Tourism is pouring into Colombia and one particular place is popping up on everyone’s radar: Cartagena. It’s a city where history has an undeniable presence, colorful architecture that’s beyond magical, and an authentic laid back character. Adding to the authenticity is that most locals speak little to no English. A winning combination that earned Cartagena the most visited city in all of Colombia.
Why should you visit Cartagena right now? Five very good reasons await you below;
Off the coast of North Colombia, skirting the Southern part of the Caribbean Sea, is Cartagena in all its tropical glory. Because of its Caribbean location, Cartagena is always balmy year round. That’s right! About 88F (31C) all day, 75F (24C) all night. Everyday! The on and off rainy season starts from April to November, with August to November showing the heaviest downpour. But even on rainy days, the sun is most likely to come out at some point of the day. Overall, the consistent tropical weather makes Cartagena a popular tourist destination for any time of the year!
- Colonial Architecture
Without question, one can see why the entire Old Town is a UNESCO World Heritage Site and the undisputed jewel of the Caribbean coast. The Spanish colonial style buildings are utterly quaint, though not terribly ornate, with rustic touches and weathered features. The unpretentious facades and somewhat unkempt beauty are what makes the architecture even more alluring. These small buildings flank narrow streets and alleyways. So when exploring around on foot, it almost feels like an intimate and romantic experience. The drab fortified wall surrounding Old Town adds to the fairy tale mystic. Although the main attraction of the architecture—and what sets this Old Town apart from most Old Towns in the world—is the brightly colored pastels adorning almost every building. Vivid pinks and electric blues and the gaudiest oranges. Every color of the rainbow! Of course, with tiny streets coupled with growing tourism crowds each year, it makes walking around a bit of a challenge. But with properly timed excursions around the city, one can enjoy the little town beauty unhindered. This is usually around early to mid morning hours before the day-trippers and tour bus crowds make their way into the city. Without a doubt, the colorful colonial architecture is probably the main reason why travelers visit Cartagena.
- Rich History
Of course, the famed colonial architecture wouldn’t exist without the long history of Cartagena. History here is inescapable, as it almost feels like you’re stepping back in time the second you are in Old Town. Centuries past pervades every inch and minute daily life detail. With that said, it’s almost impossible to appreciate Cartagena’s architecture without learning some background facts. Cartagena was founded in 1533, when Spanish Commander Heredia established settlements at an abandoned Amerindian village and pilfered Amerindian tombs full of treasures. In the colonial era, the city was better known as Cartagena de Indias, named after the city of Cartagena in Spain. The importance as a major port city made Cartagena a wealthy city, making it an easy target for pirates. Thus a fortified fort came to fruition, leading to the moniker Walled City. Sometime in the 17th century up until 1852, Cartagena became a hub for the slave trade, further adding to the city’s riches. Despite several independence and civil wars throughout the 1800’s and 1900’s, Cartagena continues to prosper as Colombia’s largest port. So now you know when you’re walking around the city for hours, wondering why the city has an Old World vibe, both good and bad. The indigenous people, Spanish settlers, Afro-Caribbeans, and pirates all had a hand in carving modern Cartagena.
Ah, the food. Let’s just say it’s every bit the hype it is lauded to be! The mix of Caribbean flavors, indigenous Indian origins and Spanish influences all gives a unique food profile in these parts of Colombia. Fresh seafood reigns supreme here, quite notably the ceviche and Pargo Frito (fried snapper). You’ll find some of these dishes typically served with Arroz de Coco (coconut rice) and/or Patacones (fried plantains). Not a fan of seafood? Some traditional dishes to try: Arepa de Huevo (arepa filled with egg), Posta Negra Cartagenera (Colombian-style black beef), Carimañolas (meat and cheese stuffed yuca). To beat the heat, Limonada de Coco (coconut lemonade) is a must-have beverage. Cooling off to fresh fruit, jugos naturales (fruit juices) and paletas (popsicles) are also popular choices.
- Old Versus New
This is apparent when climbing the ramparts of Old Town to watch the sunset. A curious sight to behold at first glance. Here you are, dazzled by the quaint colonial scene of Old Town next to you, then off in the not-so-far distance are skyscrapers. Quite the stark contrast. This place is called Bocagrande and considered the very posh part of Cartagena. If you’re wanting a change of pace or a nice place to stay, all the high-rise hotels, nightclubs, fancy restaurants, and upscale shops are here. An even better place to view the old versus new, as well as the entire city sprawl of Cartagena, is from Convento de La Popa. This beautiful convent, built by Augustinian monks in the early 1600s, sits on top of Cartagena’s highest hill and boasts of magnificent panoramic views that extend into the Caribbean Sea.