The places that have captured my heart the most are places where I have decided to let go of the guide book and just wander aimlessly. Along colourful narrow streets, across century old churches, and among flower draped balconies I fell in love with the old city of Cartagena.
One of the most beautiful Spanish colonial cities we’ve visited in Latin America, Cartagena boasts splendid architecture and historic charm. A World Heritage Site founded in 1533 by Pedro Heredia, much of Cartagena’s beauty lies inside the old city walls called Las Murallas. These thick concrete walls, considered the most complete set of fortifications in South America, were built to protect Cartagena from its former pirate enemies.
There are three districts in Cartagena’s old town: El Centro, San Diego and Getsemani. Most of the backpacker hostels and budget hotels are located in the Getsemani area. The real highlight of this colonial city lie within the inner city districts, El Centro and San Diego. We spent most of our time in these areas, where we wandered around the cobblestone streets, relaxed in the beautiful plazas and adored the perfectly preserved colonial architecture of the city formerly known as Cartagena de Indias.
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The Bay of Souls (Bahia de las Animas)
An enormous galleon which appeared to have come from an ancient Spanish era welcomed us as we drew close to the Bay of Souls. This inner city port, which lies close to the main entrance of the inner walled city and the Cartagena Convention Center, provides an amazing overview of what lies ahead. Towering above the walls are the colourful antique houses and the impressive bell towers of the Iglesia de San Pedro Claver.
The Gate and the Clock Tower (La Puerta y Torre de Reloj)
Who doesn’t love clock towers? A fitting entrance to a travel back in time is the clock tower at the main entrance of Cartagena’s old town. This yellow structure contrasts perfectly with the clear blue sky at noon and shines glamorously against the dimly lit sky at night.
The area near this clock tower comes to life at sundown. Hang around near Portal de las Dulces for some street food (the kebabs are delicious!), local sweets or a few drinks. You can also catch a carriage ride to go around the old town from the nearby Plaza de Los Coches.
San Pedro Claver Church (Iglesia de San Pedro Claver)
There are a few churches around Cartagena’s old town, but our favourite one is the Iglesia de San Pedro Claver. This beautiful church that you’ll first get a glimpse from outside of the walls will not fail your expectations. The huge red metal door of this church perfectly matches its striking stone façade.
Walls of Cartagena (Las Murallas de Cartagena)
Another good way to see Cartagena is by walking along the walls that surround the old town. Under the Colombian heat, we walked a few meters along these walls and took witness to the contrast of the old and the new structures on either side. It was an awesome sight. These walls reminded me of Intramuros, the walled city of Manila. I can only wish that the old Manila, the historic pride of the Philippines’ capital, was as well- preserved as that of Cartagena de Indias.
Streets of Cartagena’s Old Town
There were still a few sights on our map that were left to be seen but we decided to wander around the rest of the day. Huge and colourful doors of brightly coloured houses welcomed us in different streets. We followed the sights of balconies decorated with beautiful flowers. We strolled from one plaza to another. It is a beautiful city to get lost in.
Where to Stay in Cartagena
Luxury – The Epica House Luxury Hotel
Mid-Range – San Lazaro Art Lifestyle Hotel
Boutique – Casa Pizarro Hotel Boutique
Budget – Casa Venita Hostal Boutique
Have you been to Cartagena? Have you been to other colonial towns in Latin America? Which one is your favourite? Let us know.