Frequent readers might have seen our previous two posts about the scouting trip to the North of Colombia that some members of the Uncover Colombia team did a few months ago with the aim of finding interesting places and activities to include in our tours.
In this third and last part we will cover the last stop in our scouting trip, one of the most beautiful and famous cities in Colombia: Cartagena de Indias. It is clear to us, and to those who have visited it, that Cartagena is one of the most fascinating colonial cities in Colombia and Latin America, so we decided to write a separate final post dedicated exclusively to this amazing city.
Cartagena was declared a World Cultural Heritage site by UNESCO in 1984. It was one of the first cities founded in Latin America so its colourful streets are full of history. It is then only logical to start our review with a bit of Cartagena history so you can have an idea of what to look for when visiting this city.
Cartagena de Indias was founded in 1533 by Don Pedro de Heredia who gave it its name to distinguish it from the Spanish city of the same name. Cartagena very quickly became a rich town because of its convenient location as the northern gateway of South America and its importance as the storehouse for the treasures plundered from the local population. It was for this same reason that the city was frequently attacked by pirates wanting to steal the treasures stored there.
Attacks were frequent and serious enough to force residents to build masonry homes and walls with subterraneous passages to protect the city and themselves.
But perhaps the most famous siege of Cartagena during colonial times was led by a familiar British name: Sir Francis Drake in 1586. He stole about 10 million pesos in treasure from the city and shipped it back to England. Due to this attack, later on between 1636 and 1657, the Spanish military forces decided to build the Fort of “San Felipe de Barajas” to protect the city from further attacks. This fortress was the biggest one built by the Spanish regime in the Americas and today it is one of the most iconic and visited historic sites in the city.
But the lure of treasure was powerful and the attacks continued, including another famous attempt to take over Cartagena, courtesy of a British Navy force led by Admiral Edward Vernon and Coronel Lawrence Washington in 1741. None of these attacks eventually succeeded and despite great hardship, the inhabitants of Cartagena managed to defend their city. It is perhaps unsurprising that Cartagena is also known in Colombia as “The Heroic City”
Cartagena still maintains its fortress and walls, colonial architecture and other historic places in good form. Key sightseeing landmarks include:
- The Clock Tower: Built in 1888. It is located in the main gateway to the inner walled town
- Plaza de la Aduana: The oldest and largest square in the old town. During colonial times all the important governmental buildings were located here.
- Convento and Iglesia de San Pedro Claver: This convent was founded by the Jesuits in the 17th century. The Spanish monk Pedro Claver, the first person to be canonised in Colombia, lived here.
- Palacio de la Inquisición: This palace was used by the Punishment Tribunal of the holy office of the Inquisition in the early 17th century.
- The Main Cathedral of Cartagena: Its construction started in 1575 but it was not completed until 1612. In 1586 it was partially destroyed by Sir Francis Drake.
- Las Bóvedas: “The vaults” were built between 1792 and 1796 by the Spaniards to store ammunition and provisions.
- Convento de la Popa: This convent founded by the Augustinian monks in 1607 is built on top of a 150m high hill, the highest point in the city, offers and spectacular view of Cartagena and the sea.
All these unique locations together with Cartagena’s picturesque cafés and restaurants, the ever-present Caribbean rhythms that can be heard everywhere you wander, and the nice stretches of sandy beaches make this city a must-visit destination in trip to Colombia.
Furthermore, in addition to its historic background, Cartagena is an ideal regional hub to visit other towns and natural parks in the area. For example, 35 km southwest of Cartagena are the Islas del Rosario (Rosario Islands), a group of 23 islands bordered by extensive areas of coral banks, crystal clear waters and fine beaches.
Other places of interest near Cartagena include Volcan el Totumo (a mud volcano where you can immerse yourself for an unusual beauty treatment), and the towns of San Basilio de Palenque and Santa Cruz de Mompox, both worth a visit if you are looking to have a closer look at the culture and traditions of the wonderful people that inhabit this beautiful part of Colombia.
The chronicles of our trip to the north are hereby completed (for now). However, we are certain that we will be returning to these beautiful lands very soon. And next time we plan to bring eager new explorers with us.
Perhaps you could be one of them?
Want to Uncover Colombia?… you know where to find us!
- Scouting trip to La Guajira (uncovercolombia.wordpress.com)
- Scouting trip to The North (Part 2) – Santa Marta and Tayrona Natural National Park (uncovercolombia.wordpress.com)
- Uncover Colombia Interview: Meiqiong and Sean from the beach to the jungle (uncovercolombia.wordpress.com)