The city walls or Las Muralas were constructed in the late 16th century after numerous successful pirate attacks on the city. The walls are amazingly still 80% intact and most of the major tourist sites are within the walls.
There are a lot of horse carriages for hire in Cartagena. It might be easiest to have your hotel arrange it, but you can also go to the Plaza of Horses and Carriages (by the main city gate) and look for one there. That is where they collect before picking up their passengers.
I don't know the price (I didn't hire one) but it would depend on the length of the ride. I think they hole 4 people, 2 facing in each direction
As you walk around Cartagena, you will see lots of art--not just the usual statues in the parks and plazas, although there are a lot of them also. There are probably 8-10 sculptures by Silvia Vari scattered around town. I really like a metal sculpture by Ricardo Cardona, located by the Bastion. One downtown building has a marble plaque with a poem by Luis Lopez, the city's most famous poet. Even some of the grafitti looks like art!
The Totumo mud volcano is about an hour out of Cartagena. It is actually a 50-ft. hill filled with very thick mud. The mud is supposed to have therapeutic properties—I don’t know if it did anything for me, but it was an interesting experience. You climb up the stairs to the top of the “volcano,” and then down a short ladder to get in. I leaned back as I was told, somebody gave me a push, and I drifted out to the middle. A young man held my camera and took a lot of photos for a small fee.
You don’t sink—it is hard to do anything except float. The mud is very thick. I tried to get my feet under me, but couldn’t do it. I pulled myself along the side, still horizontal, until I got back to the ladder and tried to get out. A guy saw me struggling and helped me out. I came back down the steps looking like a giant mud pie.
After the mud bath, a local woman takes you to the lake and washes all the mud off. This is how some of the local people support themselves. I think the kid with my camera was the son of the lady who took me to the lake.
You can get a massage while you are lying in the mud, but I passed.
The kid charges 4,000 pesos to take pictures for you (a little over $2)
The woman who cleans you up charges 6,000 pesos
I think the massage is about 10,000 pesos.
The Inquisition came to Cartagena in 1610 and continued until Colombia gained its independence from Spain in 1821. In 1770, the Spanish built the inquisitors a new building for their work. Ironically, the courtyard has a nice view of the Cathedral.
The Museum is full of really awful stuff. Ropes on the rack tie the person’s head at one end, and their feet at the other. (A third rope at the foot was used on men only.) Then you just turn the crank and reel in the ropes. Another charming adjustable device fit over a person’s head. Still another was specially designed to crush a woman’s breasts.
Admission - 14,000 pesos (11,000 for seniors)
This gold museum isn’t nearly as large as the one in Bogota, but still well worth a visit.
The museum had some pottery and other things as well as gold items. The earliest pottery they found here was made in 4000 BC.
It has signs in English, as well as some guided tours in English (at 5 p.m.)
Hours: Tues-Friday, 10 to 1 and 3-7; Sat and Sunday, 10-1 and 2-5.
Admission is free. Photos are allowed
The original smaller convent was built around 1610, but the beautiful building that is there now was constructed somewhat later. There are Stations of the Cross along the road on the way up.
In earlier times, the hill was a religious site for the Indian people, who worshipped animals. When the Spanish came, they destroyed the Indians’ idols, except for a gold goat statue—they kept it.
Many famous people were connected to this convent in one way or another, and one corridor has their pictures and why they were there.
This giant sculpture of a pair of old shoes is a monument to Luis Carlos Lopez, a poet from Cartagena (1863-1950.) He wrote about his city, and one of his well-known poems compares Cartagena to a pair of old shoes, which are worn but familiar and comfortable. The shoes are very large—someone could stand inside one of them. A copy of the poem is in marble in front of the bronze shoes.
The Convento de la Popa is situated on the top of the 150m-high hill Cerro La Popa, the highest point in the city, about 2km from Castillo de San Felipe. Officially named the Convento de Nuestra Senora de la Candelaria, it was foundeded in 1607 by the Augustine fathers. At the beginning it was just a small wooden chapel which was later replaced by a stone construction when the hill was fortified two centuries later.
Today you will find a convent, a chapel and a museum. The chapel contains an ornate 22-carat gold foil altar with a beautiful image of La Virgen de la Candelaria, the patroness of Cartagena. On 2 February candle-bearing processions wind their way to the convent to honour the Virgin's feast day. There's a charming patio filled with flowers. Superb views of the city and the surrounding area abound from this pleasant spot.
A zigzagging road leads up to the convent but for safety reasons it is not recommended to walk. No public transportation is available so you take a taxi.
Visiting hours are daily from 8:00am to 5:30pm. Admission is 7.000 COP (January 2010).
With a dominating position on the Cerro de San Lazaro (San Lazaro Hill) overlooking the city of Cartagena and Cartagena Bay, the Castillo de San Felipe de Barajas (San Felipe de Barajas Fortress) is the greatest and strongest fortress ever built by the Spaniards in their colonies. The original, smaller fort was built between 1639 and 1657, butt in 1762 extensive rebuilding work led by engineer Antonio de Arévalo enlared it considerably to cover the entire hilltop.
A complex system of underground tunnels connected strategic points of the fortress and enabled an efficient distribution of supplies. The tunnels were constructed in a way that sounds echoed all the way along them, so that they could hear the slightest sound of the approaching enemy, and also made it easy for internal communication.
Today, a walk through these claustrophobic tunnels is the highlight of a visit and does much to explain why despite many attempts this powerful bastion was never taken by pirates. Take a guide if you want to learn more about the history and the construction of the fortress. Besides, there are stunning views from the top of the fortress over the old and new Cartagena and the Caribbean Sea.
Any visit to this lovely old city would be incomplete without a stop at the Castillo de San Felipe de Barajas. It's a great way to beat the heat and enjoy the piece of Colombian history. The fortress is a 20-minute walk from the old city. Since the heat of the Caribbean sun was merciless (even for me loving the sun and the heat) I decided to take a taxi instead.
Despite the fascinating history, entrance to the Castillo de San Felipe de Barajas is surprisingly reasonable, 16.000 COP (January 2010). The entirety of the payment is used to protect and restore this wonderful piece of Colombian heritage. The fortress is open daily from 8:00am to 6:00pm.
Facing the small Parque de Fernández de Madrid is the Iglesia de Santo Toribio de Mongrovejo. Compared with the others, this church is relatively small. Construction began in 1666 but the church waqs only completed in 1732. It boasts some fine Mudejar panelling and a pretty wooden altar covered with gold ornamentation. The building was hit by a cannonball during Vernon's assault on the city but fortunately there were no casualties. The ball is now on display in a glass niche on the wall.
Colombia's famous Formula 1 driver Juan Pablo Montoya was married in this lovely church. He donated a modern central air conditioning system for the church.
The Iglesia de Santo Toribio de Mongovejo is open for mass - 6:00am-11:30am and 5:30pm-7:00pm; Sun 7:30am-11:00am and 5:30pm-8:00pm.
Next to the Convento de San Pedro Claver is Iglesia de San Pedro Claver. It was founded in 1603 and completed in the early 18th century. This Spanish colonial church has an imposing stone facade. It boasts some magnificent stained-glass windows and a high altar made marble from Italy. Inside and under the main altar is a museum containing relics from his mission.
The church holds the remains of San Pedro Claver (1580-1654), a Jesuit who became the patron saint of slaves of Colombia. He ministered to enslaved Africans when Cartagena had the largest slave market in the Caribbean. He cared for the sick and dying and baptized tens of thousands. His body is in an illuminated glass coffin set in the high altar.
Another dominant attraction at Plaza de San Pedro Claver is Convento de San Pedro Claver. The convent was found by Jesuits in the first half of the 17th century when it was known as Convento de San Ignacio de Loyola. The name was later changed in honor of Spanish-born monk Pedro Claver (1580-1654) who lived and died in the convent. He was called El Esclavo de los Esclavos (Slave of the Slaves) or El Apóstol de los Negros (Apostle of the Blacks). At the age of 22, he arrived in Cartagena in 1610 and immediately took up his work to minister to the more than 10.000 Afrian slaves that were brought to the city each year. He used to beg from door to door for money to give to the black slaves and provided them with medicines, food, bread, brandy, lemons and tobacco. Pedro Claver was canonized in 1888 (235 years after his death) by Pope Leo XIII and was the first person from South America to have been given this honor.
The convent is a monumental three-storey building surrounding a tree-filled courtyard. Several upstairs rooms form a museum with treasures commemorating the life and times of Pedro Claver. Exhibits include religious art and pre-Columbian ceramics. A new section is devoted to Afro-Caribbean contemporary pieces like wonderful Haitian paintings and African masks. You can also visit the cell where San Pedro Claver lived and died, and also climb a narrow staircases to the choir loft of the adjacent church.
Visiting hours are Mon-Fri 8:30am-5:30pm, Sat & Sun 8:00am-4:30pm. Admission is 6.000 COP for adults and 4.000 COP for children (January 2010).
Located on Plaza de San Pedro Claver, Museo de Arte Moderno de Cartagena is a middle-sized museum housed in two buildings. The first was built in the 17th century and served as Customs House, while the second was built at the end of the 19th century as an addition to the warehouse located here. It functions as a museum since 1979. The exhibitions are presented in two floors with the majority of artwork on the first floor.
It's a prestigious gallery with three sections containing the works of many avant-garde Colombian artists, including Cartagena-born Alejandro Obregón (one of Colombia's most remarkable painters) and Enrique Grau (reknown for his depictions of Afro-Colombian figures). There is also a collection of Latin American paintings from the 1950s onwards and contemporary Caribbean art.
A number of interesting wrought iron sculptures are placed on the Plaza de San Pedro Claver between the church and the Modern Art Museum. They were created by the Colombian artist Eduardo Carmona and form a permanent display.
The museum is open Mon-Thu 9am-noon & 3pm-6pm; Fri 9am-noon & 3pm-7pm; Sat 10am-1pm. Admission was 3.000 COP (January 2010).
According to a faded, hand-painted sign, yes, we had indeed arrived at Volcán El Totumo, a 65-foot-tall mud volcano about 50 kilometers (30 miles) outside of Cartagena that is known for its supposed skin-enhancing qualities.
As we piled out of the van, we were told to leave our bags behind, strip down to our swimsuits (which you’ll want to put on before leaving your hotel room that morning) and hand our clothes to the young local men standing at the foot of a rickety, wooden staircase that leads to the mouth of the volcano.
There are quite a few steps to climb if you want to enjoy a volcano mud bath.
Donna M. Airoldi
Up we gingerly climbed.
Sure enough, at the top was a crater full of dark, gray goo that indeed did resemble the Origins mud mask I used to cleanse my face each week. Even though it was an overcast day, the view from the top was a beautiful expanse of lakes, lagoons and greenery.
We handed our cameras to a local villager, who took our pictures with them as we lowered ourselves into the muck. The kids loved it.