Cartagena, Colombia

Nov 21, 2014

Look up Cartagena in a guidebook or online you’ll probably read that it’s a “fairytale city of romance” with an old-town of cobbled streets bursting with vibrant Colombian culture and “a sensual vibe.” Maybe that was some other place because that wasn’t the Cartagena I saw.

Cartagena for me was a mega tourist destination that didn’t live up to the hype. The old-town was picturesque in most places and the famed city wall was impressive, but the constant barrage of souvenir hawkers and the hoards of tourists day-tripping from the cruise ships spoiled both. As for the vibrant Colombian culture bursting out of the doors and alleyways, let me tell ya, that ain’t culture coming out of the alley.

 Above: Outside the entrance to the city walls.

Now I realize that sometimes you just need to go where everyone else is going to see something amazing but amazing isn’t the word I would use to describe Cartagena. Maybe “interesting” or “Ok” would fit better. To be quite honest, the whole place left me feeling a little let down. I guess I was expecting more charm, not in the architecture, in the overall feeling of the place.

Above: Tourists from the cruise ships touring the city.

Don’t get me wrong, Cartagena wasn’t all bad, in fact I really liked walking the on the old city walls dating back to approximately 1568 A.D. and learning about the troubled history of the city. I also really enjoyed seeing the HUGE Spanish fort, Castillo San Felipe de Barajas that was built throughout the 16th and 17th century. Aside from those two attractions, which can be seen in a single day, I didn’t think that Cartagena had that much to offer.

There are some nearby beaches that I heard were expensive to get to and not worth your time but those rave reviews couldn’t convince me to give a shit so I skipped them. There are also some small neighborhoods outside of the old-city where most of the hostels are located that have lively squares filled with food and cocktail vendors in the evenings. If you’re looking for Colombian culture then that’s where you’ll find it folks. Hanging out in the square drinking beers and eating street food is a daily affair in Colombia but it is in no way unique to Cartagena.

 Above: A beautiful square in Old Town.

So, overall what do I think of this old city by the sea? Well that depends, if you’re in the area then give it a go and limit yourself to three days. If, however, you are going out of your way to make it to Cartagena from somewhere else in Colombia or from some other country, then based on my experience, I would urge you to reconsider and spend your time somewhere else in Colombia. Not a rave review but hey, they can’t all be gems.


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