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  • Writer's pictureTheresa Brandt

Cartagena: A Vibrant Colombian City to Visit on Your River Cruise

Historic buildings in Cartagena

If you were inspired by my recent article on Colombia’s magnificent Magdalena River, I hope your interest is piqued even further with today’s dive into Cartagena, and how you can spend your time there when you river cruise in this culturally rich, warm-hearted country. I'll give you some ideas of what you could see and do in just a day or two in this vibrant city, with its vivid colors and culture, artful cafes and family-owned shops.

Why Cartagena?

Set on the Colombian coast at the mouth of the Magdalena River, seaside Cartagena is a microcosm of the country’s lively blend of Latin and Caribbean influences. From its Old Town - a UNESCO World Heritage Site - to its encircling, colonial stone walls (among the best-preserved fortifications in the world), the historic city is as sweet as it is storied. Get lost in maze-like cobblestone alleys, between sunshine-yellow buildings draped with bougainvillea, and in tree-lined plazas overshadowed by huge churches.

Try these sightseeing ideas on for size, but I suggest pocketing the list after a few hours. This is the kind of place you’ll want to wander and simply soak up the enthralling atmosphere. I promise … the magic of this special place will remain with you.

What to See and Do in Cartagena

Visit the Fortress on the Sea

Step into colonial history when you tour the UNESCO-designated Castillo San Felipe de Barajas. Just over the bridge from Getsemaní, the greatest Spaniard fort ever built still dominates the cityscape even today from atop San Lázaro hill. Take a tour of the complex tunnel system underneath the bastion, which originally allowed for the distribution of provisions and easy evacuation.

Explore Old Town

While you’ll want to explore all of the old city, the historical districts of El Centro and San Diego have the best examples of colonial architecture. Lose yourself as you wander amongst churches, monasteries, pastel-hued mansions, palaces and quiet courtyards. Be sure to experience it both day and night - in the evening, you’ll hear music on the breeze as local musicians set up in restaurants and on plazas.

Get to Know Getsemaní

Join a local tour guide for an insightful visit to Getsemaní, located just outside the city walls. It’s here you’ll find Cartagena’s creative heart, with artists, musicians - and a wide range of tantalizing cuisine - defining this section of the city. Colorful street art breathes new life into derelict buildings.

Hint: The best street food is in the plaza is in front of the Iglesia de la Santísima Trinidad. Stop by anytime after 6 PM. There are a number of sit-down restaurants here, too, with both indoor and outdoor dining options.

Photograph the Catedral Santa Catalina de Alejandria

During your nighttime wanderings, make your way to this oft-photographed cathedral in Old Town, recognizable by its lofty spire rising into the night sky. The completely restored building, across from the Plaza Bolivar, dates back to 1612. If you visit during the day, be sure to shop for local artwork from one of the stalls set up in the plaza.

I’ve only just broken the surface of the riches in store for you in Cartagena. This is less a city to see, than it is to feel. Let’s chat about how to extend your Magdalena River cruise in Colombia to include more time in this precious destination.

Reach out by booking a consultation through my Services page.


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