Cartagena is a prosperous and beautiful resort city on Colombia’s Caribbean coast. Revered for its temperate climate, proximity to the placid waves of the Caribbean Sea, and access to the interior of the country via the Cartagena Bay, this beach-side paradise is also one of the oldest settlements in Colombia, dating back over 6,000 years. Many travelers are drawn to these placid shores due to the fact that it is a Caribbean destination which is rarely interrupted by the hurricane season; indeed, the last hurricane to trouble Cartagena was in 1988. The weather is tropical and the humidity can at times run high, however the city is almost always cooled by the breeze blowing off of the water of the Caribbean, and most travelers find that even on the hottest days, the temperature can be quite manageable, with average highs around 89 degrees Fahrenheit year round. As one of the main tourist destinations in the country, Cartagena is served by a variety of transportation systems. It has a major international airport, plentiful highways, a modern railway system, as well as the largest and busiest sea port in the country, all dedicated to serving the bustling industrial and tourist economies located within the city.
Cartagena from San Felipe de Barajas Fort
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Cartagena from San Felipe de Barajas Fort
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Locals in Cartagena primarily speak Spanish, along with their more urban countrymen. However, since the city is such an industrial hub, with industries focusing on both industrial development, international trading, and tourism, a variety of languages are spoken throughout the city. English speakers should be able to navigate throughout the city with little difficulty, and hotel owners and restaurant employees often speak a variety of languages. Nevertheless, it would behoove any traveler visiting Cartagena for the first time to brush up on a little Spanish, to truly capitalize on the offerings of the local culture, as well as to ferret out the most secluded beaches and nightspots.
Many travelers choose Cartagena for their first stop while visiting Colombia, and on first glance, the reason is obvious. The city is world-renown for its beauty and its charm. There are almost endless attractions for visitors seeking to enjoy the richness of this historical city. Beyond the beaches and the nightlife, which are impressive, the curious traveler will find no end to the cultural treasures this city has to offer. For example, once upon a time Cartagena was a tiny port town run on gold, and the history of mining, transportation, plundering, and the conquest of Viceroys seems almost improbable today, however the Cartagena Gold Museum has recorded the story for the ages. Additionally, for the adventurous traveler, the Islas del Rosario lie a short distance south of the city. This beautiful wildlife preserve set amongst a scattered archipelago a short distance from the mainland boasts a vast coral reef system teeming with life. The park has an extensive aquarium to display many of the marine animals to be found in the vicinity, and attractions such as scuba diving, white sand beaches, and desolate destinations are popular with many travelers. Travelling to Cartagena, one must be sure not to miss the following:
What to do in Cartagena:
The Walled City - Truly the heart of Cartagena, many travelers rarely leave its borders. The incredible architecture is a mix of Moorish and European Colonial architecture, which has been thoroughly integrated by the Colombian locals for an area all their own. Inside the walled city you will find beautiful architecture filled with history, numerous museums, monuments, art, shops, restaurants, and great scenery. For a true taste of northern Colombian culture, the Walled City should not be overlooked. Note: Get a tourist map from the tourism kiosk located at the entrance to the Walled City (Puerta del Reloj). The map has a great walking route through the walled city which outlines the main attractions very well and is easy to follow.
Bocagrande - This tourist zone is one of the safest areas of the city. The main road which runs along the beach is lined with high rise hotels, condominiums and there are numerous shops, stores, casinos, and restaurants. The infrastructure is developed with the traveler in mind, therefore individuals with little understanding of the local language will find communication much easier amongst this friendly neighborhood.
San Felipe de Barajas Fort - A huge fort on the top of a hill with great panoramic views of the city. The castle was built by the Spanish during the colonial era and defended the city from numerous raids by the French and British. It is quite an experience to navigate the maze of tunnels and passages, finally making it to the top for some breathtaking views. Entrance fee is about 12,000 pesos (6 usd).
Volcan de Lodo - This volcanic spa is a perfect destination to relax, and bathe in the temperate mud baths. The locals are friendly and are more than willing to give a massage to relaxing tourists, and while the spa is not of the caliber many would find in a five-star hotel, many travelers enjoy the sense of community they shared mud bathing with other tourists, and locals. Don't be afraid to let the local boy take your camera for a small fee (3,000 pesos or $1.50 usd) and take pictures of you. They do a good job. Note: In May of 2012 I paid $50,000 pesos ($25 usd) per person for a tour to the volcano which I booked through my hotel. They picked us up at my hotel, drove us to the volcano where we stayed for about an hour and a half. Afterwards, we went to a nice outdoor beach restaurant for lunch that was included and dropped us back at the hotel. You can probably negotiate this price because other tourists said they paid 38,000 for the same tour.
Playa Blanca - A short 35 minute boat ride from Cartagena is a beautiful white sand beach which is a great place to visit and much nicer than the beaches in Cartagena. Here you can relax, eat local food, snorkel, participate in various water sports, and mingle with the locals. You can catch a boat at the Cartagena harbor a few blocks away from the Convention Center. The more adventurous traveler can stay the night in a hammock or one of the inexpensive beach tents. Note: In May 2012, I paid $35,000 pesos (18 usd) for transportation to and from Playa Blanca. Make sure to purchase from a company in one of the booths at the harbor and not one of the guys on the street that walk up to you when you arrive. They have numerous packages and options, just find one that interests you. Definitely get a massage from one of the massage girls but make sure to negotiate the price first. You can rent snorkeling gear there for 5,000 pesos (3 usd). A girl I met traveling told me that she got a lobster lunch for 10,000 pesos (5 usd) at one of the restaurants there but I was unable to find that deal.