A colonial jewel on Colombia’s Caribbean coast, Cartagena is home to some of South America’s most beautiful Spanish architecture.
Cartagena is one of Colombia’s most popular tourist spots, and it’s not hard to see why. Its picture-postcard old town is beautifully preserved, with buildings dating back to the 1600s; some are among the most impressive buildings from the Spanish colonial era anywhere. Away from the city, a day trip to the idyllic Rosario Islands is perfect for a slice of Caribbean island life, allowing you to swim, snorkel and be back in time for tea.
Truly one of South America’s finest colonial cities, Cartagena’s star attraction is its historic old town, which dates back several hundred years and much of which is wonderfully preserved. History buffs will marvel at the centuries-old churches, monasteries and fortresses which make up this UNESCO World Heritage Site, but you don’t have to be an expert to appreciate the beauty of the architecture here, whether it’s faded and crumbling or still looks brand new. Walking tours are available, or you can set off by yourself and get lost down the pretty cobbled streets.
The region’s long history as a melting pot of pre-Hispanic, colonial and modern Colombian culture is evident in its fantastic food scene, from street stalls selling ocean-fresh ceviche to top-end fusion restaurants. After dinner, head to one of the city’s famous salsa clubs to see one of the country’s most important expressions of culture up close – or even give it a try yourself with a pulsating dance class.
The Rosario Islands
While the city itself promises so much, with its old town, buzzing nightlife and fantastic food, don’t miss the chance to take a day trip round the beautiful Rosario Islands. This is an easy way to get a taste of the Caribbean islands, stopping off to swim and snorkel in the clear water, laze on a hammock, and enjoy the islands’ unspoilt natural beauty.
A tour of the city’s historic sights
Cartagena is rightly famous for its fairytale old town, which comprises a maze of cobbled streets lined with impressive Spanish colonial buildings dating back to the 17th century. It’s an intoxicating place, whether you explore by yourself or go for a guided walking route. Any tour should take in the Palace of the Inquisition, where you can learn about the darker side of the city’s colonial past.
Get your dancing shoes on
Cartagenos live and breathe salsa, and once the sun goes down, this city really moves. The city’s famous salsa clubs are legion, from Casa Havana to Donde Fidel, and are fantastic places to spend an evening. There’s no fun in just leaving it to the experts, though – a range of dance classes are on offer which will see you shimmying with the best of them in no time.