Most of my friends thought I was crazy when I told them that I was going to Colombia, they thought I had a death wish. I was bored with the usual destinations. I wanted something that would get me excited.
I ended up loving Colombia so much on that first trip (in 2005) that I decided to go back a few years later with Lissette.
The highlight for me, Cartagena, is still the most impressive colonial city that I’ve seen anywhere. The old walled quarter, surrounded by fortress walls, is full of churches, plazas, and wonderful courtyards hidden behind old, wooden doors. There is great architecture everywhere. Lots of nice little cafes, shaded parks with fountains to sit in, and great restaurants hidden in impressive colonial buildings. It is a very romantic city. Outside the walled city is the fort of Castillo San Felipe de Barajas and the Santa Cruz monastery on La Popa hill (the highest point in the city). There is a spit of land called Bocagrande which is lined by beaches and modern high-rises. This is where most tourists stay (I recommend against this – pay a bit more and stay in the colonial city). Out in the harbor are 2 fortresses protecting the mouth of the harbor from attack. There’s lots to see.
Below: Lissette with a typical Cartagena courtyard behind her.
Below: Plaza full of restaurants.
Castillo San Felipe de Barajas
One of the highlights, the Castillo San Felipe de Barajas was built in 1536 and is known as the most formidable defensive complex of Spanish military architecture found anywhere. It has massive walls, turrets, cannons, and a network of tunnels connecting the different parts of the fortress. When I was here on my first trip two soldiers came up to me. They asked me where I came from and if it was my first time in Colombia. I thought they were going to shake me down for money. But they were very nice and before I knew it they offered me a tour of the tunnels. I said ok. You’ll see a photo of the two machine gun – toting soldiers that I took while in the tunnels. They were just friendly and bored. Their buddies showed up and I bought them all cokes. It was the first of many encounters I was to have with soldiers in Colombia.
Santa Cruz monestary on La Popa hill
This is the best place to go for views of Cartagena. Below you see the view facing Bocagrande.
Below is the view facing the other direction, towards the poor shantytowns of Cartagena.
Below: view from Old city, la Popa hill in background
We were in Cartagena’s maritime museum when I spotted the below. This dog travelled with an early explorer, can’t remember who. But it got me thinking - why didn’t they stuff and mount some of the early explorers? Maybe it would make history a bit more interesting for the kids.
Few more photos from around Cartagena (including some of the incredible doorways)
Have you been to Cartagena? Please let me know what you thought of it!