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Coordinates: 10°24′N 75°30′W / 10.4°N 75.5°W / 10.4; -75.5

Cartagena de Indias
Cartagena de Indias, Colombia.


Nickname(s): The Heroic City
The Door of the Americas
Capital of the Caribbean
The Mother City
The Walled City
The Key of the West Indies
The Fort of the Kingdom
Best Fortified City of the Americas
Cartagena de Indias is located in Colombia
Cartagena de Indias
Coordinates: 10°24′N 75°30′W / 10.4°N 75.5°W / 10.4; -75.5
Country  Colombia
Department Bolívar Department
Region Caribbean Region
Foundation June 1, 1533 by Don Pedro de Heredia
 - Mayor Judith Pinedo, Independent
 - City 572 km2 (220.9 sq mi)
Elevation 1 m (3 ft)
Population (2006)
 - City 892,545 Ranked 5th
 Metro 1,239,430
 - Demonym Cartagenero (s) (Spanish)
Time zone EST (UTC-5)
Area code(s) (57)-(5)
HDI (2008) 0.798 – Medium.
City tree Arecaceae
City bird American Crow Locally called Mariamulata
Saint Patron(s) Saint Catherine and Saint Sebastian.
(Spanish) Government of Cartagena official website
Tourism Office Official Site
Alonso de Ojeda passed through the bay in 1505 but decided to continue to Uraba
Rodrigo de Bastidas (1460 - 1527) discovered the bay in 1527
Pedro de Heredia founder of the city and explorer of its hinterland
Map of the city recently established and without walls (c.1550)

Cartagena de Indias (Cartagena of Indies or Cartagena of West Indies, in Spanish) (Spanish pronunciation: [kartaˈxena ðe ˈindjas], English: /ˌkɑrtəˈheɪnə deɪ ˈɪndiəs/), is a city on the northern coast of Colombia and capital of Bolívar Department. The metropolitan area has a population of 1,240,000, and the city proper 1,090,000 (2005 census). It is the fifth largest urban area in Colombia, and a centre of economic activity in the Caribbean region, as well a popular tourist destination.

In 1984, Cartagena's colonial walled city and fortress were designated a UNESCO World Heritage Site.



According to descriptions that survive, the huts of the prehistoric inhabitants of the actual city may have looked very similar to these Taino culture huts in Cuba
This is how a woman from the Karib Culture may have dressed

Pre-Columbian era: 7000 BC - 1500 AD

The Puerto Hormiga Culture, found in the Caribbean coast region, particularly in the area from the Sinú River Delta to the Cartagena de Indias Bay, appears to be the first documented human community in what is now Colombia. Archaeologists estimate that around 7000 BC, the formative culture was located near the boundary between the departments of Bolívar and Sucre. In this area archaeologists have found the most ancient ceramic objects of the Americas, dating from around 4000 BC. The primary reason for the proliferation of primitive societies in this area is thought to be the relative mildness of climate and the abundance of wildlife, which allowed the inhabitants, who were hunters, a comfortable life.[1][2][3] In today's villages of Maria La Baja, Sincerín, El Viso, and Mahates and Rotinet, excavations have uncovered the remains of maloka type buildings, directly related to the early Puerto Hormiga settlements.[3]

Archaeological investigations date the decline of the Puerto Hormiga culture and its related settlements to around 3000 BC. The rise of a much more developed culture, the Monsú, who lived at the end of the Dique Canal near today's Cartagena neighborhoods Pasacaballos and Ciénaga Honda at the northernmost part of Barú Island, has been hypothesized. The Monsú culture appears to have inherited the Puerto Hormiga culture´s use of the art of pottery and also to have developed a mixed economy of agriculture and basic manufacture. The Monsú people's diet was based mostly on shellfish and sweet- and salt-water fish.[4]

The development of the Sinú society in what is today the departments of Cordoba and Sucre, eclipsed these first developments around the Cartagena Bay area. Until the Spanish colonization, many cultures derived from the Karib, Malibu and Arawak language families lived along the Colombian Caribbean coast. In the late pre-Columbian era, the Sierra Nevada de Santa Marta was home to the Tayrona people, whose language was closely related to the Chibcha language family.[5][6]

Around 1500 the area was inhabited by different tribes of the Karib language family, more precisely the Mocanae sub-family, including:

  • In the downtown island: Kalamarí Tribe
  • In the Tierrabomba island: Carex Tribe
  • In the Barú island, then peninsula: Bahaire Tribe
  • In the eastern coast of the exterior bay: Cospique Tribe
  • In the suburban area of Turbaco: Yurbaco Tribe

Some subsidiary tribes of the Kalamari lived in today's neighborhood of Pie de la Popa, and other subsidiaries from the Cospique lived in the Membrillal and Pasacaballos areas. Among these, according to the earliest documents available, the Kalamari Tribe had preeminence. These tribes, though physically and administratively separated, shared a common architecture, such as hut structures consisting of circular rooms with tall roofs inside wooden palisades.[7]

First sightings: 1500-1533

After the failed effort to found Antigua del Darién in 1506 by Alonso de Ojeda and the subsequent unsuccessful founding of San Sebastian de Urabá in 1517 by Diego de Nicuesa, the southern Caribbean coast became unattractive to colonizers, who preferred the better known Hispaniola and Cuba.[8]

Though the Casa de Contratación gave permission to Rodrigo de Bastidas (1460-1527) to again conduct an expedition as adelantado to this area, Bastidas explored the coast and discovered the Magdalena River Delta in his first journey from Guajira to the south in 1527, a trip that ended in the Urabá Gulf, the location of the failed first settlements. De Nicuesa and De Ojeda noted the existence of a big bay on the way from Santo Domingo to Urabá and the Panama isthmus, and that encouraged Bastidas to investigate.[9][10][11][12]

Colonial era: 1533-1717

Cartagena de Indias was founded on 1 June 1533 by Spanish commander Pedro de Heredia, in the former location of the indigenous Caribbean Calamarí village. The town was named after Cartagena, Spain, where most of Heredia's sailors came from.[13]

Initially, life in the city was bucolic, with fewer than 2000 inhabitants and only one church. A few months after the disaster of the invasion of Cote (see below), a fire destroyed the city and forced the creation of a firefighting squad, the first in the Americas.[14]

The dramatically increasing fame and wealth of the prosperous city turned it into an attractive plunder site for pirates and corsairs – French privateers licensed by their king. Just 30 years after its founding, the city was pillaged by the French nobleman Jean-François Roberval. The city then set about strengthening its defences and surrounding itself with walled compounds and castles.[15] Martin Cote, a Basque from Biscay, attacked years later.

Many pirates had plans to perpetrate similar schemes involving Cartagena, which became more and more interesting to them. In 1568, Sir John Hawkins of England tried to trick Gov. Martín de las Alas to go against Spanish law and open a foreign fair in the city to sell goods, planning to ravage the port afterwards. The governor declined and Hawkins besieged the city but failed to reduce it.[16][17][18]

In 1586, Sir Francis Drake, also of England, and nephew of Hawkins, came with a strong fleet and quickly took the city. The governor, Pedro Fernández de Busto, fled with the Archbishop to the neighboring town of Turbaco, and from there negotiated the costly ransom for the city: 107,000 Spanish Eight Reales of the time, or around 200 million in today's US dollars. Drake had destroyed one-quarter of the city, the developing Palace of the Township, and the recently finished cathedral.

After this disaster, Spain poured millions every year into the city for its protection, beginning with Gov. Francisco de Murga's planning of the walls and forts; this practice was called "Situado". The magnitude of this subsidy is shown by comparison: between 1751 and 1810, the city received the sum of 20,912,677 Spanish reales, the equivalent of some 2 trillion dollars today.[19][20]

The city recovered quickly from the takeover by Drake and kept growing, and continued to attract attention from its opponents. The Raid on Cartagena in 1697 by Sir Bernard Desjean, Baron de Pointis and Jean Baptiste Ducasse was an all-out invasion that was politically motivated. There being no male successor to the Spanish Habsburg throne, King Louis XIV wanted his grandson Felipe V to assert the right of succession, and the taking of Cartagena de Indias could help significantly.

A part of the 16- and 17-century fortress of San Felipe de Barajas
Many crates of Spanish reales such as these were stored in Cartagena to be distributed throughout the Spanish empire

The political purpose behind the invasion was somewhat undermined by Ducasse, the governor of Saint-Domingue – today's Haiti – who brought his soldiers with a plan to steal, but ended with pirates and thieves again destroying the city. Entry to the city was not easy because of the recently finished first stage of walls and forts, which slowed the invasion and made it costly. While Desjean only asked for 250,000 Spanish reales in ransom, Ducasse stayed a few months and dishonored the baron's promise to respect the churches and holy places, and left the inhabitants with nothing. The city had again lost everything.

During the seventeenth century, the Spanish Crown paid for the services of prominent European military engineers to carry out the construction of the fortresses which are today Cartagena's most significant identitifying features. Engineering works took well over 208 years and ended with some eleven kilometres of walls surrounding the city, including the Castillo San Felipe de Barajas,, named in honor of Spain's King Philip IV. It was built during the governorship of Pedro Zapata de Mendoza, Marquis of Barajas and was constructed to repel land attacks, equipped with sentry boxes, buildings for food and weapons storage, and underground tunnels.

When the defenses were finished in 1756, the city was considered impregnable. Legend has it that Charles III of Spain, while reviewing in Madrid the Spanish defense expenditures for Havana and Cartagena de Indias, looked through his spyglass and remarked "This is outrageous! For this price those castles should be seen from here!"

Cartagena was a major trading port, especially for precious metals. Gold and silver from the mines in the New Granada and Peru were loaded in Cartagena on the galleons bound for Spain via Havana. Cartagena was also a slave port; Cartagena and Veracruz, (Mexico), were the only cities authorized to trade with black people. The first slaves arrived with Pedro de Heredia and worked as cane cutters to open roads, in the desecration of tombs of the aboriginal population of Sinú, and in the construction of buildings and fortresses. The agents of the Portuguese company Cacheu distributed human 'cargoes' from Cartagena for mine exploitation in Venezuela, the West Indies, the Nuevo Reino de Granada and the Viceroyalty of Perú.

On 5 February 1610, the Catholic Monarchs established from Spain the Inquisition Holy Office Court in Cartagena de Indias by a royal decree issued by King Philip II. It thus became, with Lima and Mexico one of the three seats of the Inquisition in the Americas. The Inquisition Palace, finished in 1770, still exists with its original features of colonial times. When Cartagena declared its complete independence from Spain on 11 November 1811 the inquisitors were urged to leave the city. The Inquisition operated again after the Reconquest in 1815, but it disappeared entirely when Spain surrendered six years later before the patriotic troops led by Simón Bolívar.

The policies of the Bourbon Dynasty in Spain, such as those of Philip V, stimulated the economic growth and consolidation of the Spanish America.
Juan Díaz de Torrezar Pimienta as governor was the mastermind of the reconstruction of the city after the destruction of 1697
The final serious attempt to take the city and invade New Granada was made by Edward Vernon, who failed in one of the biggest military expeditions ever sent there
Blas de Lezo the one-eyed, one-legged, one-handed Spanish mariner was one of those who defended the city in 1741

Viceregal era: 1717-1810

Although the eighteenth century began very badly for the city, soon things began to improve. The pro-trade economic policies of the new dynasty in Madrid bolstered the economics of Cartagena de Indias, and the establishment of the Viceroyalty of the New Granada in 1717 placed the city in the position of being the greatest beneficiary of the colony.

The reconstruction after the Raid on Cartagena (1697) was initially slow, but with the end of the War of the Spanish Succession around 1711 and the competent administration of D. Juan Diaz de Torrezar Pimienta, the walls were rebuilt, the forts reorganized and restored, and the public services and buildings reopened. By 1710, the city was fully recovered. At the same time, the slow but steady reforms of the restricted trade policies in the Spanish Empire encouraged the establishment of new trade houses and private projects. During the reign of Philip V of Spain the city had many new public works projects either begun or completed, among them the new fort of San Fernando, the Hospital of the Obra Pía and the full paving of all the streets and the opening of new roads.

Failed expedition to conquer Cartagena in 1741

In March 1741, the city endured a large-scale attack by British and American colonial troops led by admiral Edward Vernon (1684 - 1757), who arrived at Cartagena with a massive fleet of 186 ships and 23,600 men, including 12,000 infantry, against only six Spanish ships and fewer than 6,000 men, in an action known as the Battle of Cartagena de Indias. The siege was broken off due to the start of the tropical rainy season, after weeks of intense fighting in which the British landing party was successfully repelled by the Spanish and native forces led by commander General Blas de Lezo y Olavarrieta (1689 - 1741, death in aftermath of the Cartagena battle), a Basque from the Gipuzkoa lands of Spain.

Heavy British casualties were compounded by diseases such as yellow fever. This victory prolonged Spain's control of the Caribbean waters, which helped secure its large Empire until the nineteenth century. Admiral Vernon was accompanied by American Colonial troops, including George Washington's brother, Lawrence Washington, who was so impressed with Vernon that he named his Mount Vernon estate and plantation after him.

Bogota and Cartagena, the Athenas of America

After Vernon began what is called the 'Silver Age' of the city (1750-1808). This time was one of permanent expansion of the existing buildings, massive inmigration from all the other cities of the Viceroyalty, increase of the economic and political power of the city and a population growth spurt not equaled since that time. Political power that was already shifting from Bogotá to the coast completed its relocation, and the Viceroys decided to reside in Cartegena permanently. The inhabitants of the city were the richest of the colony, the aristocracy erected noble houses on their lands to form great estates, libraries and printing establishments were opened, and the first café in New Granada was even established. The good times of steady progress and advancement in the second half of the eighteenth century came to an abrupt end in 1808 with the general crisis of the Spanish Empire that came from the Mutiny of Aranjuez and all its consequences.

For more than 275 years, Cartagena was under Spanish rule. On November 11, 1811, Cartagena declared its independence.



Cartagena faces the Caribbean Sea to the west. To the south is the Cartagena Bay, which has two entrances: Bocachica (Small Mouth) in the south, and Bocagrande (Big Mouth) in the north. Cartagena is located at 10°25' North, 75°32' West (10.41667, -75.5333).1


Cartagena de Indias features a tropical wet and dry climate. Cartagena de Indias averages around 90% humidity, with rainy seasons typically in April-May and October-November. The climate tends to be hot and windy. The months of November to February tend to be more windy months, giving an extra cooling to the otherwise high tropical temperatures.

Cartagena de Indias is rarely touched by the hurricanes that decimate other Caribbean capitals like Havana, Santo Domingo, Kingston or San Juan. Although the city is in the Caribbean, the mainland is quite far south, isolating it from the wind currents that feed the hurricanes. The last hurricane to arrive at the city was Hurricane Santa, which had a strange arrival in 1988 and was debilitated after passing Panama.

Climate data for Cartagena de Indias
Month Jan Feb Mar Apr May Jun Jul Aug Sep Oct Nov Dec Year
Record high °C (°F) 37
Average high °C (°F) 31.1
Average low °C (°F) 24.4
Record low °C (°F) 21
Precipitation mm (inches) 34.3
Source: [21] 2008-09-26
Graph of 1951 - 2008 air average temperaturas


The Marquis of Ensenada was Minister for America and responsible for many policies, one of which resulted in the first modern census in the city in 1778.

The city began with only 200 people in 1533 and during the 16th century showed incredible growth. A major factor was the gold in the tombs of the Sinú Culture.

After those tombs were completely plundered, the inhabitants began to scatter to the countryside and to establish themselves as farmers, and the population of the city decreased.

Though the silver age of the city was to come, trade began to boom and that boom continued to increase in the 1600s. The city reached its growth peak in 1698 before the arrival of the Baron de Pointis.

The census made by the mayor's office in 1712 reflects damage brought on the city by Jean Baptiste Ducasse and his brigands: a major portion of the population of the city had emigrated.

The eighteenth century brought the Bourbon dynasty and its pro-trade policies, and these benefited the city, causing it to prosper again. During this period, the city passed the psychological barrier of 18.000 inhabitants, which was at the time the population cap of the Viceroyalty of New Granada.

Among the censuses of the eighteenth century was the special Census of 1778, imposed by the governor of the time, D. Juan de Torrezar Diaz Pimienta - later Viceroy of New Granada - by order of the Marquis of Ensenada, Minister of Finance - so that he would be provided numbers for his Catastro tax project, which imposed a universal property tax he believed would contribute to the economy while at the same time increasing royal revenues dramatically.

Year Total
1939 87,504
1952 123,439
1967 299,493
1976 312,520
1985 442,323
1993 654,302
1999 993,302
2005 1,012,234
2006 1,090,349
2011 1,230,443 Projected
2021 2,029,212 Projected
2033 2,849,202 Projected
Year Total
1811 29,320
1821 5,392
1832 8,001
1842 4,221
1853 6,403
1867 8,320
1870 7,680
1882 13,994
1890 17,392
1900 21,220
1912 29,922
1918 34,203
1926 64,322
Year Total
1533 200
1564 2,400
1593 3,543
1612 5,302
1634 8,390
1643 12,302
1698 14,223
1701 10,230
1732 12,932
1762 14,203
1778 16,940
1792 19,380
1803 23,402

Though the census was made in the most important cities of the Spanish Empire, enemies of Ensenada in the court turned King Charles III, who was busy with ongoing war with Britain, against the tax plan. The Census of 1778, besides having significance for economic history, is interesting because each house had to be described in detail and its occupants enumerated, making the census an important tool used even today by restoration architects in Cartagena de Indias's city centre. The original of the census is preserved in the Museum of History of the city while a copy rests in the Archivo de Indias in Seville.

It was the biggest city of the Viceroyalty until 1811, when the Peninsular War, which became Wars of Independence and Piñeres's Revolts, marked the beginning of a dramatic decline in all aspects for what had become the virtual capital of New Granada. In 1815 the city was almost destroyed. No census information exists for that time, only accounts of how the city became literally a ghost town. Only around 500 impoverished freed slaves dwelt the city, whose palaces and public buildings became ruins, many with collapsed walls.

Recuperation, thought slow, did begin, but then stopped as a result of the general economic and political instability of the country at the time. In addition, isolationist economic policy on the part of the Andean elites doomed the areas with export potential to poverty.

Several famines and cholera outbreaks in the mid-1800s decimated the city, and it was in danger of disappearing.

After the 1880s the city began to recover from crisis and vigorous progress continued, though somewhat slowly, after the 1929 crash. Syrian, Palestinian, Lebanese, Chinese and other immigrant communities developed in this period of time.

Between 1930 and 1970 the city showed great population growth at rates higher than the national average and higher than that of Bogota, which boomed mainly because of internal displacement and the hope of work opportunities as centralization increased. By 1970, the population spurt was over, but population growth has been dramatic since the 1980s with a mixture of privatization of the port infrastructure, decentralization of tourism, and, sadly, the fact that proportional to its population Cartagena is the city that has received the most displaced people from the countryside with the escalation of civil war in the 1990s in the Andean regions as refugees looked for safety in the Caribbean capital.

Today the city shows a continuing tendency for population growth that began in the mid-80s. Birth rate and relatively normal death rates feed the ongoing economic expansion.

Panorama of Cartagena from the Castillo de San Felipe de Barajas


To know more about the city's government history see:

Administrative areas & neighborhoods

The metropolitan area of Cartagena is formed by:

Northern area

In this area is the Rafael Núñez International Airport, located in the neighborhood of Crespo, only ten minutes' drive from downtown or the old part of the city and fifteen minutes away from the modern area. Zona Norte, the area located immediately north of the airport, is widely recognized as the district with the greatest prospective long-term urban development. It is the setting for the Hotel Las Americas, the urban development office of Barcelona de Indias, and several educational institutions.

Colonial architecture in the old town
Simon Bolivar's equestrian sculpture in the eponymous park
The Castillo de San Felipe de Barajas
Walls and canons of the old city


The Downtown area of Cartagena has varied architecture, mainly a colonial style, but republican and Italian style buildings, such as the Cathedral's bell tower, can be seen.

The official entrance to downtown Puerta del Reloj (Clock Gate), which comes out onto Plaza de los Coches (Square of the Carriages). A few steps farther is the Plaza de la Aduana (Customs Square), next to the mayor's office. Nearby is San Pedro Claver Square and the church also named for San Pedro, as well as the Museum of Modern Art.

Nearby is the Plaza de Bolívar (Bolívar's Square) and the Palace of the Inquisition. Plaza de Bolivar (formerly known as Plaza de Inquisicion) is essentially a small park with a statue of Simon Bolivar in the center. This plaza is surrounded by some of the city's most elegant, colonial buildings, which have lovely balconies. Shaded outdoor cafes line the street. The Office of Historical Archives devoted to Cartagena's history is not far away. Next to the archives is the Government Palace, the office building of the Governor of the Department of Bolivar. Across from the palace is the Cathedral of Cartagena, which dates back to the 16th century.

Another religious building of significance is the restored Santo Domingo Church in front of Plaza Santo Domingo (Santo Domingo Square). The square is home to the sculpture Mujer Reclinada ("Reclining Woman"), a gift from the renowned Colombian artist Fernando Botero.

Somewhat removed is the Augustinian Fathers Convent and the University of Cartagena. This university is a center of higher education opened to the public in the late nineteenth century. The Claustro de Santa Teresa (Saint Theresa Cloister), which has been remodeled and has become a hotel is operated by Charleston Hotels. It has its own square, protected by the San Francisco Bastion.

A 20-minute walk from downtown is the Castillo de San Felipe de Barajas, the greatest fortress ever built by the Spaniards in their colonies. The original fort was constructed between 1639 and 1657 on top of San Lazaro Hill. In 1762 extensive expansion was undertaken, and the result is the current bastion. Numerous attempts to storm the fort were mounted, but it was never penetrated. An extensive system of tunnels is connected underground to distribute provisions and facilitate evacuation. The tunnels were all constructed in such a way as to make it possible to hear footsteps of an approaching enemy. Some of the tunnels are open for viewing today.

San Diego

San Diego was named after San Diego Convent, now known as the Beaux Arts School Building. In front of it is the Convent of the Nuns of the Order of Saint Claire, now the beautiful Hotel Santa Clara. In the surrounding area is Santo Toribio Church, the last church built in the Walled City and, next to it, Fernández de Madrid Square, honoring Cartagena's hero, José Fernández de Madrid, whose statue can be seen nearby.

Inside the Old City is found Las Bóvedas (The Vaults), a construction attached to the walls of the Santa Catalina Fortress. From the top of this construction the Caribbean Sea is visible.

Getsemaní neighborhood

This is one of the most representative neighborhoods in Cartagena. African people brought as slaves used to live in this neighborhood, the most prominent place of which is Parque Centenario (Centenary Park), built in 1911 to commemorate a century of independence. Inside are found some interesting monuments, including one dedicated to the military. Parque Centenario also serves as a local police station and a mid-afternoon pulpit for aspiring evangelists. Over the years the park has acquired, through various means, a sloth, two gila monsters and a few monkeys. Cartagena's Convention Center, Third Order Church and San Francisco Cloister are all located in the area. The Old City has the same architectural styles as the area surrounded by The Walls.


Bocagrande (Big Mouth) is a much-sought-after area with many hotels, shops, restaurants, nightclubs and art galleries. It is located between Cartagena Bay to the east and the Caribbean Sea to the west, to include El Laguito (The Little Lake) and Castillogrande (Big Castle), two renowned neighborhoods. Its particular appeal is in the beaches and nightlife around Avenida San Martín (Saint Martin Avenue), the backbone of the area.

The beaches of Bocagrande, lying along the northern shore, are muddy. There are breakwaters about every 200 yards, and the azure of the Caribbean is lacking as the beach is very nearly at sea level and there is a lack of proper waste disposal in the city. A boat ride of about seven minutes takes visitors far enough out to sea to see the desired Caribbean color.

On the bay side of the peninsula of Boca Grande is a spectacular seawalk. In the centre of the bay is a statue of the Virgin Mary. Contestants of the Miss Colombia Pageant go there to be seen during festival.

Originally constructed for foreign oil workers, Bocagrande consists mostly the land acquired through land reclamation. Bocagrande is now considered the city's most popular area for tourists.

Bocagrande's skyline at twilight from the old town
Cartagena walls
Sunset over Cartagena Harbor as seen from La Popa

Tourist sights and attractions

  • Islas del Rosario
  • India Catalina
  • Steps of La Popa mount
  • Castillo de San Felipe de Barajas
  • The Walled city of Cartagena
  • Cartagena Gold Museum
  • Palace of the Inquisition
  • Las Bóvedas
  • Playa Blanca, Barú (located in the island of Barú)


Cartagena boasted "modern" urban development in recent years, with the construction of new skyscrapers. As of October 2007, there were 42 high-rises under construction, including an effort to create Colombia's tallest, the Torre de la Escollera, expected to be completed in early 2007, planned to stand at 676 ft (206 m) and having 58 floors. However, real development of the project, assisted by the strong Caribbean winds, led to its dismantling. A new, twenty-story building has been planned instead.


As the commercial and touristic hub of the country the city has many transportation facilities, particularly in the seaport, air, and fluvial areas.

Land transportation

The city is linked to the northern part of the Caribbean Region through roads 90 and 90A, more commonly called Central Caribbean Road. This Road passes through Barranquilla, Santa Marta and Riohacha ending in Paraguachón, Venezuela and continues with Venezuelan numeration all the way to Caracas.

To the southeast the city has more entrances:

Road 25: Going through Turbaco and Arjona, and through the Montes de María when a fork divides it continuing to Sincelejo as National 25 and finally ending in Medellín, and to the east to Valledupar as number 80.

Road 25 A: Going also to Sincelejo, but avoiding the mountains, finally connects with 25 in the forementioned city.

Air transportation

The Rafael Núñez International Airport, is the biggest and busiest airport in the region and the second in passenger traffic in the country. The code of the airport is CTG, having flights to almost all the airports in the country and many connections to Eldorado International Airport in Bogotá. Excesive operational costs and easier connections and better prices had been shifting the gross international connection passengers to the nearer Tocumen International Airport in Panama and Queen Beatrix International Airport in Aruba while also more companies prefer to serve the Colombian market from Cartagena de Indias, due to better geographical and atmospherical conditions.

Because of this growing general air traffic shift fIt is thought may be finished by 2020, the project favored by many in the region the interior to these coastal airports, studies had been made to build a bigger new airport in the area of Barbacoas Bay in the southern city limits. This airport, if approved, could be seen as a challenge to Bogota Airport and it is plausible to think on some people pressurizing for a standstill.

Railroad transportation

The city used to have a railroad station near today's "La Matuna" neighborhood, but in the late 50s there was a general trend towards dismounting the railroad system and replace it with paved roads.In general, it looks as if Colombia lacks today a consistent railroad infrastructure.

Sea transportation

Sociedad Portuaria de Cartagena de Indias main wharves, 2008

As the busiest container port in the country, and third in grain transportation, the city is well connected with the ports of the Caribbean main, and the rest of the world. The city is served with three open ports, and more than 40 private ports.

The open ports of the City are:

  • Sociedad Portuaria de Cartagena de Indias (Port Society of Cartagena de Indias). Specialized in container management, the first of his class in the country, 3rd. busiest in the caribbean sea, and 99th ranked port in the world.[22]
  • Muelles El Bosque (El Bosque Docks) Specialized in grain storage, expanding to the container market.[23]
  • Terminal de Contenedores de Cartagena de Indias (Container Terminal of Cartagena de Indias) Container management.

Its important to note, that the first have acquired the assets of the last to develop a new port in the external bay that intends to duplicate the container capacity of the port in general by 2011 and triplicate it in 2015.

Of the private ports of the city we can mention:

Fluvial transportation

Since the seventeenth century the bay has been connected to the Magdalena River by the Dique Canal, built by Governor Pedro Zapata de Mendoza. After Colombian independence, the canal was abandoned and growing centralization left the city without resources to fund the vital artery, the last important maintenance work being done in the 50s during Laureano Gomez's administration. Some improvements were made by local authorities in the 1980s, but they were insufficient because of technical objections from the central government that decreed that the "maintenance" of the canal did not fall under the jurisdiction of the local government. From then on, maintenance of the canal was more or less delayed, though it is still functional.[24]

Many Caribbean and Cartagenian political leaders argue that this state of affairs might change with a return to pre-independence funding and tax system schemes and that under such systems the canal would be maintained properly and even expanded, benefiting the national economy.[25]


José Fernández de Madrid was one of the first playwrights of New Granada and his personal library was one of the richest of his time born in Cartagena, the University of Cartagena named its library system in his memory.


The city has many public and private libraries:

  • The Universidad de Cartagena José Fernández Madrid Library: Started in 1821 when the university opened as the "University of Magdalena and Ithsmus". Serves mainly the students and faculty of this university but anyone can use its services.

Divided in buildings across the city being assigned to the Faculties it serves accordingly each area. The main building is in C. de la Universidad 64 and the second biggest section is located in Av. Jose Vicente Mogollón 2839.[26]

  • The Bartolomé Calvo Library: Founded in 1843 and established in its current place in 1900 is one of the main libraries of the Caribbean Coast and the biggest of the city. Its address is: C. de la Inquisición, 23.
  • The History Academy of Cartagena de Indias Library: Opened in 1903, many of its books date from more than a century before from donations of members and benefactors. Its entrance is more restricted due to secure handling procedure reasons as ancient books require, but it can be requested in the Academy office in Plaza de Bolivar 112.
  • The Technological University of Bolívar Library: Opened in 1985 Although small in general size, its sections on engineering and electronics are immense and its demand is mostly on this area, being located in Camino de Arroyohondo 1829.
  • The American Hispanic Culture Library: Opened in 1999, it already existed a smaller version without Spanish funding in the Casa de España since the early 1940s but in 1999 was enlarged to serve Latin America and the Caribbean in the old convent of Santo Domingo. It specializes on Hispanic Culture and History and is a continental epicenter of seminaries on history and restoration of buildings, the restoration of the convent and the enlargement of the library was and still is a personal proyect of Juan Carlos I of Spain who visits it regularly. Its located in Plaza Santo Domingo 30, but its entrance is in C. Gastelbondo 52.
  • Jorge Artel Library: Opened in 1997, serves the area of the southwest districts of the city, it is mostly for children. It is located in Camino del Socorro 222
  • Balbino Carreazo Library: Located in Pasacaballos, a suburban neighborhood of the southeastern part of the city, serves mostly the suburbs of Pasacaballos, Ararca, Leticia del Dique and Matunilla. It is located in Plaza de Pasacaballos 321
  • District Libraries: Although small, this system goes grassroots to neighborhoods circulating books, generally each district library has around 5000 books.[27]
Teatro Heredia was opened in 1911 and restored in 1989

Theatres and concert halls

Performing arts have always been a big part of Cartagena's cultural life. The first carnivals and western theaters that served in New Granada operated here, more precisely on today's Calle del Coliseo. This was an activity patronized by the Viceroy Manuel de Guirior and Antonio Caballero y Góngora, who, like their predecessors, spent most of the time of their mandates ruling in Cartagena de Indias.

  • Heredia Theatre: Opened in 1911, inspired by the Teatro Tacón of Havana, was designed by Jose Enrique Jaspe. After years of abandonment, it was reborn in the 1990s and continues to be a cultural center. It is located in Plazuela de La Merced 5.[28]
  • Universidad de Cartagena Aula Maxima: Although in existence since the early 1800s, it is used mainly for debates which began in the late 1920s, and it still has that use today.
  • The city has registered more than 100 companies of theater and traditional or contemporary dancing and is regularly visited by ballet and opera companies. Many of these local theater and traditional companies have their own auditoriums, among them: Reculá del Ovejo House, Teatro Contemporaneo Cartagenero, Ekobios, and Colegio del Cuerpo.

Museums and galleries

  • City Museum Palace of the Inquisition, opened in the 1970s.
Port, Fortresses and Group of Monuments, Cartagena*
UNESCO World Heritage Site
State Party  Colombia
Type Cultural
Criteria iv, vi
Reference 285
Region** Latin America and the Caribbean
Inscription history
Inscription 1980  (8th Session)
* Name as inscribed on World Heritage List.
** Region as classified by UNESCO.

World Heritage site

The port, the fortresses and the group of monuments of Cartagena were selected in 1984 by the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization (UNESCO) as significant to the heritage of the world, having the most extensive fortifications in South America. They are significant, too, for being located in a bay that is part of the Caribbean Sea. A system of zones divides the city into three neighborhoods: San Sebastian and Santa Catalina with the cathedral and many palaces where the wealthy lived and the main government buildings functioned; San Diego or Santo Toribio, where merchants and the middle class lived; and Getsemani, the suburban popular quarters.[29]

In popular culture

  • Cartagena gained modern notoriety in the 1984 hit movie Romancing the Stone when romance novelist Joan Wilder (Kathleen Turner) travels to Cartagena to deliver a treasure map in an effort to ransom her kidnapped sister. The Cartagena scenes were actually filmed in Mexico, and it doesn't reflect the real Cartagena. In the Family Guy episode "Barely Legal", the mayor, thinking the film is real, sends all the city's police officers to Cartagena.
    • In that movie, Michael Douglas's character refers to it as Cartage(ny)a. This has largely been adopted by tourists and is an irritant to the locals. The "N" in Cartagena is solid.
  • Gabriel García Marquez's novel Love in the Time of Cholera although set in an unnamed city, is obviously in Cartagena. Also set in Cartagena, partially or totally, are other novels of his, among them The General in his Labyrinth and Strange Pilgrims.
  • The first chapter of Brian Jacques' novel The Angel's Command takes place in Cartagena in 1628.
  • The 2007 film movie Love in the Time of Cholera was filmed in Cartagena.
  • In the jazz club scene from the (2004) film Collateral, Tom Cruise's hitman character asks about a soon-to-be victim's contacts with drug cartel members in Cartagena, before shooting him in the head from point-blank range
  • Burn! (1969), with Marlon Brando, was filmed in Cartagena.
  • The 1986 film The Mission with Robert De Niro was filmed in Cartagena and Brazil.
  • The poem "Románc" by Sándor Kányádi talks about the beauty of Cartagena.
  • Cartagena is featured as the backdrop for the NCIS episode "Agent Afloat".
  • A fictionalized version of the 1697 raid on Cartagena is chronicled in the novel Captain Blood.
  • The second story in Nam Le's award-winning book of short fiction, The Boat (2008) is called "Cartagena" and set in Colombia. Cartagena in the story is more an idea than a place.
  • Cartagena figured prominently in the "Smuggler's Blues" episode of TV's Miami Vice in 1985, featuring guest star Glenn Frey and his song "Smuggler's Blues".

Famous people

Nearby towns and cities

Sister cities


  1. ^ Biblioteca Luis Ángel Arango
  2. ^
  3. ^ a b
  4. ^
  5. ^ "X Cátedra de Historia Ernesto Restrepo Tirado - "El Caribe en la Nación Colombiana" Guerra, Langbaek et al. Ed. Aguilar, Bogotá, 2007. ISBN 958-8250-31-5.
  6. ^ Allaire, Louis (1997). "The Caribs of the Lesser Antilles". In Samuel M. Wilson, The Indigenous People of the Caribbean, pp. 180–185. Gainesville, Florida: University of Florida. ISBN 0-8130-1531-6.
  7. ^ Lemaitre, Eduardo; Historia Extensa de Cartagena de Indias, Ed. Aguilar 1976. Edited before the ISBN system was enforced in Colombia, no reedition.
  8. ^
  9. ^
  10. ^
  11. ^ Lemaitre, Eduardo; Historia Extensa de Cartagena de Indias, Ed. Aguilar 1976.
  12. ^ Corrales, Manuel Ezequiel; Documentos para la historia de la Provincia de Cartagena, Tomo II, Imp. M. Rivas, Cartagena de Indias, 1883.
  13. ^
  14. ^ De Castellanos, Juan; Historia de Cartagena, Bogotá, Biblioteca de Cultura Popular de Colombia, 1942.
  15. ^
  16. ^
  17. ^
  18. ^
  19. ^
  20. ^
  21. ^
  22. ^
  23. ^
  24. ^ Lemaitre, Eduardo; Historia Extensa de Cartagena de Indias, Ed. Aguilar 1976
  25. ^ "El Porvenir", Year CXVII, Issue 29.399, Page 4, column 2. Cartagena de Indias, 1999.
  26. ^
  27. ^
  28. ^
  29. ^ UNESCO: Cartagena, Colombia
  30. ^ "Existing Sister Cities". City of Manila. Retrieved 2009-09-02. 

External links

Travel guide

Up to date as of January 14, 2010
(Redirected to Cartagena (Colombia) article)

From Wikitravel

Cartagena [1] is a city in Bolivar, Colombia.

Cartagena's cathedral tower, in the old town
Cartagena's cathedral tower, in the old town


The city was one of the first sanctuaries of freed African slaves in the Americas and is currently populated by an ethnic mix representative of Colombia's own variety.

Cartagena, located on Colombia's northern coast and facing the Caribbean Sea, is the most visited city in the country by tourists. It gets extremely crowded in the December holidays and the holy week, when schools are out and most Colombians take their vacations. The city has basically two main parts where tourists go: the walled colonial city ("ciudad amurallada"), which is truly amazing and has many fancy restaurants, clubs and hotels; and a long strip of hotel towers and condos fronting onto the beach, known as Bocagrande. Also is nice to visit the exclusive neighborhood of Castillogrande, filled with recently built condos, places to jog, and a quiet beach to soak up some sun.

Get in

By Plane

Rafael Nuñez International Airport (IATA: CTG) (ICAO: SKCG) receives international flights from Panama City (Aero Republica, COPA and Aires[2]), Lima (LAN Peru), Fort Lauderdale (Spirit Airlines and Avianca), Caracas (Aerorepública) and Miami (Avianca) and domestic non-stop flights from Medellín, Cali, San Andrés and Bogotá. Cartagena is 1000 km north of Bogotá (about an hour by air), or a 2.5 hour flight from Miami and five to five and a half hours from New York City.

To get to the old city, negotiate with the cab driver before getting into cab. The price should be around 8000 pesos or so. As of November 2009, rate from airport to El Laguito is $15,300 pesos prepaid outside arrivals hall. To get into town even more cheaply (if you have little luggage), walk one block outside the terminal onto the street, and take a shared cab or bus into town (1200 pesos).

By bus

The bus terminal is 6 km east of the old city. Frequent White and Green metrocar buses with air conditioner go to the old city and cost COP$ 1,700. Buses leave every hour for Barranquilla, and from there frequent buses connect to Santa Marta. The asking price for buses to Medellin is $50 USD, but it is normal to barter the price down to $30. All long distance bus tickets are expected to be bartered down.

By boat

Cartagena is an important port for charter boats between Colombia and Panama. There are several private boats doing that trip. Fare varies between US$375 and US$400 depending on size of the boat and on-board services. The trip usually takes 4 nights and 5 days and includes a 2 days stopover in San Blas Islands. At the Panama end, the boats either leave from the Portobelo Area or from Carti Islands Kuna Yala rather than Colón. Reliable information about departure dates and captains can be found at the hotel Casa Viena in Cartagena (See Sleep), at Zulys Backpackers Hostel[3] in Panama City or Luna's Castle Hostel [4] in Panama City, or at Hostel Wunderbar in Puerto Lindo in Panama [5] in san blas islands Expect to have to wait several days to find a boat.

Get around

The old town in particular is best explored Walking. Most places in Bocagrande are also within walking distance.

To reach other destinations such as the San Felipe fort, there are many buses running all over the city. Ask the driver or other people who are waiting which bus goes to your destination.

Taxis are generally easy to find, although in the old town you may have to walk a few blocks away from the center, toward the wider road close to wall. From the old town to Boca Grande or vice versa or any transport inside Bocagrande or inside old town expect to pay COP $4,500; from the airport to the old town or vice versa is COP$8,000 or $9,000 at night, with air conditioning. Important: negotiate your fare before getting in the taxi. Taxi drivers may demand ridiculous rates if not negotiated in advance. There are printed fares, but they are more like minimum fares. Even negociated rates are often higher, especially in high season.

A Chariot is a popular way for tourists to get to know the old town. These can be flagged down in the street or there are usually some waiting at the Plaza Bolivar or close to the Santa Clara hotel.

Cartagena has several harbours for Boats going out to the Islas del Rosario and Playa Blanca, including the Muelle Turistico de la Bodeguita, Muelle Todomar.

Colonial street within the walled city
Colonial street within the walled city
  • Cartagena's 500-hundred year-old coralstone forts and great parts of its walled city are admirably intact and represent some of the finest examples of civil and military architecture of the Spanish colonial times.
  • While you are in Cartagena, don't miss the Castillo de San Felipe, a fortress designed by the Dutch engineer Richard Carr and built in 1657 by the Spanish for protection against pirates while shipping gold out to Europe. Opening hours 8am-6pm, entrance fee COP$ 14,000 (May 09).
  • Close to the San Felipe fortress is the 150m high La Popa hill, which offers great views over Cartagena and the harbour area. The 17th century Santa Cruz monastery is here, which has a beautifully restored courtyard and a fine image of the Virgin of La Candelaria. As of March 2007 entrance to La Popa is COP$6,000 for adults and a little less for children.
  • Cartagena's main attraction is its historic old town surrounded by the city wall. Main entrance is the Clock Tower Building. The walled city includes the neighbourhoods Centro, San Diego, Getsemaní and the modern part La Matuna. The oldest part of Cartagena is around Plaza Trinidad in Getsemaní.
  • Museums: Cartagena is a city full of history, which can be visited at the Palacio de la Inquisición (Palace of Inquisition), where the Spanish Inquisition tortured, judged and convicted men accused of crimes against religion. It is situated in 'Plaza de Bolivar', in the historic center. A tourist guide, in English, can be purchased for COP$15.000.
  • Churches: Almost all churches in the historic center are worth visiting, especially Iglesia de San Pedro Claver, in honor of the priest St. Pedro Claver, who was the first saint of the new world for his work with slaves; La Catedral, near Plaza de Bolivar and the Iglesia de Santo Domingo.
  • Nearby coral reefs, powdery beaches, impressive mangroves, and waterways complement the historic and urban beauty.
  • If you are interested in beaching it, Playa Blanca is the place to be. You can take either a ferry from the port near the Centro de Convenciones or go by car (via the bridge to the island of Baru). There is also a direct bus going on Sunday morning. The beaches are far cleaner than those in and around the city. There are a lot of vendors trying hassle you for oysters or massages. You can rent a hammock and stay the night as well, which is a very budget-conscious way to spend a few days.
  • Farther down from Playa Blanca on Isla Baru in the bay of Cholon is Sportbaru (Website:[6])- a place well worth of visit. This tranquil beachfront resort offers water sports, boat tours, eco hikes, gaming and gathering facilities, restaurant and bar; and an exceptional staff that is very accommodating to meet any of your needs. You can take a day tour there from Cartagena, or stay overnight in comfortable cabanas that are all facing the beach.
  • Several agents arrange boat tours to Islas del Rosario. A set of small islands out of the coast. Usually the tour include lunch, a visit to an aquarium and a few hours at Playa Blanca. Not included in the price is harbor tax and park entrance (C$10.000 total) and the entrance fee to the aquarium (C$15.000). If you buy your tour at one of the street vendors, don't pay in advance, preferably pay part or all at return in Cartagena. At least one of these tours is to a resort "Coco Liso" which is something like a Colombian butlins. You will be promised a beach, pay a high fee, then disembark a boat after an hour and a half to be greeted with a fairly basic hotel, gimicky pool, and about 6 square feet of beach. Buying a piece of "coral" jewellery from one of the many hawkers, engage them in conversation, and they might lead you to their private beach - quite beautiful, and all the more interesting for having its existence totally denied by the tour operators. The tourist offices in the centre of the old town and a good place to compare the many possible trips to the islands.
  • Swimming with the dolphins - (Website:[7]) offers exclusively meetings with the dolphins of the Aquarium. 30 minutes cost COP $150.000 + taxes not including the transport to the Aquarium.
  • Chiva Bus is a must do fun activity in Cartagena. If you've visited Cartagena for even a day you've undoubtedly seen the open air, colorful buses going through the city loaded with people having fun, drinking and enjoying the loud beat of local music. A good activity for couples, families or groups. There are various pickup locations at mostly tourist hotels (Decameron, Caribe, Hilton etc) or just talk your the people to make arrangements. (Website:[8]). Prices range from $18.000 to $25.000 (COP) depending on tour.
  • Latin Dance Lessons - Latin dances, first of all the Salsa form an integral part of Caribbean culture. The colorful mixture of people in Cartagena and their passionate way of living find one if its most eminent expressions in the vibrant rhythms all around. Crazy Salsa offers you a wide range of latin dance classes, focussing on Salsa, Merengue and Bachata. There are introductary classes every firday and saturday at 5pm for just $10.000 (COP) - for advanced and intensive classes, workshops or other questions visit (Website:[9]).

Playa Blanca is widely regarded as the best beach of Cartagena, but is not that easy to reach. With its white sand and crystal clear water it is probably one of the best beaches in Colombia. After tour-boats leave in the afternoon it is also very peaceful and quiet. It is worth staying on Playa Blanca for at least one night. There are several places where you can rent hammocks, get food and drinks. For example “Wittenbergs place”. On the beach you will be approached to buy massages, fruit platters, sea food and jewelry among other things. Look out for the vendors selling oysters: they will give you an oyster as a present (regalo) to taste. They will quickly crack the shells and serve you a number of oysters, after which you are told that they each cost 2,000 pesos. Avoid this 30,000 peso charge and the subsequent argument on the beach. If you are looking for great seafood and Coco Locos, ask around for Nelson Mandela.

By boat Take a bus or taxi to “Mercado Bazurto”, the big market of Cartagena about 10 minutes from the Center. From there, every day, except Sundays, small cargo-boats (lancha de carga) leave for Playa Blanca. They don´t have an exact departure time, be there before 9AM to be sure. You will have to pay about 20.000 pesos each way(diciembre 2008) and the trip takes more or less 1 hour to reach the beach.The way back is much easier, most boats (tourboats) will bring you back for arround 15.000 pesos. Keep in mind that the last boats from Playa Blanca to Cartagena leave around 2-3PM! More comfortable and safer is taking a roundtrip from the center at Muelle de las Pegasos. You can bargain down a one-way-trip without lunch to about 25.000 Pesos plus 8.300 port tax. The tour takes you to Rosario Islands first until it reaches Playa Blanca in the late morning. You can leave the tour there to stay overnight.

Overland by public transport (2-3 tough hours): 1. Bus to Pasacaballos – 2. ferry or canoe to cross “Canal del Dique” – 3.on the other side you take any kind of transport to Santa Ana (bus,jeep,mototaxi) 4.from Santana further on to Playa Blanca there are buses,jeeps or mototaxis - if you like it cheap try to reach Santana until 9 a.m ,later on the only bus is gone and you have to take a mototaxi for 12.000 pesos which you actualy can take already once your crossed the "Canal del Dique", Its about 2 hours walking distance from Santana to Playa Planca. Fare all together around 3.500 pesos or 12.000 pesos if you take a moto taxi once you crossed te "canal del Dique"


Watch out for the "Money-Changing-Magicians"

Those street vendors offer you a very good exchange rate. After you have counted the money you will recognize that a small amount is missing, and after complaining he will put exactly that amount on top again. In the same move they will take some big notes from the bottom. Most people won't count their money a second time, and first think they made a good deal but in fact got ripped off. Be very careful when walking at night specially around lonely parts of the city.

Tips for Currency Exchange and Retrieving Pesos from ATM machines. Most hotels, upscale restaurants take credit cards, but many places, especially taxis only accept Columbian pesos. The banks do not exchange currency. The easiest method for obtaining pesos is to use your debit card at an ATM machine. Another option is to use a Cambio or curreny exchange kiosk, however, your exchange rate will be a little higher than by using a debit card. Using a credit card at the ATM machine will require you to use a PIN number, so contact your financial institution before your trip.

Taking a walk

When in the Old City do not walk outside the walls, and remember that it is a large city, so just use common sense. The street vendors can be very annoying, but a simple "No quiero nada" in Spanish will keep them away.

Dodgy tours to Islas del Rosario and Playa Blanca

The tours offered to visit Islas del Rosario and Playa Blanca can be quite a let down. You'll be offered a price for a tour which "includes" either snorkeling or entrance to the aquarium and a meal at Playa Blanca for about 50,000 pesos. Once on the trip you find out that you have to pay extra for the aquarium or the snorkeling - 15,000 pesos. Make sure the tour guides on the boat are told by the person who sold the tour what is included in order to avoid disagreements. The best way to book a tour is going inside the marina and avoiding the "sales" people outside. They are getting a cut for the sales and have no reponsability to you. Once inside ask for Elizabeth (known lovingly as La negra Liz"). She owns several boats, will give you the best price, and most importantly her word. You can rent your own small boat for COP 700.000 or secure a seat for COP 75.000. Ask them before hand about the itinerary. Her company in particular has its own "resort" in the Rosario Islands. The resort is clean, nice and has good food for a reasonable price. Unfortunatedly, their beach access is limited and less than espectacular. Her boats will insist on taking you there, but you have a choice. Playa blanca is by far the best beach, but it can be overwhelming with the locals trying to sell you their products. More upscale destinations include the Baru Island and private resorts owned by the big hotels (Santa Clara, Santa Teresa). In most, you are allowed to spend the day at the beach. Every tour boat has their own agenda.

  • Handcrafts are fashionable and sophisticated.
  • Emeralds are available for sale all over Cartagena, including polished and uncut loose emeralds and beautiful jewelry. The prices are extremely reasonable and the variety available is extensive in the old walled city. The stores that sell emeralds and emerald jewelry use various names such as "Taller y Fabrica de Joyas" (workshop and manufactuer of jewelry), "Museo de Artesanias y Esmeraldas" (museum of crafts and emeralds) or simply "Joyeria" (jewelry). The street vendors will be persistent in trying to take you to one of these as they frequently get a commission for bringing in a tourist from the street. The store owners will negotiate and provide a certicate of authenticty.


Cartagena features a rich fusion cuisine, combining ingredients and methods of the New and Old worlds, as well as of the original African, Arabian and other legacies of its inhabitants. Eating set menu lunches and dinners in local restaurants costs around COP$4,000 pesos ($2). A typical dish consists of fried fish (if you are by the beach), chicken or meat, served with coconut rice (arroz de coco), fried plantains (patacones) and salad. There are many places that sell $1 fruit juices. Colombia boasts a very good range of exotic fruits that can be mixed with water or milk.

In the old town, dozens of good restaurants can be found dotted around the streets. They are particularly concentrated close to the Plaza Santo Domingo in El Centro, such as:

  • Club de Pesca - great seafood and great atmosphere. Located in Manga with view to the bay and marinas of Cartagena.
  • Saint Michel, on the northwest corner of the Plaza. If you fancy a change from the usual seafood or Italian restaurants, this French option serves some very tasty fondues as the main courses in its three-course menus, very good value at around USD$10, as well as plenty of other dishes and wine at more reasonable prices than at most restaurants in this area.
  • El Bistro, in Calle Ayos 4-46, 2 blocks from Plaza Santo Domingo. Excellent European Kitchen, German Bakery, reasonabel prices.

There are also several around the smaller but more intimate San Diego Plaza next to the Santa Clara hotel and include:

  • La Cevicheria, Calle Stuart, opposite Hotel Santa Clara, Tel: 6642760. A great selection of hot and cold ceviches, around USD$8 a dish.
  • Pazza Luna - Good, super thin crust pizzas, as well as some other dishes such as pastas. Located on Plaza San Diego.
  • La Vitrola - Considered the best restaurant in town. Cuban ambience, good food - high prices. It is located Calle Baloco on the corner front to the historical walls.
  • La Cava - Very good restaurant in the calle Santo Domingo. Dishes around 16 USD.
  • Quebracho - Argentinian restaurant at its best. Goood meat, good ambiance. Dishes around 18 USD. It is located Calle Baloco.
  • Crepes & Waffles - Very nice Colombian franchise restaurant which offers very good dishes to excellent prices (dishes around 5 USD). It is located Calle Baloco.
  • El Corral - very nice colombian franchise hamburger chain. Good quality hamburgers for $10,000-$15,000 pesos for a combo. One is located in Boca grande; there are probably more.
  • La cocina de Carmela - Colombian gourmet food in the Calle Santisimo close to Parque Fernandez de Madrid. Dishes around 12 USD.
  • Cafe El Santisimo - One of the must see restaurants of Cartagena. Dishes around 16 USD.
  • Restaurante Casa Suiza, Calle de la Soledad 5-38 Centro Historico (Near Juan Valdez and the Universidad de Cartagena), 312-678-9309, [10]. 7:30am to 8pm. Great food at a great price. The swiss trained chef offers a daily lunch menu starting at US$4 including a fresh fruit juice, soup, mixed salad, main dish, and coffee. All meals are made from scratch. Even the bread and pasta are made in house. Pastry and pie dishes are also available. Check out the breakfast, lunch, and dinner menu on their website. $4 and up.  edit
  • One of the most popular watering holes for local Cartageneros is Mister Babilla, located on the Avenida del Arsenal, near the Centro de Convenciones. This place is great on the weekends and is notorious for having people dancing on the tables and the bar late into the night! A great time!
  • La Avenida del Arsenal is located along the bay near the Centro de Convenciones. In its heyday it was the place to be. Now much of the nightlife in Cartagena has moved to the Ciudad Vieja, but this strip of about 10 discotecas is still a raging place to experience on weekends. Entry to most of the discos is 10,000 to 20,000 Colombian pesos.
  • Olano´s, (Near Plaza de Santo Domingo). Great sea food with fusion style, don´t miss the shrimps in passion fruit and coconut rice!  edit
Narrow streets downtown
Narrow streets downtown

In the ciudad amurallada, the most famous hotels are Sofitel Santa Clara and Charleston Santa Teresa, both old monasteries renovated in the 90s. Either of them have fabulous facilities - expect prices like Monaco. Otherwise, the newest part of the city, Bocagrande, offers the largest number of hotels of all prices. You should always try to stay in the ciudad amurallada, since this is what makes Cartagena unique, rather than its beaches, which are normally too crowded and not really clean. If you cannot afford the five-star hotels, you may try with colonial houses turned into hostels, but they are rather small and sometimes getting a room there may be a matter of luck.


Budget hotels and hostels can be found in Getsemaní :

  • Hostal Real, Calle De La Magdalena No. 9-33, Getsemani, +5 664 7866, [11]. Opened by the Rincon family over 30 years ago, Hostal Real is housed in a beautifully restored colonial building filled with color, unique artwork, and lovely gardens for reading and relaxing. Cheap prices and amazing accommodation in the historic district. The owners are very friendly and happy to help you with any questions or advice. Prices begin at 16,000 Pesos pp with a 5,000 peso suppliment for a single room..  edit
  • Northstar Backpackers Hostel, Carrera 3 #8-96, Bocagrande, [12]. In Bocagrande, where all the action is, this cheap, cool hostel will give you everything you need to have fun. Awesome service, wifi, laundry service, safe lockers, and a good location near all the buzz of Cartagena city life!  edit
  • Casa Viena, Calle San Andrés No 30-53 (Getsemaní), +57-5-664-6242 (), [13]. Popular backpackers place with several 2 to 4 person rooms some with bathroom and a dormitory with arco. Facilities include internet, personal strongboxes, bookswap and a communal kitchen. Price for a dormbed C$15.000 and around C$16.000 per person for a room.  edit
  • Hotel Familiar, Calle El Guerrero No. 29 -66 (Getsemani), 5 664 2464. Run by Jairo Toro, located only 100m from Casa Viena and a good second choice. Rooms are bright and clean and prices start from 16,000 Pesos per person.  edit
  • Hotel Villa Colonial, Calle del las Maravillas No.30-60 (Getsemani), (5) 664 4996, (5) 664 5421 (). Well kept, clean, friendly and helpful management, rooms with air conditioning and fans, private bathrooms, they also have another buidling on Calle de la Media Luna, which has nicer, more expensive rooms. In May 2009, a room for a couple with one bed was 60000 pesos per night. (in the older, cheaper building). We were able to negotiate a better price for staying a couple of nights. The staff was very nice and welcoming.  edit
  • Hostal La Casona, Calle Tripita y Media - Cra. 0 No. 31-32 (Getsemani), (5) 639 5644 (). With approximately 30 rooms around a nice courtyard, this hostel offers a good deal for backpackers. Air-conditioned dorms with cable TV and a private bathroom for 15,000 pesos. Cheap and fast internet as well as tours agency service are available.  edit
  • Hotel Marlin, Calle de la Media Luna, Calle 35 No. 10–35 (Getsemani), 5) 664 3507, (5) 664 9193 (), [14]. Popular with backpackers, this centrally located hotel offers air-conditioned rooms with private bathroom, communal kitchen, free internet, and tours services. Dorms for 15,000 pesos, singles for 25,000 pesos. UPDATE- THERE ARE BEDBUGS!!!!  edit
  • Hotel La Muralla, Calle de Media Luna (Getsemani). Clean, the owners are nice, can be loud on the weekends, not really a tourist place, but one of the cheapest options! A room for a single person with bathroom and fan is 15,000 pesos, and with shared bathroom is 10,000 pesos. A double room with shared bathroom is 15,000 pesos. Make sure to get a room on the second floor, the first floor rooms are a little musty.  edit
  • Hotel La Espanola. Same price and style of hotel as La Muralla, but the rooms are a little stuffier and darker.  edit
  •, (), [15]. Listing of selected Hotels in Cartagena - Economic Hotels, Bed & Breakfast and luxurious boutique Hotels. Certified agency which responds within 24 hours.  edit
  • SwissResidial, Calle de la Magdalena No 9-67 (Getsemaní), (), [16]. Small boutique hotel with charm and modern amenities. Prices begin at 110,000 COP (55 USD).  edit
  •, (), [17]. Listing of selected Hotels in Cartagena - Economic Hotels, Bed & Breakfast and luxurious boutique Hotels. Certified agency which responds within 24 hours.  edit
  • Casa India Catalina, Calle del Coliseo No 5-67 (Centro), +57-5-664-4361 (), [18]. Also recently converted, opened in 2006. Spacious rooms, some with balconies onto the street. Decent swimming pool. Simple furnishings. Rooms from USD 110.  edit
  • Casa Mara, Calle del Espiritu Santo No 29-139 (Getsemani), +57-5-664-8724. Rooms from USD 85.  edit
  • Hotel Bahia, Cra 4a-Calle 4a (Bocagrande), +57-5-6650316. Rooms from USD 55 to 100.  edit
  • Hotel Casa del Curato, Calle del Curato Cra. 7 Nº 38-89 (San Diego), +57-5-664-3648 (), [19]. The hotel was recently converted from an 18th century mansion and opened in Dec 2005. Good breakfasts served by Eufemia. Attractively furnished although regular rooms are small and windowless. Two internet computers for guests. Rooms from USD 70.  edit
  • Hotel-Hostal Santo Domingo, Calle Santo Domingo, No 33-46 (Centro), +57-5-6642268 (). Great location close to the Plaza Santo Domingo. A/C extra. Also caters for groups of up to 25. Rooms priced from COP$47,700 (USD 20) for one person to COP$97,700 (USD 40) for six people.  edit
  • Hotel 3 Banderas, Calle Cochera del Hobo #38-66 (San Diego), +57-5-660-0160 (), [20]. Small colonial hotel, different rooms and suites from USD 50 to USD 100.  edit


Up-scale hotels can be found in Getsemani, San Diego and El Centro area of the old city.

  •, (), [21]. Listing of selected Hotels in Cartagena - Economic Hotels, Bed & Breakfast and luxurious boutique Hotels. Certified agency which responds within 24 hours.  edit
  • Hotel Ibatama and Hotel Ibatama Real, Avenida San Martin, Boca Grande. Hotel Ibatama and Hotel Ibatama Real are really an option for the people in the non luxurious budget. situated on either sides of Boca Grande, the hotels are nice, clean and you get value for money with the AC rooms. Close to the beach and Bocagrande is safe as always.  edit
  • Hilton Cartagena, Avenida Almirante Brion, El Laguito (Centro), 57-5-6650660, [22].  edit
  • Agua, Calle Ayos, No 4-29 (Centro), 664-9479, [23]. A beautiful boutique hotel with rooms from COP$500,000 plus tax in low season.  edit
  • Hotel Alfiz, Calle Cochera del Gobernador, No 33-28 (between Plaza de la Aduana and the cathedral), +57-5-660 0006 (), [24]. A romantic hotel in the old city.  edit
  • Hotel Casa la Fe, Calle segunda de badillo #36-125 (Centro), +57-5-664-0306 (), [25]. This small beautifully restored hotel attracts many favourable reports in Trip Advisor and has been recommended in the NYT travel section. The hotel is English owned and run. Prices start at USD 110 per night (book online) and guests enjoy free WiFi and a PC work station.  edit
  • Hotel Sofitel Santa Clara, Cr 8 No 39-29, Calle del Tomo (San Diego), +57-5-664-6070, [26]. Nice hotel with decent prices for it's category, though a bit generic.  edit
  • La Merced Hotel, Calle Don Sancho No 36-165 / Cra. 4. A boutique style hotel  edit
The Volcán del Totumo
The Volcán del Totumo
  • About 16 km north of Cartagena is the Volcán del Totumo, a 15m high mud volcano. You can enter the crater and take a mud bath (entrance C$2.000), which is enormous fun and highly recommended. The nearby laguna then serves as a natural bath for washing off the mud.
The easiest way to get there is to take a tour. These cost around COP$30,000 with Rafael Perez tours (next door to the Cartagena Plaza Hotel in Bocagrande) and include the one hour each way journey to the volcano, as well as lunch and a swim at La Boquilla on the return to Cartagena. Another tour company is Los Pinos, which also charges COP$35,000 (or $25,000 without lunch) and uses the Manzanillo del Mar fishing village for a swim on the return journey. This tour can be booked from many hotels, such as the Casa Viena, in Calle San Andrés (Getsemaní), 5-664-6242. Although the mud bath and massages are offered free of charge, you will be expected to tip anyone who helped you before your bus leaves. Other services expecting tips include storing your belongings, your shoes, holding onto your camera and taking snaps while you are immersed in the mud, and the women who help you wash off in the laguna. Tips of between COP$1,000 and $5,000 for each person are the norm, depending on the service. Be sure to bring change.
Going by yourself is quite a hassle, but you may find you have the whole volcano to yourself and can take all the time you want. Take a bus from the city center to Terminal de transporte (COP$1,700). There, take the hourly bus to Galerazamba and get off at Lomito Arena (COP$6,000). From there it is 45 minute walk or take a motortaxi (COP$2,000). The whole trip takes about two-and-half hours. The last bus back from Lomito Arena leaves around 3pm.
  • Botanical gardens Jardin Botanico de Guillermo Piñeres
A pleasant escape from the city rush, 18 km out of Cartagena close to “Turbaco”, a small town 20 km from the center of Cartagena. Take a bus to the bus terminal and get of at “la Bomba de Amparo”, a big gasolin station 25 minuits out of the center.from there, are leaving buses to “Turbaco”- get off (ask the driver)a bit before Turbaco and walk to the right,about 20 minuits straight on. Together with your entry ticket you get leaflet which lists about 250 plants identified in the gardens, including some varieties of coca plants.
  • Islas del Rosario On Isla Baru in the bay of Cholon is Sportbaru - a place well worth of visit. This tranquil beachfront resort offers water sports, boat tours, eco hikes, gaming and gathering facilities, restaurant and bar; and an exceptional staff that is very accommodating to meet any of your needs. You can take a day tour there from Cartagena, or stay overnight in comfortable cabanas that are all facing the beach. Day tours from Cartagena (C$110.000) include boat transportation, lunch and refreshments, boat trips to near by secluded white sand beaches, and Sportbaru’s amenities to be enjoyed. Tel: (+57)-5-6642992 or Email to Website: [27] If you get to Playa Blanca, great accomodation, suggestions and ambiance are available from Ed (Edgar). He is available on the north end of the beach, and most locals know him and can show the way.
  • Punta Arena
A fishing village 10 minutes by boat on the island of “Tierrabomba”,in front of “Laguito” (Bocagrande).You reach it by boats (lanchas),leaving from “Muelle de los Pegasos” or with boats in “Laguito” next to the Hilton Hotel. Punta Arena has probably the nicest beaches close to Cartagena. There are restaurants where you can get food and drinks. Enjoy a day, hanging out under palm trees with a fantastic few on the skyline of Cartagena.
  • La Boquilla a fishing village (pueblo de pescadores) close to Cartagena.
Take a bus for COP$ 1100(july 2009), from India Catalina (Avenida Venezuela), if you get off of the bus at the end of the ride you can rent a canoe which brings you to a nice beach (playa de oro) passing trough lagoons and mangroves – pay for the boat once you are back.
  • Bocachica - a fishing village on the island of “Tierrabomba” (pueblo de pescadores)
Bocachica is worth to visit to see its restored fortress (fuerte de San Fernando). The beach isn't really special but o.k to hang out for some hours .you find several open air restaurant serving food and drinks.
Local boats leave during the day every 30-45 minutes from "Muelle de los Pegassos". The boat ride takes about 15 minutes. Guides will try to sell you expensive “all included” trips to Bocachica but you should pay just the local fare. (in july 2009 - COP$5,000 pesos – one way) Once you ask for the price it will get more expensive.
This is a guide article. It has a variety of good, quality information including hotels, restaurants, attractions, arrival and departure info. Plunge forward and help us make it a star!

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