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Carthagena, Colombia

On the northern coast of Colombia, sheltered from a bay in the Caribbean Sea, the city of Cartagena de Indias - its real name – captured my heart during a cruise that took us from Chile to Colombia through the Panama Canal.

The burning sun shines on the colors of the houses, which are more than 400 years old, whose many wooden balconies are adorned with flowers of different phosphorescent colors. Among them is the national flower, the Cattleya Trianae, an orchid that is typical of temperate climates and grows in abundance in Cartagena.

Remarkable architecture

The historic center is divided into three districts, including the center, the most interesting part, with a cathedral, the Convent of San Pedro Claver, the Palace of the Inquisition, the Governor's Palace, the Clock Tower and its many beautiful Andalusian-style residences, with flowery balconies that vibrate with colors throughout the narrow streets of the neighborhood.

One could choose to follow these small winding streets lined with cafes, shops and stalls of all kinds, stop to haggle a local craft article, attracted by the colorful objects displayed in the window, or to enjoy the famous Colombian coffee that is offered throughout the city, in small shops, in sophisticated cafes and known chains, as well as in picturesque street kiosks. It was a coffee that was bought in one of those kiosks that proved to be the best!

We could also walk along the walls to discover the twenty small shops situated under a series of beautiful yellow vaults, which cannot be missed. These are Las Bovedas, who served in turn as storage rooms for ammunition under the Spanish, then a prison, before being recycled in shops by merchants and artisans who lived in the neighborhood.

Famous visitors 

A UNESCO World Heritage Site founded in 1533 by Pedro de Heredia, it is not surprising that Cartagena served as the setting for Nobel Prize winner Gabriel Garcia Márquez, who staged several scenes from his novels there.

Cartagena is protected by walls that are said to be the most complete in South America, built by the Spaniards in 1586 and reinforced and extended to their current dimensions in the 18th century. The strategic position of the city explains that it was an issue for several centuries between the main European powers who sought to control the "New World". It was also an important transit center for the looted treasures stolen to the Aztecs and the Incas. It is also interesting to know that the very famous English explorer, pirate and slaver, Francis Drake, attacked Cartagena several times. Hence the need to protect the city with solid walls!

To explore further 

In addition to these walls, the fortress San Felipe de Barajas is a beautiful example of a bastion erected by the Spaniards in the 1600s. A complex network of tunnels connects the different strategic points of the fortress facilitating the distribution of supplies and evacuation. These tunnels have been designed in such a way that it is possible to hear the slightest sound, including of course the discreet footsteps of the invaders. It is open to the public.

In the square surrounding the fortress, tourists are gently accosted by Carthaginians in traditional costume who "agree" to pose with you for a photo for a few dollars. There is a lot of traffic, so be careful with your backpacks or handbags. It is better to be aware to prevent any issues!

tOne should also climb on the highest hill to appreciate the view of the city and the surrounding sea, a view that was enjoyed by the Augustinian Fathers who built this beautiful monastery in 1607, the Convento de la Popa. The monks do not live there anymore, but the visit is interesting. And one can see the Virgin of Candelario, patroness of the city, who replaced the black goat that the pagan sect that occupied the place used to worship. The Augustinians of course kicked out the pagans and the object of veneration, which was replaced with the Virgin.

Pleasurable tastes 

In Cartagena, everywhere you will see street vendors offering fruits of all kinds, as well as stalls along the streets. Be sure to taste the fruits that have been ripened by the Columbian sun. You will rarely find anything more enjoyable! For our part, we had a true "buffet" of fruit at La Girolata restaurant. What a feast!

Going back

I only spent a few hours in Cartagena de Indias, but it was certainly a hint of what more time could have offered and it definitely gave me the desire to return soon.

Christiane Théberge


Coffee street kiosk 

Kiosks at Las Bovedas

San Felipe de Barajas fortress

Convento de la Popa






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