Cruising into Cartagena is like sailing back in time. The old, colonial heart of the city is now a UNESCO World Heritage site. Its forbidding fortresses and crumbling colonial buildings sit side by side with cobbled streets and humble shops. It’s a colourful city with a vibrant atmosphere and lively nightlife.
Often referred to as one of the most beautiful cities in South America, Cartagena is the jewel in Colombia’s tourism crown. The city sparkles on the edge of the Caribbean, where the turquoise sea laps palm tree lined beaches beneath the old city walls. Its streets are lined with historic buildings, and each twist and turn leads the visitor into an alleyway of discovery.
The walled city is compact and easy to explore on foot. The cobble-stoned streets are lined with multi-coloured houses with tiled roofs, wooden balconies and flowered courtyards. These are interspersed with grand buildings dating back to the early days of Spanish rule. A good place to start is the Cathedral – its domed tower can be seen for miles around. Construction started in 1575 but it was not finished for another half a century, thanks in part to an attack by British ships led by Sir Francis Drake. Nearby are other important, historic buildings, including several notable museums.It is bordered on three sides by the Caribbean sea and has some excellent beaches and watersports options including sailing and diving.
• Iglesia de Santo Domingo (oldest church in the city)
• Museo de Oro y Arqueloguía (gold museum)
• Las Bóvedas (former dungeons now filled with tourist boutiques)
• Castillo de San Felipe de Barajas (hilltop fortress)
• Islas del Rosario (coral islands)
Muelle Turístico La Bodeguita
Piso 2, Centro Avenida Blas de Lezo, Cartagena de Indias, Colombia
Tel: +57 320 5720 562.
Goods to look out for include gold jewellery, antiques and leather products. Colombia produces first-grade precious stones, and its emeralds are among the most perfect in the world. Local arts and crafts are available in markets and boutiques throughout the city, and designer shops exist for well-heeled locals and visitors.
Seafood is an obvious choice – fresh produce straight from sea is infused with flavours of the Caribbean. But there are cafés and restaurants to cater for most tastes. The Portal de los Dulces is great for sweet treats.
When to go:
The climate is hot and tropical, although a sea breeze in the evening cools things off a bit. The city’s proximity to the equator means the temperature is fairly constant throughout the year and rarely drops below 30°C during the day. The driest months are December to April.
2.4km (1.5 miles).
15 minutes walk.