NATIONAL PARKS TOURS COLOMBIA

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10 BEST THINGS TO DO IN CARTAGENA COLOMBIA

  1. Watch the sunset from the Cartagena wall

  2. Climb the San Filipe de Barajas Fortress

  3. Take a carriage ride at night

  4. Remember slavery in the San Pedro Claver monastery

  5. Ponder about European history at the Inquisition Palace

  6. Stroll the romantic colonial streets

  7. Buy sweets at the Plaza de los Coches

  8. Swim at a palm lined beach at a nearby island

  9. Get a fabulous real Dutch-Indonesian Rijst Tafel meal at Getsemeni neighborhood

  10. Visit the Gold Museum

Things to do in Cartagena, Colombia

Cartagena, formally known as Cartagena of the Indies is a city seaport on the northern coast of Colombia. Founded in 1533 by Don Pedro de Heredia, and named after the port of Cartagena in Spain's Murcia region, it was a major center of early Spanish settlement in the Americas.

 

It is often called by its full name, "Cartagena de Indias," to distinguish it from its name sake in Spain. The historic center within the old city wall, called the Ciudad Amurallada or Walled City, was built by the Spanish between the 16th and 18th centuries. The balcony clad houses and cobbled streets are a pedestrians paradise. All Cartagena's highlights are within walking distance from each other and most of them are painted yellow or white. This page presents the 10 best things to do in Cartagena, Colombia.

 

10 BEST THINGS TO DO IN CARTAGENA COLOMBIA: Cartagena airport10 BEST THINGS TO DO IN CARTAGENA COLOMBIA:

The Cartagena airport not only connects with capital Bogota but also with several mayor cities in Central and North America.

Old and new Cartagena.

 

Why consider booking our Colombia National Parks Tour? Because for the same price, our tour gets you to ALL places for which Colombia is famous, and on top of that, you get to see 7 National Parks/Reserves accompanied by a naturalist guide. There is nothing similar on the market. As Colombia can be combined with other countries, we organize tours in modules: Bogota and surrounding Andes, Caribbean Coast and the Amazon of Ecuador; the latter for the Colombian Amazon still not being recommended for foreign visitors. Colombia is a very large country, so you need to fly. To do so at hardly any additional costs, you need to book both Bogota and Cartagena - and Quito if you want to include the Amazon module - in your international ticket.

Destinations Overview:  Bogota old town, Cartagena, Villa de Leyva Zipaguira Salt Mine Church, Chingaza Reserve, Iguaque National Park, Flamencos Reserve, Cienega Mangroves Reserve, Lake Fuquene, Tayrona National Park, Manaure Salt Flats.

 

As the main port for the colonial Spaniards, Cartagena was wealthy and needed protection. A lot of protection. A few years after it had been founded, the Spaniards designed a defense plan in which the main strategy was the construction of a walled military fortress to protect the city against the plundering of English, Dutch and French navies, referred to by the Spanish and Latin American countries as pirates, even today.

 

Inscribed as the largest system of military fortifications in South America there are a lot of forts surrounding the bay/port and the wall surrounding the colonial core is still intact. In fact, built on the shore of a bay along the Caribbean Sea, Cartagena has the most extensive fortifications in South America consisting of the still in tact city walls and the San Philipe de Barajas fortress, both built from coral stones, the main construction material in those days along the Caribbean coast. Due to Cartagena's strategic location,  it became one the most important harbors of the Caribbean. The port of Cartagena – together with Havana and San Juan, Puerto Rico – was an essential link in the route of the West Indies and thus an important chapter in the history of world exploration and the great commercial maritime routes.

 

For several centuries, Cartagena was a focal point of confrontation among the principal European powers, Spain, Great Britain, the Netherlands and France, vying for control of the “New World”. Defensive fortifications were built by the Spanish in 1586 and were strengthened and extended to their current dimensions in the 18th century, taking full advantage of the natural defenses offered by the numerous bayside channels and passes. The initial system of fortifications included the urban enclosure wall, the bastioned harbor of San Matías at the entry to the pass of Bocagrande, and the tower of San Felipe del Boquerón. All of the harbor’s natural passes were eventually dominated by fortresses: San Luis and San José, San Fernando, San Rafael and Santa Bárbara at Bocachica (the southwest pass); Santa Cruz, San Juan de Manzanillo and San Sebastián de Pastelillo around the interior of the bay; and the formidable Castillo San Felipe de Barajas that dominates the city to the east and protects access to the isthmus of Cabrero. Within the protective security of the city’s defensive walls are the historic centre’s three neighbourhoods: Centro, the location of the Cathedral of Cartagena, the Convent of San Pedro Claver, the Palace of the Inquisition, the Government Palace and many fine residences of the wealthy; San Diego, where merchants and craftsmen of the middle class lived; and Getsemaní, the suburban quarter once inhabited by the artisans and slaves.

 

Cartagena is one of the best conserved colonial towns of the Americas and becoming a prime tourism destination with convenient flight connections to Central and North America attracting an ever growing number of visitors since Colombia's safety and particularly the safety of Cartagena, has improved of late. Tourism has tripled over the last decade to more than 3 million for good reason: its mix of casual beachside charm and colonial vitality make it a fun and fascinating place to explore.

 

10 BEST THINGS TO DO IN CARTAGENA COLOMBIA: Colonial streets of Cartagena, with balconies.10 BEST THINGS TO DO IN CARTAGENA COLOMBIA: One of Cartagena's many colonial style streets.10 BEST THINGS TO DO IN CARTAGENA COLOMBIA: Colonial Cartagena plaza.

Colonial streets of Cartagena, with balconies and cobbled stones pavement.

 

10 BEST THINGS TO DO IN CARTAGENA COLOMBIA: The Cartagena City wall.10 BEST THINGS TO DO IN CARTAGENA COLOMBIA:  most elaborate city wall of Latin America.10 BEST THINGS TO DO IN CARTAGENA COLOMBIA: The Cartagena City wall is the best conserved and most elaborate city wall of Latin America10 BEST THINGS TO DO IN CARTAGENA COLOMBIA: The Cartagena City wallwith visitors watching the sunset every evening.

The Cartagena City wall is the best conserved and most elaborate city wall of Latin America with thousands of visitors watching the sunset every evening.

 

The famous Clock is the main entry gate to the walled city, while the colorful working-class neighborhood of Getsemaní just outside of the walled city is the place to go for street art, less expensive restaurants and vibrant community life.

 

10 BEST THINGS TO DO IN CARTAGENA COLOMBIA: The Clock Tower Cartagena.10 BEST THINGS TO DO IN CARTAGENA COLOMBIA: One of the many gates in the wall of the Cartagena city wall with street vendor.

The Clock Tower Cartagena.

One of the many gates in the wall of the Cartagena city wall with street vendor.

 

Getsemaní is the younger and poorer neigborhood of the city and has a youthful, lively feeling. There's no better place to dive into the neighborhood than Cafe del Mural, a coffee shop and cafe on a street lined with colorful murals, hence the name. Besides coffee, there are plenty of fresh fruit juices, herbal teas and cakes. Two great lunch spots are Oh La La -- a French restaurant that incorporates Caribbean flavors -- and Cafe Lunatico, which rotates fresh fish and fruit juices based on availability. A totally different experience is the Indonesian restaurant on the corner of the San Roque Church which offers a real Dutch-Indonesian rijsttafel. With so few tables, reservation is a must.

 

10 BEST THINGS TO DO IN CARTAGENA COLOMBIA: Getsemini neighborhood10 BEST THINGS TO DO IN CARTAGENA COLOMBIA: San Roque Church10 BEST THINGS TO DO IN CARTAGENA COLOMBIA: San Roque Church interior.

Getsemini neighborhood with San Roque Church and Indonesian restaurant at the corner.

 

10 BEST THINGS TO DO IN CARTAGENA COLOMBIA: The Church of the Holy Trinity in the Getsimini neighborhood.10 BEST THINGS TO DO IN CARTAGENA COLOMBIA: The Church of the Holy Trinity interior.

The Church of the Holy Trinity in the Getsimini neighborhood.

The Church of the Holy Trinity interior.

 

The plaza across from the Tower is known as Plaza de las Coches. It used to be the largest slave market in the whole of South America and is surrounded by large colonial buildings, brightly painted with tall arches and wide balconies. Underneath these arches, ammunition and military equipment were stored and the plaza provided a place for troops to stay during the colonial period. Nowadays, you will find vendors who set up carts selling swweets like coconut and panela (similar to brown sugar) cookies, guava jellies and dulce de leche shaped like coins, hearts or babies.

 

The plaza was named after the coaches of the wealthy who would arrive and leave the walled city and you can now hire a carriage to take you on a city tour. A statue of Don Pedro de Heredia, who founded Cartagena, dominates the centre of the plaza. Other plazas in the walled city include the Plaza de la Aduana, Plaza Santo Domingo and Plaza San Diego.

 

10 BEST THINGS TO DO IN CARTAGENA COLOMBIA: La Plaza de las coches Cartagena with horse charriots and  galery with sweets vendors.10 BEST THINGS TO DO IN CARTAGENA COLOMBIA: galery with sweets vendors.10 BEST THINGS TO DO IN CARTAGENA COLOMBIA: galery with candy vendors.10 BEST THINGS TO DO IN CARTAGENA COLOMBIA:

Plaza de las coches Cartagena with carriages and galery with sweets vendors.

 

Just a block away it the Plaza de la Aduana with its beautiful customs building and covered gallery, while the plaza itself often features arts and displays of the season.

 

10 BEST THINGS TO DO IN CARTAGENA COLOMBIA: The Customs office at the plaza de la Aduana.10 BEST THINGS TO DO IN CARTAGENA COLOMBIA: The customs office in Cartagena.

The Customs office at the plaza de la Aduana.

The customs office in Cartagena.

 

Churches of Cartagena

Many of Cartagena's most beautiful buildings are churches and monasteries, its most notable being the church of San Pedro Claver. Originally built by Spanish Jesuits in the 1600s, it was renamed for Pedro Claver, who provided medical care and food for slaves from Africa and was nominated the first Roman Catholic saint in the New World. The church has a museum dedicated to his life and works.

 

10 BEST THINGS TO DO IN CARTAGENA COLOMBIA: The San Pedro Claver Church main entrance.10 BEST THINGS TO DO IN CARTAGENA COLOMBIA: Street vendors along the San Pedro Claver Church.

The San Pedro Claver Church main entrance.

Street vendors along the San Pedro Claver Church.

 

The San Pedro Plaza is a lively place with art and traditionally dressed women selling fruit juices and fruit salads.

 

10 BEST THINGS TO DO IN CARTAGENA COLOMBIA: The Plaza San Pedro Claver art.10 BEST THINGS TO DO IN CARTAGENA COLOMBIA: The Plaza San Pedro Claver women selling fruits and juice.

The Plaza San Pedro Claver art.

The Plaza San Pedro Claver women selling fruits and juice.

 

The interior of the San Pedro Claver museum gives an outstanding display of the slave period of Colombia.

 

10 BEST THINGS TO DO IN CARTAGENA COLOMBIA: San Pedro Claver Monastery.10 BEST THINGS TO DO IN CARTAGENA COLOMBIA: San Pedro Claver Monastery belsl.10 BEST THINGS TO DO IN CARTAGENA COLOMBIA: San Pedro Claver Monastery with patio.10 BEST THINGS TO DO IN CARTAGENA COLOMBIA: slave quarters.

San Pedro Claver Monastery with gallery, bells, patio and slave quarters.

 

10 BEST THINGS TO DO IN CARTAGENA COLOMBIA: The Santo Domingo Church exterior.10 BEST THINGS TO DO IN CARTAGENA COLOMBIA: The Santo Domingo Church interior.

The Santo Domingo Church exterior.

The Santo Domingo Church interior.

 

Catedral Santa Catalina de Alejandría was started in around 1575 and was partly destroyed in 1586 by Sir Francis Drake’s attack on the city. It is considered one of the most representative buildings of this period within the Old City.

 

10 BEST THINGS TO DO IN CARTAGENA COLOMBIA: The Santa Catalina de Alejandria Cathedral.10 BEST THINGS TO DO IN CARTAGENA COLOMBIA: The Santa Catalina de Alejandria Cathedral from the side.

The Santa Catalina de Alejandria Cathedral.

The Santa Catalina de Alejandria Cathedral from the side.

 

10 BEST THINGS TO DO IN CARTAGENA COLOMBIA: The Santa Catalina de Alejandria Cathedral interior.10 BEST THINGS TO DO IN CARTAGENA COLOMBIA: The Santa Catalina de Alejandria Cathedral interior with columns.10 BEST THINGS TO DO IN CARTAGENA COLOMBIA: The Santa Catalina de Alejandria Cathedral interior with pulpit10 BEST THINGS TO DO IN CARTAGENA COLOMBIA: The Santa Catalina de Alejandria Cathedral altar.

The Santa Catalina de Alejandria Cathedral interior with columns, pulpit and altar.

 

Museums and other historic buildings of Cartagena

The Palacio de la Inquisición (Palace of Inquisition) is the place where presumed heretics and non-roman Catholics were prosecuted and judged for crimes against the Roman Catholic faith. While the tribunal of the Inquisition did not condemn many accused to death in Cartagena, the museum focuses more on the grueling practices of torture and injustice of the Inquisition  by the Spanish and the Roman Catholic Church in general.

 

10 BEST THINGS TO DO IN CARTAGENA COLOMBIA: The Cartagena Inquisition Palace entrance.10 BEST THINGS TO DO IN CARTAGENA COLOMBIA: The Cartagena Inquisition Palace Patio.

The Cartagena Inquisition Palace entrance at the Plaza de  Bolivar across from the Geographic Institute.

The Cartagena Inquisition Palace Patio.

 

Famous for its gold taken from the original population by the conquerers, Cartagena has a small airconditioned gold museum with a collection of golden figures and ornaments. The Gold Museum is free and definitely worth your while.

 

10 BEST THINGS TO DO IN CARTAGENA COLOMBIA:

10 BEST THINGS TO DO IN CARTAGENA COLOMBIA: 10 BEST THINGS TO DO IN CARTAGENA COLOMBIA:

Cartagena Gold Museum at the Bolivar Plaza.

 

Around the corner from the church is Cartagena's Modern Art Museum. This small but lovingly curated two-story museum focuses on work by Colombian and Latin American artists.

 

The Geographic Institute Agustín Codazzi (IGAC), is the Colombia institution for making topographic maps and cartography as well as running the national cadastre and the national soil survey. It is also charged with advancing geographic investigations for the development of the country, and educating and training professionals in the geographic information systems, GIS. In cartagena it is housed in a lovely building across the plaza from the Inquisition Palace.

 

10 BEST THINGS TO DO IN CARTAGENA COLOMBIA: The Geographic Institute Agustin Codazzi, Cartagena.10 BEST THINGS TO DO IN CARTAGENA COLOMBIA: The Geographic Institute Agustin Codazzi, Cartagena main entrance.10 BEST THINGS TO DO IN CARTAGENA COLOMBIA: The Geographic Institute Agustin Codazzi and Cathedral.

The Geographic Institute Agustin Codazzi of Cartagena at the corner of the Plaza de Bolivar and Santa Catalina Cathedral.

 

One of the city's most famous historic attractions is the Castillo de San Felipe de Barajas, a castle and fortress built by the Spanish in the 16th and 17th centuries. Thanks in part to the listing of Cartagena as a UNESCO World Heritage designation for it and the old city walls, the Castillo is in excellent condition and has been well-maintained, especially the dramatic entrance overlooking the water.

 

CASTILLO DE SAN FILIPE, CARTAGENA FACTS: CASTILLO DE SAN FILIPE, CARTAGENA FACTS:

 

10 BEST THINGS TO DO IN CARTAGENA COLOMBIA

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