Preserved by ancient fortifications built by the Spanish, Cartagena de Indias, commonly called Cartagena, is a stunning time capsule on the shores of the Caribbean. In recent years its colonial heart, which was named a UNESCO World Heritage Site in 1984, has been meticulously restored by designers and entrepreneurs and Cartagena now ranks as one of the most stylish destinations in South America. World class music, film festivals, talented chefs and chic hotels and shops are luring those in search of seaside culture. Just don?t expect to hear much English.
Photo courtesy of @patriciamezapr and @justmechristine
Grab a freshly baked breakfast treat at Mila then head to the Torre de Reloj (clock tower) to meet up with your English speaking guide for a free 90 minute Cartagena Connections walking tour of old Cartagena which will help you get your bearings and your history straight (free/tips welcome, departures 9 am Monday, Wednesday and Friday, reservations required). Indagare members can also book a private guided tour with our bookings team.
Remain immersed in Colombian traditions over lunch at La Mulata where the classic mid-day meal of soup followed by meat or seafood with rice and salad gets a tasty overhaul in a hip, convivial setting at great prices.
Stop by the Cartagena Cathedral and pick up a Tierra Magna audio guide (available in Spanish, English, French, Italian and German) and map and embark on a self-guided tour of author Gabriel Garcia Marquez?s Cartagena including architecture, points of interest and other landmarks that have inspired the Nobel-prize-winning novelist?s signature ?magical realism? style (65,000 COP, allow around three hours, www.tierramagna.com). The Colombian author has a home in Cartagena and is sometimes seen around town, so stay alert.
Enjoy sunset cocktails with a view over the Caribbean at Caf? del Mar which is located atop a section of the historic wall, which still surrounds Cartagena?s historic center.
Reserve your table well in advance for dinner at La Vitrola where Cartagena?s elite hob-nob in a classic neighborhood haunt to the sounds of live Cuban music.
Photo courtesy of @sisterlystyle
Castillo de San Felipe de Barajas is the most robust fort the Spanish ever built and it still looks impenetrable. It?s been impressively restored and dominates a slight hill with its stony bulk. Visitors are allowed into some of the interior corridors and tunnels so if you have a flashlight in your luggage, bring it to the fort. There?s little shade so try to arrive when the fort opens to beat the heat. On weekends this attraction can get crowded, especially on Sunday when Colombians can enter for free (17,000 COP, open daily 8 am to 6 pm).
Relax over lunch at La Cevicheria offering some of the freshest and most inventive (if priciest) ceviche and seafood dishes in Cartagena.
In the afternoon stop by the Zen? Gold Museum on Plaza Bolivar and take in its collection of more than 500 pieces of exquisitely crafted gold jewelry and iconography made by the Zen? people who flourished in Colombia from the 16th century (free, closed mid days and Mondays, banrepcultural.org/gold-museum).
On the other side of Plaza Bolivar is the Palacio de la Inquisici?n (Inquisition Palace) where art, artifacts and bona fide torture devices from Spanish Colonial times are on display. Spanish inquisitors used a small window in this building to shout out death sentences for those who failed their religious scrutiny (15,000 COP, open daily).
Photo courtesy of Kate Donnelly for Fathom
Explore the Getsemani neighborhood on foot to get a sense of the bohemian side of Cartagena. Street art lovers should head to Calle de la Sierpe where clever and creative work lines both sides of this short avenue. On Sunday afternoons local softball teams block off a street and play ball in the shadow of the ancient Spanish walls, which provide the perfect vantage point above the action.
In the evening head to Plaza de la Trinidad and settle into a rocking chair at Demente Tapas Bar for a relaxed evening of drinks, Cuban cigars and gourmet small plates in one of the newest and chicest hang outs in the city. Later head out dancing.
Photo courtesy of @blogbodasencartagena
Many companies rent bicycles but Cartagena Trikke Rental is the only tour company offering a stand up, three-wheeled option. Helmets are provided and no special skills are required to ride a Trikke which has hand brakes and is propelled by shifting your weight in a stairmaster-like fashion. Head out in the morning before it gets too hot.
Cool off and refresh with a gourmet popsicle at La Paletteria, available in a rainbow of colors and a mind-boggling array of all-natural flavors.
Rafael N??ez was President of Colombia in the late 1800s and is known as a driving force behind the ?regeneration? movement of 1884 and the new Constitution of 1886. He also wrote the words to Colombia?s national anthem. His charming but modest wooden home, which was built in 1878 and fully renovated most recently in 2013, is now the Casa de Rafael N??ez museum. Located just a few blocks outside the old city walls, it houses some of Colombia?s most pivotal politcal documents and artifacts (1,000 COP, open daily).
Stop in for an elegant and languid lunch a La Perla where Peruvian flare and a focus on artisanal cocktails take center stage.
Make a reservation for dinner at FM Restaurante and enjoy the romantic colonial ambiance and the owner?s grandmother?s Mediterranean-inspired recipes.