Pirate Target and Colombian Caribbean Gem
Founded in 1533 by Pedro de Heredia, colonial Cartagena bewitches Tourists and Colombians alike gateway to America, Spain’s first city on the South American main, Cartagena witnessed the shipment of Peruvian silver to Europe, the galleons from Seville, the piracy of Drake and Hawkins and sheltered behind its thick and impregnable walls, remained intact.
The origins and prosperity of this city are undoubtedly inextricably linked due to its location and the security of its port and the wealth inherent in the urban centre is reflected in the extravagant balconies and ornate doorways of the Ciudad Vieja (the old city). What were once homes to aristocrats and merchants are now guesthouses, gift shops and museums.
Declared a UNESCO world heritage site in 1984, Cartagena remains the most popular tourist destination in Colombia, in part due to the security of the city and its popularity as a destination for cruise ships. It was, for a number of the years the only city in Colombia where US presidents dared to tread.
More elegant and far removed from Bogota’s Candelaria, the bay, the tiled rooftops and the multicoloured colonial walls of the Ciudad Vieja exude humidity and a sticky closeness familiar to those with experience of Caribbean weather patterns and coastal attitudes. To walk in the midday heat is a folly and solely the refuge of tourists who know no better. Cartageneros wisely shut up shop move to air conditioned or well ventilated retreats while beach lovers flee to nearby offshore islands or to the spit of land that makes up the architectural mess of Bocagrande.
The atmosphere, the sea air, the street vendors, everything feels like a film setting for a Gabriel Garcia Marquez novel. Indeed Gabo himself spent pivotal and formative years here as a journalist and aspiring writer.
There is a sultry decadence here that has bewitched writers and wayward souls since time immemorial. Has it something to do with the sorcery of the fickle mistress the Caribbean? Is there something in the air, or are people rendered slightly unhinged and light-headed from the tall measures of rum in the potent cuba libres served at the bars that line the streets and portions of the old city wall?
Cartagena is the ideal place for a conference, but will the participants stay faithful to the event they are supposed to attend. With colonial treasures to discover, antiquated streets, museums, galleries and shops to peruse, do people go missing? Do the Congresos and Festivales seem thin on bodies? Are there visible empty seats in the conference auditoriums?
Whatever the case, this captivating Caribbean jewel must be visited. From the Puerta del Reloj and the Plaza de la Aduana, to the Plaza de los Coches and the Calle Santo Domingo, Cartagena will cast a lasting spell on you.