Cartagena, known as “The Heroic City” and “Cartagena de Indias” in colonial times, is a lovely port town on the north coast of Colombia. This historical city holds many secrets in the narrow streets, in its stone walls, and beautiful balconies. Along with rich history, Cartagena also boasts near-perfect weather year-round, making its lush landscapes and warm Caribbean waters the perfect place to get away.
The Old City
One area you will definitely want to visit is the Old City, exploring the neighborhoods of San Diego, Getsemani, and San Diego, as well as the old Walled City (Ciudad Amurallada), which is a UNESCO World Heritage Site. Here you will find all sorts of treasures, including colorful colonial architecture, artists, trinkets, flowers, and more. You will also find monuments and charming plazas dotting the Old City as you enjoy a leisurely stroll through the streets.
Castillo de San Felipe de Barajas
If you are interested in Spanish forts and fortresses, the Castillo de San Felipe de Barajas is not to be missed. Built starting in 1639, this fortress considered by some to be the most impressive built in any of the Spanish colonies. Despite many attempts to attack the city, this impenetrable fort has never been taken. You can explore some of the dark tunnels and passageways – which were so acoustically sound that you could hear any small noise that an intruder might make. You can also walk along the battlements and walls, enjoying the view over the ocean.
El Totumo – The Mud Volcano
This small volcano is located just outside of the city and is a perfect stop if you are looking for a place to relax and enjoy some nice, warm mud. Here you can climb into the vat of thick, bubbling mud that you can float in for a lovely skin-soothing mud bath. Afterward, you can wash off in the lake, and enjoy the pictures of you and your travel mates covered in mud.
A must when visiting Cartagena, the Rosario Islands are a lovely day trip from the main city. This set of 27 islands is located just a boat ride away, dotting the clear, crystalline Caribbean waters. While here, you can swim, snorkel, go boating, or even scuba diving (if you are certified, of course) to enjoy the coral reefs that are home to an incredible variety of marine life. Then on the shores, you may enjoy some hikes, a visit to the aquarium, or even just time to enjoy the white sand beaches.
If you want to visit a beach, but don’t want to take the full day to travel to the Rosario Islands, you can visit the most popular of Cartagena’s white-sand beaches, Playa Blanca. During the day, it can be full of people – locals, travelers, and beach vendors, which adds to the festive atmosphere. The water here is a deep, brilliant blue, which you can enjoy with some delicious fried fish and coconut rice from one of the quaint beach-side restaurants.
The Palace of the Inquisition
If you’re interested in the darker side of Colonial Spanish history, you may be interested in a visit to this macabre museum housed inside of a lovely colonial building. Here you can learn all about the Spanish Inquisition sent to punish the heretics for crimes such as magic, witchcraft, and blasphemy, all considered grave threats to the Holy Catholic Church. You can also read about the different instruments of torture they used to convince people to confess to said crimes, and visit the places where the accused were imprisoned and then publicly executed.
These are just a few of the many exciting things to see and do while visiting Colombia’s vibrant port city. Whether you are a history buff, foodie, or just want to rest and relax on the beach, there is something for everyone. The only drawback to visiting Cartagena is that once there, you may never want to leave.