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The best places to see in Cartagena

With its literary heritage and laid back vibe, Cartagena is the jewel in the crown on Colombia’s Caribbean coast.

By Rachael Rowe 

Cartagena’s old town was made for wandering. Wooden balconies draped in bougainvillaea, and brightly colored buildings lift the spirit. Somewhere, a guitar is playing as the heat rises on another day. Cartagena is a city to relax in, whether riding the cobbled streets in a horse-drawn carriage or exploring the leafy plazas and sipping cocktails in outdoor cafes. 

The former Spanish colony is packed with old churches, spectacular colonial architecture, and breathtaking buildings. Las Bovedas were dungeons at one time, but now you’ll find a bustling marketplace.

The Gold Museum is nearby and full of Amerindian treasures. Cartagena’s cathedral is another landmark in the city bombarded by Francis Drake in 1586 in the Battle of Cartagena de Indias as part of his Great Expedition to the Spanish New World but is now the centre of the community.

The Clock Tower is iconic and was the original gateway to the old town, and once connected it with Getsemani. The clock is still in working order today. 

At the Plaza De San Pedro Claver, the Museum of Modern Art has paintings by Colombian artists, including Alejandro Obregon. You’ll encounter colorful turbaned ladies in Carmen Miranda skirts selling fruit, known as palenqueras, who are the descendants of free slaves. The Convento de San Pedro Claver was built by Jesuits and is one of the more poignant places to visit in Cartagena. Pedro Claver worked tirelessly for the welfare of enslaved people in the city and surrounding area.

Cartagena is a literary city where Love in the Time of Cholera author Gabriel García Márquez once lived. Sip coffee and browse the bookshelves at Abaco Libros Y Cafe. Or, sit under the Macondo tree (of One Hundred Years of Solitude fame) in the Palace of the Inquisition. It is a fine building and museum today but has a sinister past as it was the torture headquarters for the Spanish Inquisition. 

Head to the old City Walls dating from the end of the 16th century after Francis Drake had captured Cartagena in South America. They are still in good condition to walk along and have spectacular views of the coast. People come here to watch the sun go down as the colors on the water are stunning. The Castillo de San Felipe de Baraja is the largest of its kind in the Americas and is another excellent place to absorb the history of this region. It dates from 1630 and is impressively well preserved. 

Getsemani was once a violent place, but today is one of Cartagena’s up and coming areas and worth a visit for its vibrant and thought-provoking street art and laid-back vibe. Wander the cobbled streets or enjoy a beer at one of the many bars in the area. Getsemani is a great example of how Colombia is reinventing itself. 

Try fresh seafood or ceviche if you want to taste typical Cartagena cuisine. There are street vendors selling arepas that are also delicious. Or, you may just prefer to relax with a coffee or cocktail in the Plaza De San Pedro Clavier or overlooking the city walls, reflecting on the beauty of one of Colombia’s most beautiful cities. 

Set Sail

9 Night San Juan To Galveston Cruise with Royal Caribbean

Duration: 9 nights

Where: San Juan, Puerto Rico | Willemstad, Curacao | Oranjestad, Aruba | Cartagena, Colombia | George Town, Grand Cayman | Cozumel, Mexico | Galveston, Texas

Ship: Voyager of the Seas

Price: From $570 pp

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Published 03.02.22