There are many reasons to travel to Cartagena, Colombia. If you are planning a vacation, Cartagena should be high on your list. Nicknamed the "Capital of the Caribbean," Cartagena is a large beach resort city on the northern coast of Colombia. The city is an island formed by a shallow extension of the harbor and is connected by a causeway with the mainland. This tropical city on the Caribbean is a center of economic activity and a major tourist attraction. The cool breezes and plenty of shade make the city feel quite comfortable, even with an average high of 88 degrees.
First stop: Bocagrande!
A development boom in the early 2000's resulted in a beautiful skyline particularly in the coastal area of Bocagrande (Big Mouth). This beautiful area is filled with many hotels, shops, restaurants, nightclubs and art galleries; making it the city's most popular area for tourists. Its particular appeal is in the beaches and nightlife around Avenida San Martín (Saint Martin Avenue), where the bars and dance clubs keep revelers up till dawn. On the bay side of the peninsula of Bocagrande is a spectacular seawalk. Nearby is Café del Mar, an ambiance rich restaurant/bar, on an old fort overlooking the sea. For some quiet enjoyment, a short boat ride away is the beautiful island named La Isla de Rosario where you can enjoy a fresh local meal made to order. You can enjoy your meal or refreshing cocktails with table service on the white sand beaches or in the shallow crystal-clear water. This is a must!
Next stop: The Old City! (Ciudad Vieja)
There are few reasons to leave Bocagrande, but one of them is the Old City. Take a relaxing 15 minute horse powered carriage ride across the Old City while your coachman points out the sites. The blend of Old World-style plazas and fancy restaurants make the Old City a can’t miss. It is common to find guitar players and other musicians strolling through the cobblestone alleyways. Sit in the plaza and enjoy the food, music, and ambiance.
Other Sites to See
These three must-see museums are within a block of one another and can be enjoyed in short order:
- The Museo de Arte Moderno (Museum of Modern Art) is located on the Plaza San Pedro Claver and showcases the works of Colombian artists like Dario Morales.
- The Museo de Oro (Gold Museum) located on the Plaza de Bolívar, exhibits an excellent collection of gold and pottery of the Sinú culture.
- And, finally, head across the plaza to the Palacio de la Inquisición (Plaza de Bolívar), where a fine example of colonial architecture houses instruments of torture from the Spanish Inquisition, as well as pre-Columbian, colonial era art.
Cartagena's famous forts include:
- The massive Castillo de San Felipe, a huge fort built over the 17th and 18th centuries by the Spanish. The fortress contains a maze of hidden tunnels you can explore with or without a guide and that kids are sure to love.
- The Santa Cruz de Castillogrande Fort, a cross shaped fort which controlled the entry in the inner bay.
- The San Fernando de Bocachica fort, nearer the sea, with space for more musketeers rather than massive cannons.
- The walls of the old city, which are seven miles long and include more than 20 mini forts, four auxiliary doors, and one bridge-fort to connect the city to the mainland.
Other buildings of interest include:
- The restored Santo Domingo Church, in front of Plaza Santo Domingo (Santo Domingo Square). The square has the sculpture Mujer Reclinada ("Reclining Woman"), a gift from the renowned Colombian artist Fernando Botero.
- Heredia Theater, an architectural jewel located in front of the Plaza de la Merced.
Cartagena is Safe
In the past, Colombia has been plagued with travel advisories because of the activities of guerrilla groups and drug cartels. However, because it is a major tourist attraction, Cartagena is heavily protected, with police presence throughout the city and is as safe as any other major tourist destination. So be sure to add Cartagena to your must visit list!