How we Enjoyed Cartagena, our Last Stop in South America

We left South America in early 2018. Cartagena in Colombia was our last stop. It is a beautiful, colonial city. Its port and extensive fortifications, along with the old city, have earned it a place on the UNESCO World Heritage list.

A very typical street in Getsemani: here's how we enjoyed the World Heritage listed colonial city of Cartagena in Colombia. Wandering the streets, eating the food, and seeing the historical sights.

A very typical street in Getsemani: here’s how we enjoyed the World Heritage listed colonial city of Cartagena in Colombia. Wandering the streets, eating the food, and seeing the historical sights.

Coincidentally, we entered South America through Cartagena for the first time in early 2008. During the 10 years between visits, we spent approximately 1½ years in South America; followed by 3½ years back home in Australia; then 1 year building our present mobile home in Germany; and the last 4 years in South America. We were excited to be visiting Cartagena again.

Sunset light on the colonial houses of Getsemani. Note the beauty of the balconies. Cartagena is certainly a lovely city to enjoy.

Sunset light on the colonial houses of Getsemani. Note the beauty of the balconies. Cartagena is certainly a lovely city to enjoy.

It seemed somehow fitting that our last stop had been our first stop in South America.

Although we were busy with the arrangements for getting our truck ‘Berta’ back to Europe, we also had time to wander the streets of the old city and Getsemani. And once ‘Berta’ was safely in the port, we spent a week in a rental apartment, and were completely free to wander.

Since it seems unlikely we will ever find ourselves on that continent again, we would like to share how we enjoyed Cartagena, in our final days in Colombia and South America.

Just one of the many interesting doors and doorways to be found in Cartagena: colourful wood, with metal trimmings, including door knocker, and beautiful plants growing around it.

Just one of the many interesting doors and doorways to be found in Cartagena: colourful wood, with metal trimmings, including door knocker, and beautiful plants growing around it.

The colours of Cartagena are outstanding - this entry door and its surrounds is an excellent example.

The colours of Cartagena are outstanding – this entry door and its surrounds is an excellent example.

 

Wandering through Cartagena

The best way to enjoy any place is to wander. And as you walk, keep your eyes open for what you pass by. This is what we enjoyed seeing in Cartagena as we wandered about.

The Old City is full of colonial grandeur. There are many colourful buildings with ornate balconies and decorative door and window surrounds. Check out the heavy wooden doors, often studded, and notice the variety of cast iron door knockers – animals, birds, fish and some grotesque faces.

Just a selection of the variety of door knockers you will notice as you wander the streets of Cartagena's old city

Just a selection of the variety of door knockers you will notice as you wander the streets of Cartagena’s old city

When wandering colonial cities, it’s always a good idea to take a peek through open doors. Most of the buildings surround courtyards and some of them are public places. If you can go inside, you will find respite from the heat and noise of the street, in the lush surroundings of beautiful gardens. The San Franciscan convent in Getsemani is a great example.

In Cartagena, the colourfully dressed women selling fresh fruit are an institution. And if you tip them, they will pose for a typical photo. If you want a 3-D memory, souvenir shops are full of ceramic replicas of these women.

Please click thumbnails below for a larger photo with description.

The fortifications of Cartagena are a major part of its World Heritage status. It’s possible to walk long parts of them. Sometimes the sun in Cartagena makes it too hot to spend much time on them in the daytime, but it is very pleasant at dusk or night. Not only is it much cooler, but the city streets and buildings, all lit up, are beautiful seen from that height.

Whenever you are anywhere near Parque de Centenario (Centennial Park), always walk through it. See if you can spot the sloths, high up in the trees. They hardly move, but if you look for groups of people looking upwards, there’s a good chance that’s what they are seeing. You can also watch the antics of the many colourful iguanas, on the ground and on low branches. And there are little red squirrels darting around all over the place.

Parque de Centenario in Cartagena: you will see a lot of colourful and intricately patterned iguanas if you wander through this park

Parque de Centenario in Cartagena: you will see a lot of colourful and intricately patterned iguanas if you wander through this park

Parque de Centenario in Cartagena: sloths live in the treetops of this park. They can be very difficult to spot, but there are often helpful attendants around, who are happy to point them out.

Parque de Centenario in Cartagena: sloths live in the treetops of this park. They can be very difficult to spot, but there are often helpful attendants around, who are happy to point them out.

 

Cartagena has lots of narrow streets, but also plenty of plazas with gardens and shady trees. Usually there will be tables and chairs, served from a nearby bar, where you can take a rest. But, be careful, the prices of drinks are often considerably higher than in other places (see our comment on a menu photo, near the end of this post). If you’re lucky, you may come upon a performance, like the dancers we saw in Parque de Bolivar, as we left the Gold Museum one day.


Churches & Museums of Catagena

As in most cities of Colombia, Cartagena has plenty of churches and museums. The San Francisco Convent is certainly worth checking out – you can’t miss it! We saw it several times whilst driving before we realised what it was.

We also enjoyed a visit to the Gold Museum. It is certainly not as big as the one in Bogota , nor does it have anywhere near the amount of precious antiquities, but it is well-presented and has some beautiful and interesting pieces.

Take a walk on Cartagena's walls at night and this is the view you might see - the Cathedral by night.

Take a walk on Cartagena’s walls at night and this is the view you might see – the Cathedral by night.

Iglesia de Santo Toribio: just one of the many colonial churches you will see in Cartagena.

Iglesia de Santo Toribio: just one of the many colonial churches you will see in Cartagena.

 

Street Art in Cartagena

Our regular readers will know that we are always on the lookout for street art . Cartagena has plenty to impress, especially in the streets and back lanes of Getsemani.

But public art in the city is not just on the walls. Beside the more traditional sculptures to be seen, there are many cheeky and humorous pieces dotting the small plazas and footpaths, also especially in Getsemani.

Colombia’s favourite artist and sculptor, Fernando Botero, also has a presence in Cartagena. Look out for his typical voluminous figure – La Gorda Gertrudis in Plaza de Santo Domingo.

Please click thumbnails below for a larger photo with description.


Food & Snacks

We don’t go out to eat very often, but Cartagena was a bit of an exception for us. This was partly because we were without Berta for some of the time, and partly to socialise with people we met. Here are several places we would really recommend:

Pezetarian – this restaurant is vegan, vegetarian, but also serves fish. While not for strict vegans or vegetarians, it suited us well. And the food was excellent and reasonably priced. We went twice! Website | Facebook

Santa Isabel Food Trucks Bahía Fest – next to the Convention Centre in Getsemani, this place has outdoor seating within the semi-circle of Food Trucks, and a lovely view across the water to the fortifications of the old city. We went there 3 times, but not always to eat. It’s also possible to just sit and have a drink in the cool of the evening. It opens at 5. Facebook

Gelateria Tramonti Artesanal Italian ice cream – always on the lookout for good ice-cream (life’s too short to eat bad ice-cream!), this place offers milk and water gelato, and even some that are sugar free (and not sweetened by artificial sweeteners). They also don’t use preservatives or artificial colours and flavours. Website | Facebook

One door down from the Gelataria, we discovered El Bistro, a reasonably priced restaurant that also sold excellent dark bread. Website

Please click thumbnails below for a larger photo with description.


Final Observations about Cartagena

So this is how we enjoyed Cartagena, and spent our last 3 weeks in South America. In comparison to our first visit 10 years ago, the city has more tourists and is more expensive.

Please click thumbnails below for a larger photo and the interesting descriptions.

We see more tourists as being a positive reflection of Colombia’s status as a tourist destination. 10 years ago, we were constantly warned that Colombia was too dangerous to travel in. Although we didn’t find it so, many overlanders chose to skip it.

We are not really sure why it is so expensive – somebody mentioned a tourist tax… In our experience, Colombia seemed less expensive than we remembered from our first trip, and Cartagena is definitely more expensive than the rest of the country now.

The narrow streets of Cartagena. Don't let your GPS take you through the old city - make sure any route goes around it. This was a stressful entry into the city with Berta.

The narrow streets of Cartagena. Don’t let your GPS take you through the old city – make sure any route goes around it. This was a stressful entry into the city with Berta.

One more thing – if you’re driving a big truck like Berta, don’t trust your GPS completely to take you through Cartagena. We did, and ended up driving down one of the very narrow streets with scarcely enough room on either side. This was an experience we didn’t really enjoy!!!
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Here's how we enjoyed the World Heritage listed colonial city of Cartagena in Colombia: wandering the streets, eating the food, and seeing the historical sights. There's so much to see in Cartagena that you'll need several days!

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Yasha

dare2go's human navigator (we're not lost because there's nowhere particular we have to be) alongside our Nexus 7 tablet, writer and editor of our blog, first cook and loving wife. Teaching English as a second language when possible.

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1 Response

  1. So cool to have sloths and iguanas and nature in a city guys! I love that. Instantly warms my heart and draws me to Cartagena. Rocking post.

    Ryan

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