Tens of millions of dollars of gold and emeralds have been shipped from its shores. The city has also served as the head of both the slave trade and the Spanish Inquisition in South America. In 1586 Sir Francis Drake tried to burn it to the ground. A combination of 23,600 British and American Colonial troops supported by 186 ships unsuccessfully attacked the fort in 1741. Today Cartagena is considered a jewel in the Caribbean and a favorite tourist spot for people from around the World.
While Bogotá features many unique churches and museums for the visitor, Colombia’s fifth largest city is completely different. The feel is more international. This is a place to relax, take in the warmth, and enjoy the feeling of the Caribbean. There are both the old town to explore and the new area with modern high-rise hotels close to the water.
Cartagena has white sandy beaches. But if that is where you want to spend most of your time there are better places in Colombia to enjoy the sun and sand. This is the place in the Caribbean for beauty, romance and history. Each year the Miss Colombia pageant is held there. The historic district serves up spectacular colonial homes and buildings, many painted in bright colors. A friendly atmosphere greets you walking the narrow streets or stopping for a rest in the park. A local bus tour will take you to a religious building high on a hill that features a breath taking view of the city.
Massive stone walls and the huge size of the fort draw all first time visitors. It impresses those who explore and study its design. Others are amazed at the grandeur as well as the views it affords of the area.
Night time in the historic part of the city brings an atmosphere of fun and romance. For the latter I highly recommend the horse drawn carriage rides. Then stop at one of the many excellent restaurants or entertainment places in Zona Santo Domingo.
Many hotels can set you up for a one day bus tour hitting nearby sights and towns. The route usually follows the coast line. You will pass one of the large loading areas for coal where dozens of ships are at anchor awaiting their cargo. Most trips pass near the city of Aracataca where Nobel Prize winning author Gabriel Garcia Márques was born and spent his childhood. It is also the place where the United Fruit Company worked closely with the Colombian government to terrorize the workers to keep wages low. With the increased security and tourism the town is remodeling itself and is expected to be one of the top ten attractions in Colombia. Most tours also include a stop in city of Santa Marta and at the memorial to nation’s liberator, Simon Bolivar.
Perhaps you might want to read James Michner’s book “Caribbean” before embarking on the trip there. It covers much of the history of Cartagena. Many cruise ships stop in the port. From the United States, Spirit Airlines, American Airlines, United Airlines and Continental all fly to the historic city. Additionally other country’s airlines such as Copa, Avianca and Areo Mexico have direct flights from Miami.
It is said by Colombians that the only thing that will kill you in Cartagena are the prices. While they are high for the majority of Colombian incomes, they are well within reason for most Americans. But be careful about the lure of living there forever. One ex-Detroit police officer found the place so enchanting that he stayed.