Cartagena is, quite simply, a photographer’s dream. The city’s enviable location on the shores of the Caribbean Sea, coupled with its exquisite historic core and amiable people, make it an essential stop on any Colombian itinerary.
Colourful architecture and winding streets come to life through a camera lens, ready and waiting to be captured. With this in mind, here are our top recommendations for your time in Cartagena and how to get the best out of this magnificent city…
The Walled City
Inside ‘Las Murallas’ – the fortified walls, savour a leisurely stroll around an enticing jumble of colonial architecture, tempting little streets dripping with bougainvillea and convivial plazas.
The districts of Centro and San Diego are the most picturesque, and it’s easy to while away the hours discovering street after street of boldly painted historic houses complete with contrasting window frames, wrought iron detailing and pretty balconies overhead. Delve into one of the ancient churches, stop for a cooling drink on a bustling square, or take a horse-drawn carriage tour of the Old City.
A riot of sights, sounds, smells and tastes awaits you at the sprawling produce market of Cartagena. It’s ramshackle and a little on the chaotic side, but that is all part of the appeal. Prepare yourself for sensory overload and dive in, accepting that you’ll lose your bearings rather than trying to remember the way back! Marvel at the multitude of edible products on display, and the hustle of commerce going on all around you. Follow the plumes of charcoal smoke or the aroma of bubbling pots to find the many stalls which sell ready to eat snacks and meals.
Prepare yourself for sensory overload and dive in, accepting that you’ll lose your bearings rather than trying to remember the way back! Marvel at the multitude of edible products on display, and the hustle of commerce going on all around you. Follow the plumes of charcoal smoke or the aroma of bubbling pots to find the many stalls which sell ready to eat snacks and meals.
The town beaches are steps away from the city itself and are generally pleasant, although quite heavily developed. For a touch of tropical paradise, take a boat trip south to the divine Playa Blanca, a stunning stretch of sugary sand with clear blue water and nodding palm trees.
If you are not a fan of lounging on the beach but enjoy being by the shore, consider hiring a bike and taking a ride out along the Bocagrande peninsula for a different perspective on the town beaches and the modern, high-rise side of Cartagena.
An alternative beach destination near the city is the Rosario archipelago, a collection of 27 small but perfectly formed islets with blissful beaches about an hour’s boat ride from town.
Cartagena Food Scene
A diverse set of cultural influences collide in Cartagena to brilliant effect. Fresh seafood is readily available, tropical fruit is plentiful, and powerful flavours from Africa, South America and Spain all mingle to make Cartagena a foodie hotspot.
If you are on the hunt for street food, you won’t need to stray far from the ancient neighbourhoods of the Old City and nearby Getsemani. You won’t be looking for long before you come across a stall, a cart or a hole in the wall!
Try various types of arepas, a griddled or fried cornbread with an array of fillings. Try some of the dips and sauces offered for the full effect. There are papas rellenas, deep fried mashed potato stuffed with meaty fillings, hot grilled chorizo and skewers of seasoned meat, and plenty of fruit to whet your appetite.
If you want fresh tropical fruits, look no further than the brightly dressed palenquera fruit vendors dotted throughout town, or head for one of the streetside juice and smoothie vendors for a refreshing fruit-hit.
Make time to understand Cartagena’s complex and influential history by visiting some of the monuments and sites with historical significance. The convent and church originally known as San Ignacio de Loyola has since been dedicated to Pedro Claver, a monk who devoted his life to offering his help to slaves brought here from Africa. Another building which resonates with the force of the events which took place within its walls is the Palacio de la Inquisición. The museum displays an array of instruments of torture used by the Inquisition to murderous effect, in their grim determination to eliminate heresy in the city.
Cartagena is an incredible city, ready and waiting to be explored by curious travellers! If you’re wanting to plan the Colombia trip of a lifetime – head over to our friends at TravelLocal who will help you connect to their local experts.