Cartagena la Heroica
Cartagena has something to seduce all its visitors. Whether you like sports, landscapes, nightlife, food, water, you will not be disappointed to put your feet up for a few days, or even more, in this magnificent city of Colombia.
Typically, my day starts with a good coffee prepared with love by Carlo. I do not drink coffee. But beware, on my first morning I saw Carlo at the corner of my street surrounded by his regulars and his 12 thermoses containing coffee. Black coffee, sweet coffee, coffee with milk, … Carlo prepares all of this before settling down at 6am to serve his customers. His coffee, Colombian of course, seduced me with its taste, its sweetness, and its little bitterness. Carlo won me over with his good humor and kindness. How not to return there every day? After all, his coffee only costs $0.33!
Continuing my way, I meet Alej. He sells fried arepas made in a factory in Cartagena, and good fresh orange juice. What a delight to start the day with this cornmeal stuffed with perfectly seasoned meat and an egg. With a fresh iced juice when the heat is already 30C in the early morning, I feel in heaven! For about $2, I'm satisfied.
Continuing my way, I will meet the fruit sellers of Palenque, a small town located not far from Cartagena. Palenque was the first free African city in the Americas and in 2005 was declared a Masterpiece of Oral and Intangible Heritage of Humanity by UNESCO. This city is also famous for its fruits. The smiling women in their vibrant and colorful dresses selling magically flavored fruit will be happy to have their picture taken with you (in exchange for a little cash!) or sell you delicious mangoes that can be put on. salt and lime juice.
This is just one of the many ways to start your day in this Caribbean-vibe town.
Cartagena de Indias was built on the site of a deserted Native American village: Calamari (shrimp!). From its name, which means “new”, the Spaniards added “de Indias”, to differentiate it from its namesake Cartagena of Spain.
Cartagena was the first Spanish colony in the Americas and its location on the Caribbean Sea made it a vitally important port city. From there, the conquistadors shipped the treasures they had plundered from native cultures to Spain, while importing slaves from Africa. In order to defend the city and its wealth of stolen goods against pirates, the Spaniards built, for 200 years, a huge stone fortress.
As the city remained under Spanish rule for around 275 years, Cartagena greatly assisted in the liberation of Spain, declaring its independence before the rest of the country on November 11, 1811 with the help of the great liberator Simon Bolivar. Cartagena is also called La Heroica. In 1815, Pablo Morillo, charged by Fernando VII, had the mission to reconquer Cartagena. The city was attacked by cannon fire, the entry of water and food had been blocked. Despite everything, the people defended themselves and resisted as much as they could for 105 days. 105 days of resistance which would have caused 4000 deaths. Morillo nevertheless proceeded to the final capture on December 6, 1815, but the city will have preserved its reputation as a heroine by this great resistance.
In 1984, the walled city of Cartagena was declared a UNESCO World Heritage Site as an outstanding example of military architecture. That's not all people come here to see, though. Cartagena is a must-visit place and Colombia's most popular city for tourists, thanks not only to the colonial buildings, but also to the sandy beaches, mouth-watering cuisine and vibrant nightlife.
To learn even more about the history and understand the importance of each of the monuments, do not hesitate to book your free city tour. You just have to tip the guide at the end of the tour.
WHERE TO SLEEP?
I will not recommend one hotel more than another. There are plenty of choices in Cartagena to suit all budgets. Personally, I was lucky enough to find a complete apartment on Airbnb and absolutely magnificent, including a swimming pool with an incredible view of the castle of San Felipe, in Getsimani, on the edge of San Diego.
However, as for which neighborhood to choose, here is more info:
I found this great map on https://www.tomplanmytrip.com/
Thank you for this beautiful sharing, it sums up the neighborhoods of Cartagena de Indias very well.
Basically everything is close enough to walk to (otherwise there are always taxis on the way!) in this town. But some neighborhoods are further than others to see the main attractions.
Cabrero: beaches and mix of modern buildings. Requires a bit of walking to get to the main attractions.
San Diego: In a way the continuity of the center, very well located and close to everything.
El centro: The name says it, it's the center. Charming as you wish, restaurants, bars, magnificent streets. Everything is there. Of course, the price will be a little higher.
Small parenthesis, here is the sidewalk paying tribute to all the Miss Colombia winners since the beginning of the contest!!
Getsimani : A former neighborhood where drugs and prostitution were rife, art has succeeded in making this place one of the most beautiful in Cartagena, but also in the world! Colors, restaurants, bars, dance, life! This is the neighborhood I adopted!
Manga: Economical, but less touristy. Interesting if you want to think outside the box. Requires a bit of walking to get to the main attractions.
Me tasting culinary specialties in Manga! I had a lot of fun with the locals and there were very few tourists.
Bocagrande: large beach and tall modern buildings. The beach has nothing to do with that of the islands, so don't go there for that reason. Requires a bit of walking to get to the main attractions.
QUOI FAIRE À CARTHAGÈNE?
Besides enjoying the culinary flavors of Cartagena and the region (see my other articles focused on the subject for more!), there are many other activities possible. But know it, Cartagena is really a city for foodies (I'll talk about it in other articles)!!
Montez le château de San Felipe
This is Cartagena's most famous landmark, and it's pretty hard to miss. It was built in 1657 to protect itself from pirates seeking to seize silver and gold bound for Europe.
Wait until later in the day to explore the maze-like tunnels and enjoy the view of the city with a beautiful sunset.
Promenez-vous dans Getsemani
Just admiring the many street murals and decorations will fill your heart with happiness. In addition, in the evening, you can have a small cocktail on every street corner!
Learn more about the indigenous peoples of Cartagena
Get a unique perspective of Colombia with a tour of the sustainable city of Cartagena led by the Zenú, an indigenous people who were driven from their homes over the centuries and now survive by selling coffee on the streets of Cartagena.
Few tourists hear of Zenú. Not only will you see the city in a different light as your guide tells the story of Cartagena from an indigenous perspective, but you'll learn about their struggles for justice and their exceptional prowess in craftsmanship.
IMPULSE Travel Colombia's Zenú Heritage Tour is a half-day tour that explores downtown and the Museo de Oro before heading to the 20 de Julio district. Here you will experience a weaving demonstration and enjoy a small meal prepared by the women of the weaving collective.
Go to the beach
One of Cartagena's main tourist attractions is its access to sun and sand. The easiest option is to visit the Bocagrande area of town, but it's not exactly the scenic Caribbean beach you were hoping for.
It's fine for an afternoon of lounging, drinking cheap beer, and eating seafood, but you'll have to travel a bit further to find the really nice beaches.
Your best bet is Playa Blanca, which can easily be visited on a day trip. Here you will find that powdery sand and turquoise water after all. You can even spend the night if you really want to relax and enjoy.
Allez d'île en île
One of the most popular things to do in Cartagena is to take a boat trip around the Rosario Islands. This archipelago is located about 100 km from the coast and is a natural national park.
The park was created to protect one of the most important coral reefs in the Caribbean.
It is not difficult to embark on an excursion to visit the islands, but be aware that many of these excursions come with very bad reviews.
It's best to do your research to find a reputable company, or just get enough people together to rent your own boat and do things your way.
You can also sleep on these islands, which allows you to really enjoy their tranquility. This is what I did at the Blue Apple Beach Resort (see my article on the subject).
Put on your dancing shoes
If you're like me and you're a 2 x 4, learning to dance probably won't hurt you! Dancing is an integral part of Caribbean culture and a favorite pastime for locals. Salsa is king here, but you can also learn merengue or bachata. A few glasses of rum will surely help you relax…
Café Havana may be the most popular place, but it's expensive. A more local place to dance with a live band is the Bazurto Social Club.
Enjoy the sunsets on the wall
For drinks with a view, look no further than Cafe del Mar. Located just above the historic city walls, this bar is the best place to enjoy a Caribbean sunset with a cocktail in hand. Drinks are expensive and you have to plan ahead.
For those of us who prefer to play on a budget, you can just grab some beers from local vendors and hang on the wall. The view isn't as great, but you can still hear live music from the bar.
Party till the sun comes up
Cartagena likes to party, plain and simple. As well as the hordes of backpackers and tour groups that come here to let loose, the locals enjoy the loud parties just as much! Every night is a good night to hang out here, as there are a wide variety of bars and clubs to suit all party styles.