Cartagena, known since the colonial era as Cartagena de Indias, is a city and major port on the northern coast of Colombia in the Caribbean Coast Region. Cartagena’s past role as a link in the route to West Indies provides it with important historical value for world exploration and preservation of heritage from the great commercial maritime routes. As a former spanish colony, it was a key port for the export of Peruvian silver to Spain and for the import of enslaved Africans under the asiento system. It was defensible against pirate attacks in the Caribbean. The city’s strategic location between the Magdalena and Sinú Rivers also gave it easy access to the interior of New Granada and made it a main port for trade between Spain and its overseas empire, establishing its importance by the early 1540s.
Modern Cartagena is the capital of the Bolívar Department, and had a population of 1,028,736, according to the 2018 census, making it the second-largest city in the region, after Barranquilla, and the fifth-largest city in Colombia. The urban area of Cartagena is the sixth-largest urban area in the country, after Bucaramanga. Economic activities include the maritime and petrochemical industries, as well as tourism.
The present city—named after Cartagena, Spain—was founded on 1 June 1533; but settlement by various indigenous people in the region around Cartagena Bay dates from 4000 BC. During the Spanish colonial period Cartagena had a key role in administration and expansion of the Spanish empire. It was a center of political, ecclesiastical, and economic activity. In 1984, Cartagena’s colonial walled city and fortress were designated a UNESCO World Heritage Site.
- Plaza de los Coches. From Camellon de los Martires you pass through the historical city gate Puerta del Reloj, the gate of the clock, onto the triangular square Plaza de los Coches, the place of the carriages. Once this was one of the largest slave markets in all of Latin America, a major source of wealth to the city, aside of the gold export to Spain. Nowadays a statue of Pedro de Heredia, the founder of the city, stands on this square.
- Plaza de la Aduana. Next to the former, there is another beautiful triangular square, Plaza de la Aduana, surrounded by impressive arcaded buildings.One of these is Casa del Premio real, the house of the Spanish viceroy. This square has a statue as well, of Christopher Columbus.
- Convento & Iglesia de San Pedro Claver, Plaza de San Pedro Claver. Named after Pedro Claver (1580-1654), a Spanish Jesuit who worked for 40 years for the rights and the wellbeing of the slaves in the city. He was beatified in 1888, and in 1985 named the patron saint of human rights. His relics are visible in a crystal arch under the altar. Moreover, on the second floor you can visit the room where he lived the last times of his life and died. On the second floor there is also an exhibition of Afro-Caribbean art.
- Museo Naval del Caribe, Calle San Juan de Dios. In a former Jesuit college right behind the convent. It offers an informative overview of the history of the city and the naval history of the Caribbean. However the exhibits are replicas, not originals.
- Plaza de Bolívar. Some blocks inwards there’s the Plaza de Bolívar with an equestrian statue of the liberation hero. Before the independence of Colombia this was known as Plaza de Inquisición, and next to it you can find the inquisition palace. where during two centuries the Catholic church held processes against heretics.
- Palacio de la Inquisición (Museo de la Inquisición), Plaza de Bolívar. The museum of Palacio de la Inquisición (Palace of Inquisition) was where the Spanish Inquisition tortured, judged and convicted people accused of crimes against religion.The tribunal was responsible for all of South America and sentenced almost 700 people, including Jesuits opposing slavery. Many of the accused were badly tortured. Today the museum shows some instruments of torture actually used back then.
- Catedral de Santa Catalina. A three-naved cathedral which is rather crude on the inside, but has an impressive tower.
- Iglesia de Santo Domingo, Plaza de Santo Domingo. Not far from the cathedral is the oldest church in Cartagena. Santo Domingo on the eponymous square has been here since 1552. You can rent audio guides, available in many languages.
- Casa de Rafael Núñez (outside the walls, direction Marbella). This wooden building was the home of the 19th-century poet and president Rafael Núñez (1825-1894). He wrote the text to the Colombian national anthem, and also participated writing the constitution which was in force from 1886 to 1991.
- Monumento a la India Catalina. A landmark dedicated to and named after the city’s founder Pedro de Heredia’s native translator Catalina.
- Castillo de San Felipe. A fortress designed by the Dutch engineer Richard Carr and built in 1657 by the Spanish for protection against pirates while shipping gold out to Europe. The largest fort the Spanish ever built in their colonies, this fort was conquered only once by French privateer Baron de Pointis in 1697. It’s filled with an extensive maze of tunnels, which you can explore on a guided tour.
- La Popa. Close to the San Felipe fortress is the 150-m high La Popa hill, which offers great views over Cartagena and the harbour area. The 17th century Santa Cruz monastery is here, which has a beautifully restored courtyard and a fine image of the Virgin of La Candelaria, the patron saint of the city. On the 2nd of February every year, pilgrims celebrate her.
- Chiva Bus. afternoons, evenings. Chiva Bus is a must do fun activity in Cartagena. If you’ve visited Cartagena for even a day you’ve undoubtedly seen the open air, colorful buses going through the city loaded with people having fun, drinking and enjoying the loud beat of local music. A good activity for couples, families or groups.
- Latin Dance Lessons. Latin dances, first of all the Salsa form an integral part of Caribbean culture. The colorful mixture of people in Cartagena and their passionate way of living find one if its most eminent expressions in the vibrant rhythms all around. Crazy Salsa offers you a wide range of Latin dance classes, focusing on Salsa, Meringue and Bachata.
2 to 3 Days: Explore this vibrant, cultured and historic city over a few days, enjoying sightseeing and the many different activities you can participate in.