Cartagena de Indias, or just Cartagena, is a city that has influenced the history of Colombia since the beginning. Founded by Pedro de Heredia in 1533, this city was named a UNESCO world heritage site in 1984, where the charm and beauty of the old world meets the sparkling Caribbean sea.
Cartagena is a frequent launching point for people setting out to further explore Colombia due to its many numerous air connections for travelers from the USA or Central America — or providing the landing point for those traveling by boat through the San Blas islands.
There is a lot to do in Cartagena and the surrounding area, but what should you be sure not to miss while visiting Cartagena, Colombia?
The heart and sould of Cartagena is most definitely the old walled city. It is this historical center of the city that was declared a World Heritage Site and represents Colombia’s best preserved colonial city. When visiting the Old City, you will be wowed by the architecture and the colors. There are numerous museums, including the Zenu Gold Museum and the Museum of Modern Art.
The Plaza de Santo Domingo is one of the liveliest places in the old town, both day and night as it is surrounded by restaurants and cafes where you can sit and have a drink while listening to the musicians who go around the tables playing local music in exchange for a tip. In one of the corners of this square sits the Santo Domingo Church which is the oldest in the city.
When you visit the square, be sure not to miss fat Gertrudis. No, it’s not a person, but rather a sculpture by Fernando Botero — Colombia’s most celebrated artist — of a naked woman lying down. They say that by touching the breasts of Gertrudis, you will ensure a long and happy romance with your partner and will also ensure your return to the city of Cartagena.
In your visit you can not miss the Bolivar Park, it is in the heart of the historic center. The park is filled with trees and vegetation, four fountains, and a statute of Simón Bolívar sits at the center of the park.
The Castle of San Felipe de Barajas is a fortress at a strategic point where they were able to resist attacks and invasions whether by land or by sea. This construction of this massive fortress took more than a century to complete, and served its purpose by fending off several assaults and attacks on the city.
When visiting the fortress it is recommended that you go with a guide or rent one of the audio headsets that are offered at the entrance if you want to truly appreciate the history and importance of this place. Behind the castle is the Monument to the Old Shoes also known as The Old Boots. It is a realistic sculpture representing a pair of oversized boots and is an homage to one of the city’s most celebrated poets, Luis Carlos Lopez.
If you want to stroll and window shop, then don’t miss the Caribe Plaza Shopping Center, one of the largest and most modern in Cartagena, where you can find almost anything you might be looking for — but the Plaza El Castillo Mall or the NAO Shopping Center are other excellent choices.
If you’re in the mood for more sun and sand, then you can’t miss a day trip to Baru — a stunning peninsula where you can find the area’s best beaches such as Playa Blanca (the most visited), Puerto Naito, Playa Bobo, Playa de Cholón, Punta Iguana and Playa de los Muertos. The water is crystal clear and the sand is a bright and beautiful — you can find low-key restaurants offering up fresh seafood or cold cocktails.
After a day at the beach, maybe you’d like to head out for a night on the town? Cartagena has a party vibe and is the place where many Colombians love to go on holiday and let loose. But rather than hanging out in a club or dimly lit bar, why not do something a bit different and hop on a chiva party bus? You’ll find yourself aboard an old wooden bus painted with flashy colors that makes its way through the city while inside the chiva, in the last rows, a musical group is in the back playing Caribbean rhythms, most often vallenato. As part of the ride, rum and cola are served, and you’ll see the city in a whole new light.
All-in-all, Cartagena is an incredible place and should be on every travelers list — whether you’ll be visiting for a few days or a few months, there is plenty to keep you busy in Cartagena, Colombia.
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