Cartagena de Indias
Introduction to Cartagena de Indias
The magic of Cartagena lies at the foundation of its fortifications, the warmth of its people, wealth of its architecture and endless cultural expressions of a fierce and courageous people. This city overflows with romanticism and is shrouded in history from when the Spanish first discovered gold in the tombs of Sinu to the five dreadful sieges on the city by pirates in the 16th century, including the most famous (or infamous) one which was led by Sir Francis Drake!
This UNESCO World Heritage Site is surrounded by an impressive 8 mile (13km) colonial stonewall and is made up of gorgeous cobblestone alleys in which you will find elegant balconies packed with colorful flowers, massive churches and eye-catching terraces. Founded in 1533 by Pedro de Heredia, it is a magical place telling a story of piracy and battles that led to the city’s nickname, the Heroic City. The city is perfect to just stroll around and soak up the relaxing and sensual atmosphere.
What not to miss in Cartagena de Indias
The city is shrouded in history and fascinating stories from when the Spanish first discovered gold in the tombs of Sinu to the five dreadful sieges on the city by pirates in the 16th century. Nowadays, as you’ll find out while walking through its pleasant and colorful streets, Cartagena is among one of the world’s most beautiful cities.
Cafe del Mar
Sitting pretty on the historic walls, Café del Mar, has been a landmark of Cartagena’s nightlife scene. It is the best place to watch the sunset over the Caribbean and enjoy a drink.
Located on a hill just outside of the center, the Popa Monastery has great views of the city. The monastery was made to honor the Virgen de la Candelaria, who is also the patroness of the city.
San Felipe Fortress
Castillo San Felipe de Barajas is a fortress built in 1536 by the Spaniards to defend the city of Cartagena against pirates. The construction was done by slaves and lasted a total of 121 years. The fort overlooks both the bay and the city.
The Rosario Islands
The Rosario Islands consist of 43 small islands and together they form a National Park to protect the marine life and reef. The islands make for a great day tour to relax on the beach and to go snorkeling. Some islands also have the option for spending the night.
What you need to know
When to go
The climate in Cartagena is always hot and humid, even during the rainy season, you can still get more than enough sun. While you can go at any time of the year, it’s all about timing with Cartagena and in order to avoid crowds we recommend the time between the high and low seasons. The peak season is between December and mid-January, during Holy Week (March or April) and mid-June to July. Cartagena’s off season is from May to mid-June and August to November with October and November being the wettest months. There is a sweet spot between mid-January and April with the dry season a great time to walk through the colonial center and relax on the white sandy beaches. In November visitors can enjoy the Independence of Cartagena festivities that include the famous national beauty pageant.
How to get there
Cartagena’s Rafael Núñez Airport is about 2 miles (3km) from the historic Old Town and is served by national and international airlines. There are domestic non-stop flights from Medellin, Cali, San Andrés Island, Bogotá, Pereira, Montería, Barrancabermeja, Bucaramanga and Cúcuta. There are many direct international flights from Panama City, Fort Lauderdale, Miami, New York and Atlanta in the United States, as well as from many cities in Canada, Madrid (Spain), Quito (Ecuador) and Helsinki (Finland). some of the major cities in South America.
The bus terminal is 6.8 miles (11km) east of the old city with frequent Metrocar buses going to the old city every 15 to 30 minutes and costing about COP$1,800 (USD 0.60).
Where to stay
As the commercial and tourist hub of Colombia, Cartagena has a wide range of options in accommodation, so you should have no problem in finding a place to feel comfortable. Midrange small boutique hotels and the world’s most well known five-star hotel chains can be found in the inner walled city. Most budget establishments are located outside of the city walls in Getsemani.
The old town of Cartagena in particular is best explored on foot with the main highlights in walking distance. To reach other destinations such as the San Felipe Fort and Bocagrande there are a number of buses that run throughout the city and there are taxi’s everywhere.