heads, these women add a festive touch to the Old City.
While you could explore the Old City on foot, there are other more fun ways. Consider, for instance, touring the area aboard a horse-drawn carriage or while riding a Segway.
Searching for a little sun, sand and surf? Then book an excursion to the beautiful Rosario Islands. This lovely archipelago — Columbia’s most popular national park — lies just a short boat ride from Cartagena.
Some of the beaches here can be crowded, so look for tours that can whisk you away to a private island free of aggressive vendors and touts. A day of snorkeling or swimming in the beautiful blue waters of the Caribbean is the perfect escape when the temperatures are toasty in Cartagena.
This pretty 17th century monastery is located atop of La Popa Hill, the highest point in Cartagena. Dedicated to the Virgen de la Candelaria — Cartagena’s patron saint — this chapel contains a stunning 22-karat gold-foil altar. This convent is also famous for its gorgeous, can’t-miss views of Cartagena.
This magnificent fortress was said to be practically impregnable and is considered to be one of the finest examples of Spanish military engineering in South America. Construction first began on this mighty fortress in 1536, but it wasn’t completed until 1767.
When finally finished, this massive fortress covered the entire top of the Hill of San Lazaro. One of the more interesting aspect of Castillo San Felipe de Barajas is the system of tunnels used to move provisions and troops that it sits atop of. Although most of the tunnels are off-limits today, a few are open for visitors to explore.
This museum of horrors is ironically housed in a beautiful building that some consider to be one of the finest examples of colonial architecture in Cartagena. First built in 1770, this mansion was used as the Sentencing Tribunal of the Holy Office during the Spanish Inquisition.
It was here that the Inquisitors performed grisly acts of torture as they tried to force confessions from those that they believed to be heretics. Today, the mansion has been turned into a museum that contains many of the instruments of torture used during that horrific period in history.
Are you the adventurous sort who enjoys exploring up-and-coming neighborhoods in the cities you travel to? Then you’ll want to check out Getsemani, Cartagena’s artsy hood that Conde Nast Traveler called a “nightlife and restaurant hot spot to which in-the-know travelers are flocking.”
Though this neighborhood has begun attracting foreigners, it still has an authentic feel, and you are still more likely to rub elbows with locals than tourists here. Getsemani is also known for the street art that decorates many of its buildings.