Cartagena is a large Caribbean seaport on the north coast of Colombia and its most popular tourist destination. The city is noted for its impressive architecture, mixed ethnicity and a sumptuous ‘noveau rich’ scene.
Due to its tropical location, Catagena’s climate changes very little, with an average high of 88 °F (31 °C) and low of 75 °F (24 °C) throughout the year.
Cartagena was founded in 1533 by Pedro de Heredia. A few years later, the Spanish constructed a walled fortress to protect them from English, Dutch and French pirates. Its old Walled City (Ciudad Amurallada) is one of the few urban places around the world that is still completely surrounded by thick walls.
Despite the precautions, the city was attacked and defeated many times. In order to protect the valuable seaport, the Spaniards hired European engineers to construct fortresses.
San Felipe de Barajas castle, which dates back to the 17th century, is the most formidable defensive complex built by Spanish military engineering in the New World. Its interior is a weave of tunnels, galleries and traps, with an intricate system of communications and routes of escape.
A typical Cartagena colonial street consists of brightly colored, ornate houses full of balconies. Many parts of the city centre date back centuries. They are astoundingly striking in their simplicity and grandeur, if a little rustic after all these years.
Away from the main city, there’s also a resort aspect to Cartagena, too. The Caribbean coast is a major draw, and the chance to lounge on the sand, or head out to sea and explore the reefs through snorkeling or scuba diving account for a lot of the visitor’s time. One can swim with dolphins offshore, or head to one of the dance schools and spend a night or two learning how to move like a true latino. A slightly more distant selection of mangroves and open waterways make for plenty of variety for the long-term visitor, too.
It wouldn’t be Columbia without a certain amount of hassle to deal with. In Cartagena, this includes some dodgy characters and local scams. However, both are easily avoided if you deal with reputable firms with a solid ‘shop’ home, as opposed to the roaming street salesmen.
All in all, Cartagena is a great holiday spot. Compared to other Caribbean sights, it’s relatively unspoilt, steeped in history and impressively beautiful.