Welcome to the July edition of the Visit South America series! This is a monthly contributed post on traveling to South America, in preparation for my 2-year backpacking trip there starting August 2015.
For this month, Claudia Tavani of My Adventures Across the World will guide us on how to spend 3 days in Cartagena, Colombia. I can’t wait to follow her suggested itinerary!
Colombia is a gorgeous country, so big that it takes a good couple of months to get to visit all of it. I also think it is somewhat addictive. I have been wanting to go back since I have left, and I have friends who keep going back each year. It just has a great mixture of nature, colonial cities, gorgeous sea, mountains, and super nice people, that makes it a great place to visit.
One place that I highly recommend to visit in Colombia is Cartagena. Rightly considered the most beautiful city in the country, Cartagena is a perfect example of a well-kept colonial city, and there are so many things to do there that time will easily fly.
I believe in first impressions, and Cartagena introduced itself in the best possible way when I landed there after a failed attempt to sail across the Atlantic Ocean from Panama. The minute I walked into the city at night, I saw how lively it was with locals and travelers alike, and I fell in love with it.
I know most people don’t have unlimited time to travel, so I have decided to put together some daily must-do activities for anybody visiting Cartagena for just a few days, to save some time and fully enjoy the city and its great vibe.
Day 1: Go for a walk around town
Cartagena is right on the Caribbean. The weather is hot, no matter which time of the year one may visit. One good thing, however, is that a light marine breeze starts blowing in the afternoon and it provides a bit of relief.
The Spanish colonizers noticed this and built the city in a way that captures and channels the breeze. It is not uncommon to see the locals placing a chair outside their front door in the afternoon, just to enjoy a bit of fresh air.
So, on your first day, just walk around town and get lost amidst tiny cobbled alleys, colonial buildings, pretty balconies, and bougainvillaea flowers that give it extra color. Street art in Cartagena is fantastic, there is music all over, and there are so many cozy cafés and restaurants if you get hungry or thirsty.
I’m also a firm believer that the best way to explore a city is by walking around. I don’t think it is necessary to visit every single museum, church, and point of interest to get a real feel of the city. The old walled city and the historical districts of El Centro and San Diego are the main attractions in Cartagena.
There are the Puerta del Reloj, as well, behind which is the Plaza de los Coches, a square which was used for the slave trade. There’s the Cathedral, the Castillo de San Felipe de Barajas, and the Palacio de la Inquisicion, which is a great building and an excellent museum displaying the Inquisitors’ instruments of torture.
Day 2: Enjoy the beach!
I am a beach kind of girl — how could I not be, I’m from Sardinia! I’m hardly ever impressed with the sea, but of the places I have seen, I can tell that the best sea is in Cuba and in Colombia: there, it really met my tough standards.
Mind you, Cartagena doesn’t really have a beach. However, I got on a boat and went around the beautiful Islas del Rosario. I loved it, and I highly recommend it.
The archipelago is about 35 km south of Cartagena. It has 27 small islands — some so small that they literally only fit one house — and can be visited on a day cruise that usually leaves from the Muelle Turistico. The main beach in the archipelago is Playa Blanca, a long, white, and sandy beach.
I particularly enjoyed snorkeling in the coral reef. Bonus: I was lucky enough to find a fisherman who caught and cooked fresh lobster and crab for me. It was delicious!
Day 3: Meet the locals
The best place in Cartagena to meet the locals is Getseman’, the outer walled town. It may not be as well preserved as the historic center, but I found it to be full of character.
What I particularly liked about this part of town is that here there are more locals than tourists, meaning that I got to see a bit more of what the actual way of life here is. I love it at night, when children play football in the main square (Plaza Trinidad) and travelers and locals alike sit around to have a beer and a chat.
I just picked a random bench and the lovely gentleman next to me was up for a chat. I soon found out that he had been the mayor of Getseman’, and he told me a lot of anecdotes of the area!
Have you been to Cartagena?
About the Author
Claudia Tavani is from Cagliari (Sardinia) and is obsessed with traveling. A former human rights lawyer and academic, Claudia decided to give in to her biggest passion in November 2013 and started traveling around Latin America, and she has hardly stopped since. Blogging came as a natural consequence, for Claudia wanted to let her family and friends be updated with her adventures. Follow her on Facebook and Twitter!