Cartagena, in the Bolivar District, on the country’s Caribbean coast, awaits one of Colombia’s most popular destinations.
Veiled in colonial walls, canyons, fortresses, and an almost-magical, timeless history, once home to the Caribe Indians, was founded in 1533 as “Cartagena de Poniente” to distinguish it from “Cartagena de Levante” in Spain.
Later the city became known as “Cartagena de Indias”—and today is just “Cartagena.”
Cartagena’s Old City
Cartagena’s biggest draw is its Old City, a place that is at once both romantic and full of exhilarating legend, nestled within the confines of the largest fortress in the Americas.
Generously funded by the Spanish, the walls (Las Murallas) were erected for protection from the foreign buccaneers and pirates who perpetually pillaged the city and targeted the Spaniards’ treasure.
A fascinating maze of colonial, Republican, and Italian architectural treasures, where colossal churches overshadow plazas, monasteries, and palaces, and mansions flaunt their trademark overhanging balconies draped in bougainvillea, a stroll along the Old City’s cobbled streets reveals why it received its World Heritage Site title.
The Old City is separated into an outer and inner section, which comprise four distinct districts. The inner walled city is home to the historical districts El Centro, the heart of the city, which includes the Palace of the Inquisition, the Catedral Basílica Metropolitana de Santa Catalina de Alejandría, and the masterpiece San Felipe de Barajas Castle, and San Diego, the classiest and most sophisticated part of Cartagena, where you will find the Convent of the Nuns of the Order of Saint Clare.
Today, that structure is the enchanting Hotel Santa Clara and Las Bovedas (the Vaults) of the Santa Catalina Bastion, which both afford beautiful views of the Caribbean.
Once the neighborhood of the city’s African slaves, the Getsemaní zone comprises the outer walled city.
Though less glamorous compared to the inner city, here you will find hotels and popular nightlife clubs and restaurants, as well as many surviving colonial buildings and the prominent Parque Centenario (Centenary Park) commemorating a century of independence. Getsemaní connects to the modern sector of La Matuna, the commercial and financial area of the city.
Aside from the center of the city is the Bocagrande neighborhood, the most modern sector (said to be Cartagena’s Miami Beach), which includes nightclubs, beach resorts, trendy cafés, and upscale condos, as well as a notable nightlife. Bocagrande is connected to the barrios of El Laguito and Castillo Grande, which also form part of today’s modern city.
And just a 45-minute boat ride away, you’ll find the outstanding beaches of the Islas del Rosario: Barú and Playa Blanca.
Cartagena Essential Information
When to Visit
- Cartagena is beautiful all year round.