If you want to do something off the beaten path and need a little local help there are a couple of French kids that own Adventure Colombia. The can do everything from charter a sailboat w/crew to arrange a guided trek to Tayrona. Even if you do not want to pay for their services you can still check with them for advice and they will probably give you some helpful pointers
This is a fantastic night club that opens in Cartagena only in December (it is actually located in Bogota, the capital city) and has the best music in the hole city. If you want to have the best night, to see the mos beautyful girls and love to party...this is the place for you
If you are thinking about make an unbelievable trip, you must considerer to go to Cartagena Colombia. I think it is difficult just make a trip without information about all the different places that the city can offer you , therefore you should ask to someone who had been there some time ago. I am one of these people, then I will tell you how you can enjoy this experience in the best way.
The first thing you must know is that Cartagena is an historical city, so you can not forget take a horse carriage that will give you a ride around all the historical sights. You must begin visiting “el Castillo de San Felipe de Barajas” which is a castle built in the seventeen century by the Spaniards and has been considered the Guardian and Protector of the city. Imagine to get into a huge labyrinth with so many traps where you could feel like in other age. In the same way you will find other places full of legends, stories and magic, like “las murallas de Cartagena”, “las Bovedas” and the Cathedral.
Probably many people consider visiting Colombia due to their impression of Garcia Marquez’s writings. Or on the other hand, many others may have been spurred to get to know his works after visiting Cartagena. One way or the other, it is perfect compliment. Once in Cartagena, one has the opportunity to have a glimpse at the house of the famous writer, albeit there is no museum at present. It is located in the district of San Diego, facing the wall and the sea and neighbouring one of the most expensive hotels in the Old Town. A nice stroll on the wall leads inevitably to the house which is difficult to miss with its “modern villa” outlook in sharp contrast with the dominance of colonial architecture around it.
Convento de la Popa in perched on the highest hill in the vicinity of Cartagena which makes it the best view point ever. It offers a 360 degree view of the Old Town, the New Town and the Shanty Town in an effortless manner. Moreover, it opens the doors to understanding what a Cienaga is and the importance of similar lagoons not only in Cartagena but in the northern reaches of Colombia as a whole. Inside, there are some beautiful pieces illustrating church and secular life at different times as well as reminders of the changes of political winds throughout the building’s history and its military importance.
The “tourist plaza” gives a chance to come across a Botero production which is a blessing both ways - whether one is going on to Bogota or not. In the first case it is a tingling prelude to what is on offer in the Botero museum and in the second it is leaving with you a nice lifetime aftertaste of enigma. It is plopped right in front of the righteous establishment of the church of Santo Domingo. In a very Renaissance type of contrast it juxtaposes the austerity and purity of the church teachings with the lavish and sinful lifestyle of the rich; except, in this case it is not hidden in somebody’s palace but exhibited right in the square for all to ponder.
San Felipe fortress is a formidable structure installed on a hill overlooking the bay of Cartagena. It is an easy taxi ride away from the old city and can be combined with the Convento de la Popa for a better taxi fare. It has plenty of beautiful views on offer plus the standard set of walls, tunnels, cannons and the occasional touts. Monstrous flag flies over this hill clad in stone, displaying proudly whose possession it is and providing children and people young at heart with unforgettable entertainment. Do not try to hold on to it when sudden gusts of wind blow it away – you will be airborne in an instant!
San Fernando fortress at the small entrance to the bay of Cartagena is an imposing structure coupled with a brother fort across the water way. The whole set up shows vividly how defence of maritime approaches worked at the time. It also offers a glimpse of the living quarters of the defendants and their descendents. The trip there with a water taxi from the old town shows the new development at Boca Grande from a different point of view and exposes the whole system of fortifications throughout the bay.
Situated around the Bolivar park, the inquisition palace is magnificent with its baroque style and its splendid wooden balconies. This important construction was finished in 1776 and is the principal evidence of the power that was given to Santo Oficio, which was in vigour before the independence in 1896.
Cartagena's main attraction is without a doubt the old colonial quarter, particularly the historic district inside the walled city which consists of El Centro and San Diego. El Centro is the area with the most important historical buildings and plazas, including the Plaza de Bolívar (with the Cathedral, Gold Museum and the Inquisition Palace), the Plaza de los Coches (with the Clock Tower), the Plaza de la Aduana (home of the Colonial-era slave market), the Plaza de Santo Domingo (with cafés, the church and Botero's Reclining Woman sculpture) and the Plaza de San Pedro Claver (with the San Pedro Claver convent and church complex and the Modern Art Museum). In the colonial period El Centro was where the slaves were sold, where commerce took place and where the nobles and officials lived and worked. The usual place to start a tour of the historic centre is at the Puerta del Reloj (Clock Tower Gate).
The district of San Diego is much more tranquil. Here you'll find Parque de Fernández de Madrid and Santo Toribio Church, and also Las Bóvedas, the dungeons converted into souvenir shops. There are some fine colonial buildings (a few of them are turned into boutique hotels) and it's a very charming area to just wander around.
more pics in the travelogues
San Diego was a place where in colonial times middle-class people, the military and artists lived. Here you'll find Parque Fernández de Madrid, a small park which serves as a meeting point for the surrounding neighbourhoods. Ther are a lot of trees and flowers, and benches to relax, and street vendors offering food, fruits, drinks and coffee. In the middle of the park is a statue of Fernández de Madrid, in honour to Cartagena's hero Jose Fernández de Madrid.
The streets of San Diego are a delight to stroll and the park is an ideal place to take a rest in the shadow of the trees. Around Parque Fernández de Madrid you find several bars and restaurants (including the pizzeria Pizza en el Parque, offering some of the most exquisite pizza in Cartagena) so it's an ideal place to wander around by day and night. Next to the park is the Iglesia de Santo Toribio de Mongrovejo, the last church built in the walled city.
Plaza de los Coches is a triangular plaza located in the heart of Cartagena, just behind the Puerta del Reloj. Since the 16th century the plaza has had many names. Before acquiring its current name it was known as Plaza del Esclavo since it was used as a slave market. In 1585 it was renamed to Plaza de Mercaderes since a large number of merchants could be found here. Then it was called Plaza de la Yerba, and finally changed to Plaza de los Coches by a decree of the mayor allowing horse drawn carriages to be parked in front of the Portal de los Dulces.
It is lined with handsome old houses with colonial arches at ground level, and colonial windows and balconies watching over the bustling plaza. Bars and restaurants can be find here, as well as El Portal de los Dulces, the arcaded walkway with a string of stalls selling local sweets. The statue of Pedro de Heredia, the city's founder, stands in the middle of the plaza.
The most familiar sight in the old city of Cartagena is the spire of the Catedral. The Cathedral of Cartagena traces its history back to 1537. The first church was built out of food and cane and was destroyed in a fire in 1552. 23 years later the construction of the new cathedral began, designed by Simon Gonzales. During his raid on the city in 1586, Francis Drake's cannons destroyed half of the building. Afterwards, Gonzales continued his work directing the construction of the building until its competion in 1612. Further changes were made between 1912 and 1923 when it was given a terracota-coloured stucco overhaul.
The cathedral features a large doorway opening into a narrow, simple interior with three naves, thick white columns and large arches. It contains a gilded 18th-century wood altar and marble pulpit. The building underwent a restoration in 2007.
The Catedral is located next to Plaza Bolívar and is open Mon-Sat 10:30am-7:30pm; Sun 9:00am-6:00pm. Admission is 11.000 COP (January 2010). A self-guided audio tour lasts about 25 minutes.
The late 16th-century Iglesia de Santo Domingo little changed from colonial days and it's the oldest church in the city. Architecturally, it has some quirky characteristics which are the result of construction imperfection. The builders made a particularly wide central nave and covered it with a heavy roof but the vault began to crack. Massive buttresses hat to be added to the walls to support the structure and pevent it from collapsing. The Mudejar bell tower is decidedly skewed but the legend has it this was the work of the devil who knocked it.
The interior of the church is spacioius and lofty. You'll find a baroque altar with a 16th century wooden carving depicting an image of Christ, as well as an image of the Virgin Mary with a gold and emerald crown. The floor in front of the high altar and in the two aisles is paved with old tombstones dating mostly from the 19th century.
The church is open Tue-Sat 9:00am-7:00pm and Sunday noon-8:00pm. Admission is 11.000 COP (January 2010) and you can take a 20-minute self-guided audio tour.
Situated in the hearth of the historic centre of Cartagena, the Plaza de Bolívar is full of majestic trees with surprising heights offering some welcome shelter from the Caribbean sun. Water fountains bring freshness to citizens and visitors to relax on the benches. In the centre of the park is the statue of Simón Bolívar sitting astride his horse. Written on a plaque at the base of the statue you find one of Bolívar's famous sayings: 'Cartagenians: If Caracas gave me life, Cartagena gave me glory...'.
Surrounding the leafy park you'll find some of the city's finest colonial buildings. On one corner lies the Catedral with its large distincitve dome visible from all over Cartagena. On the eastern side of the plaza is the Palacio de la Inquisición (Palace of the Inquisition) which now takes the form of a museum dedicated to the instruments of torture used during the inquisition as well as other objects from the colonial and pre-Columbian periods. The Museo del Oro y Arqueología (the Gold Museum) can be found on the Calle de la Inquisición side of the plaza. The museum contains displays a collection of gold and pottery from indigenous people who inhabited the region before the Spansh conquest.
At lunchtime locals (mostly men) take advantage of the shade. Inexpensive fruit and food stalls can be found around the park. It's a good place to sit and do some people watching. Plaza de Bolívar is also one of the sites in the city where frenetic Mapalé dance can be seen for the pleasure of the visitors.