In old colonial Cartagena, strollers will want to keep their eyes to the sky to miss nothing of the city’s many colourful balconies. Decorated with flower clusters, they’re topped with small roofs to hide from the tropical rain and the intense heat of the sun.
The heart of Cartagena can be divided into two historic sectors: El Centro and San Diego, both located within the fortifications north of Avenida Venezuela. The tourist areas of Bocagrande and El Laguito, toward the southwest, lie about a half-hour's walk from the city centre. The more commercial areas of Getsemaní and La Matuna, located just southeast of central Cartagena, are also protected by ancient fortifications. And far toward the southeast are the suburbs. Numerous beaches can be found all around Cartagena, while the suburbs are located southeast of the city.
El Centro and San Diego are without question the most interesting parts of Cartagena. Well preserved and rich in architecture, they are surrounded by the thick walls that form one of the few fortified cities in the Americas. Here, visitors will find the Plaza de la Aduana, probably the loveliest square and finest remaining example of colonial-era architectural unity in Cartagena. At the end of this square is the Plaza de San Pedro Claver, home to the superb convent of the same name as well as the city's museum of modern art, which is housed in a former colonial home. Nearby is one of Cartagena’s prettiest buildings, the Palacío de la Inquisición, which boasts a magnificent interior. The Museo del Oro y Arqueología lies in front of Plaza Bolívar and displays one of Colombia's most interesting collections of artifacts. An inescapable must-see attraction in any Latin American city, Cartagena's cathedral underwent several transformations over the centuries since its construction was undertaken in 1575. Also not to be missed is the remarkable Casa del Marqués de Valdehoyos, on Calle de la Factoría. Perfectly restored, it bears the name of a rich slave merchant. Simón Bolívar spent some time here in 1830. Finally, visitors should get a close look at the city's famous fortified walls and the adjoining 23 dungeons of Las Bóvedas.
Over the years, Bocagrande has become a tourist area with hotels and services, where the sea is warm and the beaches are always sunny. El Laguito is the most luxurious part of the area.
Getsemaní is also part of the historic old town and its bastions. Here, visitors will find the beautiful Convento de San Francisco as well as a thriving nightlife along Avenida del Arsenal.. The La Matuna neighbourhood is home to the attractive Parque del Centenario, created in 1912 to mark Colombia’s 100 years of independence..
Facing Getsemaní, on the other side of the bridges, is San Lázaro hill, where rises Latin America's most important colonial-era military structure: Castillo San Felipe de Barajas. Further east is the Cerro de la Popa, the highest hill on the city's outskirts and the site of the splendid Convento de la Popa, which features a delightful image of Nostra Señora de la Candelaria, the patron saint of the city of Cartagena.
Music and dance occupy an important place in Colombian tradition. On the Caribbean coast, they are an integral part of daily life. In Cartagena, the mild temperature and magical surroundings beckon one and all to step out and enjoy the local nightlife. Come nightfall, some of the old city's sidewalks are suddenly transformed into terraces, where groups of musicians come to strike up a salsa or vallenato to the great delight of Colombians and visitors alike.
Many events and holidays dot Cartagena's cultural calendar, including the Hay Festival Cartagena, the Cartagena International Music Festival, the Festival Internacional de Cine de Cartagena and the Carnaval de Cartagena.
Where on earth
Built on islands in the Bahía de Cartagena that were artificially linked together, the city of Cartagena is located on the very jagged Caribbean coast of Colombia, which stretches over 1,600km and features a large number of bays. The most important port city of Colombia and the country's most popular tourist destination is now home to more than 1 million people.