Cartagena de Indias, the jewel of Colombia

The colonial wall and the view of  the Caribbean Sea

This place has a peculiarity, it has remained almost the same for over 400 years, unbelievable, isn’t it? In its colorful and historical streets, many events had taken place… love stories, tragedies, murders, proclamations of independence… and over time It has become an inspiration for painters and writers. Nowadays it continues captivating the attention and imagination of locals and strangers. Welcome to Cartagena de Indias, the Colonial jewel of the Spanish Empire on Caribbean coasts.

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The first time I heard about this place was a long time ago (I was in secondary school) this place was mentioned in a colonial history class, by the way, Latin American kids learn pretty early in life about the Spanish conquest, the killing and destruction of our ethnic groups and native culture, and about the MESTIZAJE, which means the mixing of blood of Europeans, Native Americans, and Africans brought as slaves. The old architecture of churches and houses that have not survived in my city Lima-Peru ( a consequence of earthquakes, indigenous revolutions or the passing of time) has remained almost intact in few zones of America, one of those places is Cartagena de Indias, also called the walled city.

Attacked by pirates, pests and economical crisis, this city has been pushed to simply not changing into a “modern city” and keeping the most traditional it could, one of the things local people thank God now is, that over time, political crisis that slowed down the local economy in the 19th and 20th century helped on the other hand in the preservation of this place, and thanks to that also there is no other city like this one in South America.

Here some Pictures of this city:

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Since you get into the walled area you can feel the Caribean rhythm and soul, local flavors and colors all in one same place. Ready to travel? let me give you first some travel tips for this area of Colombia:

  • Emeralds:

The most typical (and requested) souvenir in Cartagena de Indias is the Emerald. I have found a big range of prices, but to give you an idea of options, in terms of cost this precious stone goes from 90 USD to hundreds of dollars.

The best place I can recommend you to visit if you are looking for good quality, a variety of prices and great salesmen attention, is CARIBE Store (click on name for more info) they are even known to have been given all the international documentations that prove the quality of their gems, something important if you take into consideration that there are many falsifications going on around the main touristic attractions of Colombia. By the way, they have a Museum of the Emerald, where you can learn first all about this precious stone, from the extraction process until the transformation into jewelry, the history of that precious stone and where in the world you can find it (admission free). for directions click here.

  • Restaurants:
Dinner at Tronco e’Tentacion

In general terms, restaurants are good in Cartagena but some can be a bit pricey, the ambiance and the mix of Caribean flavors are exquisite, a great zone to hang out in is on the Plaza Fernandez de Madrid (and pretty much anywhere within the walled city) where music and night entertainment can be expected. We had dinner at a restaurant called Tronco e’Tentacion.

street folk show

Another restaurant that I have tried is La Casa de Dorotea, food is marvelous and prices are fear. Highly recommended.

  • Souvenirs:

You can shop anywhere in Cartagena, in terms of price there is a big abyss between store price and street price… it will depend always on your budget. However, I recommend you to first give a look to most of the stores and street vendors before you make a choice.

About what to shop here I would say: besides paintings, colorful dresses, and hats, The BAGS are a top item that you can’t miss to take with you, the prices variate from 20 to 80 dollars depending on the quality and shop.

  • Hotels
street view from the hotel

My favorite is by far Casa Bohemia Hotel, perfect location, inside the walled city and in a quiet area (location here), this old colonial style house is beautiful in and out, and the manager is a sweetheart, always prompt to help and give you directions to anywhere.

  • Museums

The Inquisition Museum was top on my bucket list, Excellent display! I used the audio guide option and spend over 2 hours inside. This visit was a great way to understand the city and the colonial history of Cartagena. Location here.

The fortress San Felipe de Barajas, an amazing construction the rise above the city is now a museum where the naval and military history of Cartagena is told by local guides, stories of pirates and corsairs included. Tour lasts 1 hour, location here.

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  • Beaches

We went to Marbella beach, not far away from the walled city, was very quiet at 5 pm (we were not able to get earlier) and warm. we stayed there until sunset. That was my first sunset on the Caribbean Sea.

These are first-hand travel tips, all tested and approved!. Fell free of sharing this post with anyone that may be needing advice, you are also welcomed to comment or ask for more travel tips about this destination and sharing your questions. Hope this can be useful on your next trip the this Jewel of Colombia.

Photo credits: Vanessa Vasquez

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