Cartagena, where skyscrapers rise above the beaches amid centuries of history encompassed within city walls, is a tropical paradise worthy of any bucket list. The sad days of its drug-running and cartels are a part of its past, but it’s gotten up and brushed itself to emerge as a sought-after destination for many of today’s world travelers.
Once you visit Cartagena and take in all it’s glory, you’ll never want to leave and you’ll most likely find yourself marking the calendar for your next visit. It’s also become a mecca for retirees and expatriates, since the Colombian peso has held up so strongly against the US dollar and other currencies. The affordable living is often overshadowed by the beauty and historical setting that Cartagena offers every day, but people are becoming addicted to it nevertheless.
1 – Weather
With year-round temperatures averaging 29°C (84°F), the chilliest being a mere 27°C (81°F) in January, it’s easy to become jealous of sun-drenched days if you’re from the cold winter climate of the northern hemisphere.
When it comes time to taking a dip in the sea, you’ll barely notice a difference in temperatures upon plunging into the tropical Caribbean Sea of Cartagena Bay, where it rarely drop below 25°C (or 77°F). Surprisingly, these are actually considered “cold” for the region.
2 – Beaches and Islands
Cartagena is known as the “Gem of the Caribbean” for many reasons, but mostly for it’s unbelievably breathtaking beaches. With over 3,000 kilometers (or almost 2,000 miles) of coastline, both on the Colombian mainland and on dozens of islands in and around the bay, you’ll be hard-pressed to find a favorite beach with so many to choose from.
When the Caribbean waters off Cartagena beckon, it’s just a one-hour boat ride to the Isla del Rosario archipelago, a stunning, tropical paradise with remarkable beaches, flora, and fauna. Home to 30 islands, the archipelago is protected by the Parque Nacional Natural Corales del Rosario y San Bernardo, with the aim to keep them just as pristine today as they will be for many generations to come.
3 – Water Activities
Once you reach the shallow waters around the islands, you’ll discover some of the best scuba and snorkeling spots in the world, with various dive and tour operators organizing day-trips from Cartagena. You can’t reach the islands in and around Cartagena Bay without a boat; however, if you don’t own one, renting one is quite affordable. This is also an appealing option if you prefer to go by your own schedule rather than that of a group.
After visiting any of the dozens of islands in and around the Rosario Island archipelago, you’ll be rewarded with a breathtaking view of Cartagena’s skyline on your return.
4 – Prices and Affordability
Until you learn the exchange rate, you’ll be in for a bit of sticker-shock at first. You might cringe when you drop 45,000 pesos for a gourmet meal, only to find out you’ve spent a mere $15 USD.
5 – Culture and Beauty
Known as “La Heroica,” or the Heroic City, to the locals, Cartagena is a cultural treasure and considered a must-see destination among savvy travelers. The beautiful Latin American art, music, and culture are experienced almost everywhere and are truly a sight (and sound) to behold.
Be sure to take a tour of the Teatro Adolfo Mejía, also known as Teatro Heredia. Named after the city’s founder, Pedro de Heredia, the theater, with its Italian design and Caribbean flair, dates from 1911 and was built in commemoration of the city’s 100 year anniversary of independence. The sculpture above the stage is India Catalina, who was Heredia’s translator.
6 – Nightlife
There are so many great nightspots in Cartagena that visitors will certainly find one that suits their taste. Whether you’re looking for a romantic evening to tango with your sweetheart or a high-octane night of dancing in a club, you’ll find what you’re looking for in the city’s vibrant nightlife.
7 – Food and Drink
A city with the ocean at its doorstep has many advantages, especially when it comes to the freshest seafood you’ll likely taste in your lifetime. In Colombia, there are plenty of lobster and other hearty seafood dishes that combine influences of Latin American and African cuisines. Most restaurants have extensive wine lists, along with signature cocktails containing a tropical and Mediterranean twist.
8 – The Old Town and Plazas
A visit to Cartagena will take you on a journey that spans the centuries. Founded in 1539, the old town brims with architectural wonders in sherbet colors, many of which date to the city’s Spanish colonial era. The old town’s plazas aren’t to be missed, either. Three that are worthy of strolling through include the Plaza de los Coches, once a marketplace during the slave trade, the Plaza de la Aduana, which is the largest and oldest, and the Plaza de Bolívar, with its bronze statue of Simón Bolívar.
9 – The Hero and History
The so-called saviour of this Heroic City, Don Blas de Lezo, led a small group of poorly trained soldiers, outnumbered by 100 to one, in an attempt to fend off 25,000 English soldiers and 186 ships in one of the most famous attacks on the city. The battle began in March 1741 and despite missing an eye and having only one arm and one leg, Don de Lezo and his men ultimately defeated the English after a two-month seige.
There’s a statue in his honor outside the San Felipe Fortress, but this is just a part of Cartagena’s long history. With so many historical pockets of the city to discover, it may be difficult to decide on what to see first.
10 – Memories and Stories
While the story of Blas de Lezo is certainly memorable, you’ll make plenty of your own long-lasting, unforgettable memories and tell tales of your adventures in Cartagena for many years to come. A visit to Colombia will stay with you long after you leave this Latin American wonderland.
— Uncharted101 (@Uncharted1o1) October 29, 2016