It took us 36 hours to get there, 7 trains, a power shortage in Germany and 3 flights to get there. Stepping out of the plane, we feel the warm and humid air of Colombia on our faces. We feel tired, jet lagged, but the excitement is strong. From the sky, we first see all the white skyscrappers on a long piece of land, making it look really modern, like “Legoland”. Then, the more modest areas. And finally, the forteress. The airplane touches the ground. We arrived.
The beach is crowded with pelicans. The cab enters the old town, passing thick walls, built to protect the city from pirates attacks. The streets are narrow, the houses colorfull, and the balconies, plenty. I am watching through the window, smiling, thinking “We are gonna like it here!”
Discovery of a new world
It took us 36h to get there but you have to remember that when the Spanish “discovered” Colombia in 1500, it took them 1 month and a half to get there from Europe. And that the lifes of the tribes living there were about to change forever. Ours as well – it´s the start of our once in a lifetime trip- but hopefull in a less dramatic extend.
The city of Cartagena is considered as the most beautiful of the country. Founded in 1533, the old town consists of vibrant, colorfull houses of colonial style with romantic balconies, many with flowers. Just wandering in the streets, sitting on a bench on the squares and soaking up the atosphere is delightful.
The Carribean coast is the most touristic area of Colombia and Cartagena is filled with hotels and hostels. However, it kept charm and the city feels full of local lifewith plety of food stallsls fruits vendors and coffee vendors.
El centro (old town) and Getsemani
In the center old town, lots of places are practicing tourists prices and if you don´t ask for the menu before sitting, you might end up paying your beer more than 5euros. Where the local price should be more around 2,5Euros.
On Getsemani, a more recent part of town built in the XVIII and former red light district, you get a bit of more rough feeling. “Normal” people live there, the postcard is maybe not as clean and shiny as in the center old town. But the area is still safe and the constant buzz of this living area makes it a backpackers´favorite.
Actually, it´s almost to wonder if Colombians ever sleep, with the constant noise from the street reaching the window of our room. No matter which hour we wake up (12.00 am, 3,5 ,7 am – thanks to our jetlag), a mix of honking, music, singing and yelling that we can´t understand consist our original sound track. At night, Callle San Andres is a living, partying street, and I am not even mentionning when Colombia qualified for the quarters finals of the World Cup…
A city full of history
The city was highly strategic for the Spanish and they didn´t choose this region as a coincidence to locate one of the most important harbour of the colonization. The natural laguna, perfect place to hide ships, combined with the high walls and 23 dungeons built by the Spanish, make it a proper fortresse. A necessity in the XVII, XVIII and XIX centuries, to protect the city from repetitive assaults from pirates, attracted by the amount of gold transiting through Cartagena.
But the port was also used to bring in african slaves to the continent, who were then sold on the main square. Today, the population is true meltingpot with a majority of metis, and minority of black and white.
But the dominant religion remained catholicism. Today we admire the coupole of the many churches and cathedrals in the city´s skyline but the Palacio of Inquision reminds us that the Spanish also brought their beliefs and, at that time, you had better agree with them. With set up trials (the Church was weighting the heretics and you should weight one kilo for every centimeter over 1 meter, any difference was prooving your guilt. With my 1,62m and 52kg, I would have been judged highly deviant) and plenty of torture instruments, you must have lived there in the fear of Inquisicion.
A great place to enjoy life
For us, staying for 3 days in Cartagena was a fantastic place to settle in our trip and get to know a bit Colombia. For the curious about Colombia, Cartagena is an awesome introduction. The city is safe, has good tourist infrastructure and many places to treat you well. Below you will find a few of our favorites.
Where to eat: Este es el punto, Calle San Andres. Lunch with a set menu 7.000COP (2,80 Euros). Also be sure to try some of the food stalls on Calle San Andres and Plaza Trinidad.
Where to stay: Calle San Andres is full of hostels. We stayed at Casa Viena in a double room with shared bathroom for 50.000COP per night (20 euros)
What to do: Sightseeing consists primarly in getting lost in all the small streets of the old towns and discovering charming, quiet squares. We did 2 museum (Palacio de la Inquisicion and Museo del Oro Zenu – Museum of Gold) and didn´t think they really worth their entrance fee. Luckily, we went there on the last Sunday of the month, day for free museum!