Traveler’s Guide To Cartagena

By Jessica Festa

Colonial Period Home, Cartagena, Colombia
Colonial Period Home
Cartagena is a beautiful, welcoming city, offering something for everyone: Caribbean beaches, vibrant festivals, energetic nightlife, a mix of traditional and international cuisine, colonial architecture and a rich culture and heritage worth exploring.  Roaming around this tropical city, it’s impossible to ignore how colorful it is, literally and figuratively.  Founded in 1533, Cartagena’s history is rooted in pirate looting, gold, and Spanish expansion, as it was the first Spanish colony in the Americas.  Make sure to allot enough time to fully explore its heritage offerings, as well as both the modern and historical sections.

Travel Tips

There are a number of airlines that fly directly from the United States to Cartagena, some of which include American Airlines, LAN, JetBlue, Spirit and Copa.  In terms of accommodations there are many options, from hostels to luxury hotels, so no matter what your budget and travel style are you’ll be able to find something that fits your needs.  The currency in Colombia is the Colombian Peso, which as of November 2013 is about 1,918.50 to $1 USD.  While Cartagena is a very walkable city — especially the old town — methods of getting around include bus, taxi, colectivo, chariot and boat.

Things To Do

Explore The Historic Walled District: A UNESCO World Heritage Site, Cartagena’s historic walled district is a walkable area with charming narrow streets filled with colonial architecture, 500-year-old forts, historic churches, interesting museums and charming plazas.  A stroll through the area is like stepping back in time into a 16th-century Spanish town.

Relax In The El Totumo Mud Baths: Just outside of Cartagena in Santa Catalina, the El Totumo Mud Volcano is said to have healing powers and be great for the skin for those who bathe in its rich mud.  Masseuses are onsite for those who want to enhance the curative experience.

Hit The Beach: Situated on Colombia’s Caribbean coast, Cartagena is home to beautiful white sand beaches and warm translucent waters.  The most beautiful of these beaches is Playa Bianca located on nearby Isla de Baru, which you can reach by organized tour or motorboat from the port.  Not only can you swim and enjoy water sports, but locals offer handicrafts, massages and tropical drinks.

Visit San Felipe de Barajas Castle: This historical fortress is one of Colombia’s oldest structures, built in colonial times — 1536, to be exact — by the Spaniards as a defense against attacks.  Visitors can walk through old tunnels, see cannons and take in beautiful views of the city.  Audio tours and guides provide background information on the site.

Cathedral de San Pedro Claver: This well-preserved church was first built in 1575, although it was destroyed by pirates in 1586 and rebuilt in 1602.  Slaves would be baptized upon arrival in the church’s courtyard by San Pedro Claver Corberó — a highly controversial practice — showing his hatred of the poor treatment of slaves.  Today, visitors can pay homage to the saint’s remains as well as admire the gold guilted altar, ornate stained glass, high arches and grand columns.  Outside in the plaza, local artists, performers and vendors offer a lively cultural experience, while bars and restaurants provide great nightlife.

Enjoy The Nightlife: Cartagena is renowned for its vibrant nightlife.  Those interested in salsa dancing should head to Cachao, Donde Fidel or Cafe Havana for some high energy fun.  Bazurto Social Club or Mr. Babilla are where you should go if you want a crazy night out, while Cartagena de Indias Movich Hotel offers a fun rooftop experience and Casa San Agustin serves up tasty craft cocktails.  For a delicious Colombian dinner, the open-air La Casa de Socorro is a must.

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