South America Living

Cartagena De Indias: The Jewel Of Colombia


The Old City of Cartagena is one of the most colorful and eminently photogenic places in all of Colombia. Cartagena de Indias, justly called the Jewel of Colombia, will seduce you with her sultry temperatures, friendly attitude and rich colonial history.


In what could only be described as a labyrinth of narrow cobblestone streets you will wind your way through dilapidated colonial mansions with their walls and wooden balconies overflowing with flowers. The colors will startle you: a riotous blend of pastels and primaries… the vibrant blue and pink hues along with the yellows and burnt oranges all glimmer in the heat of the midday sun.


The entire city is filled to the brim with color — from the buildings to the people. The Palenqueras, dressed in their traditional garb and selling fruit, provide a stunning complement to these buildings. The clip-clop of horses hooves on ancient cobblestones haunt the streets as they pull quaint carriages filled with people out enjoying the night.


Romantic… seductive… alluring – these are all words that can be used to describe this city within the walls. Once you step outside the walls, Cartagena becomes more like other Colombian cities — with a bustling metropolis, big hotels and condos stretched along her Caribbean coastline. It’s a remarkable place where the mixture of races is most predominant and it’s easy to see the African roots that are part of the heritage of this beautiful city.


The Plaza de los Cloches (Plaza of the Carriages), next to the iconic Clock Tower, was for centuries a slave market – in the Spanish New World, Veracruz, Mexico, and Cartagena de Indias were the only ports of entry for African slaves. Slaves bought in Cartagena cut sugar cane, worked in the gold and silver mines, built the infrastructure of South America, and suffered all the unspeakable abuses and injustices that slaves elsewhere in the Americas did.


From 1610 until 1821, the old city was also home to one of the three courts of the Spanish Inquisition in the Americas. The Palace of the Inquisition is now a grisly museum, with ancient torture devices on display, along with an excellent review of this unfortunate aspect of Spanish American history.


Hot and humid by any standard, Cartagena has a tropical pace. Early mornings and late nights are busy with activity, with no one in the streets after the midday meal. Siesta time is crucial here, as is staying hydrated and wearing a hat to protect from the nearly equatorial sun.


Bocagrande and Getsemani are two other neighborhoods worth exploring outside of the Walled City. Getsemani has some amazing street art, while Bocagrande is the preferred area for newer hotels with large swimming pools and amenities.


While the beaches that dot the city are adequate, particularly in Bocagrande, they do not compare to the pristine white sand beaches of the outlying islands. Boat tours to the Coral Islands of Rosario and the gorgeous Playa Blanca are available daily and provide a welcomed respite from the heat.


Dining in Cartagena is very good, with a broad range of restaurants; from those with dress codes for both men and women to more simple fare. Lots of fresh seafood to be had in this city, and excellent ceviche can be found on many menus. As it is everywhere in the Caribbean, the Mojito is the predominant drink here.



Whether you stay within the walls or outside of them, make sure to take the time to visit both sections of the city as each has unique characteristics and people. And take that siesta — you’ll need it – Cartagena is a late night party town! La Rumba Colombiana is alive and well in Cartagena.

Buen Viaje!

Read more about Cartagena:

The Door Knockers of Cartagena

La Perla – A Taste of Peru in Cartagena

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