Cartagena is a city that holds fast to its historical roots, and the results are simply stunning. From towering churches to sprawling castillos, the city is tinged with Spanish flavor on its tongue around every corner. Any visitor looking for some of the greatest Spanish colonial sights and structures of the New World will look no further than Cartagena.
Before the arrival of the Europeans in the 16th century, the indigenous Colombians occupied the area for over 5,000 years and enjoyed a mild climate with plentiful game to prosper. While Colombia was not as popular with colonists as its Caribbean neighbors, Cuba and Hispaniola, it was eventually settled by the Spanish and the city of Cartagena founded in 1533 by Pedro de Heredia. For almost three centuries the city was subjected to Spanish rule, until early in the 19th century when Cartagena declared independence, the first Colombian city to do so.
Cartagena sports a tropical and moist climate, with humidity sometimes rising as high as 90%. The rainy seasons fall from May through June and again from October through November. The city’s temperatures do tend to stay stable with an average of 80°F (27°C) year-round, with record highs of 104°F and lows of 64°F.
Considered by many to be the greatest Spanish fortress built in any of the Viceroyal colonies, the Castillo de San Felipe de Barajas encompasses an entire hill and a large segment of the current city. Construction was ordered in the mid-17th century and the original scale began quite small, but an extension in 1762 expanded it to the grand scale visitors see today. The fortress was so solid that none were ever able to overtake it, despite multiple attempts; audio tours of the Castillo are $10,000 COP ($3.37 USD at the time of this writing).
Near the Castillo de San Felipe on the adjacent hill is the Convento de la Popa, standing as the highest point in the city. This convent is a beautiful retreat from the hustle and bustle of the city, with the tranquil chapel featuring the image of the city’s patroness, La Virgen de la Candelaria, and the patio overflowing with fragrant flowers. The convent has some of the best views of the city, and one of the most tragic stories: one of the statues is of Padre Alonso García de Paredes, who was killed along with five Spanish soldier for attempting to spread the Christian religion throughout the city.
A chilling reminder of a dark time in European history, the Palacio de la Inquisición was the headquarters for the Inquisition, whose solemn task was to eradicate heresy throughout the colonies. A tour through the museum will show that their methods for extracting “confessions” were less than friendly, and visitors can see the various tools they used, as well as pre-Colombian artifacts such as pottery and tools. The building itself is quite striking, an example of late-colonial architectural styles, and should be a stop for anyone with a strong constitution.
Named in honor of the first saint of the New World, the Church of San Pedro Claver is one of the most beautiful buildings in Cartagena. Pedro Claver became the patron saint of slaves and saw himself as their servant, trying to help them lead better lives than the ones they had been ripped from. The traditional stained-glass windows are off-set by the Italian marble altar, which houses a glass coffin holding the remains of San Pedro Claver himself.
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Departing from the pier, we’ll travel past the marvelous “Republican” architecture of the Manga residential area, where some mansions have been restored to their original splendor. We’ll then make our way up the winding roads to Convento de la Popa, where you’ll be treated to breathtaking views of the harbor and the city. Here, we’ll visit the monastery with its ornate 22 karat gold foil altar and a lovely, flower-filled courtyard.
This city tour will provide you with an overview of Cartagena, along with some shopping time at both Las Bovedas and Bocagrande, famous for its variety of shops.
Your tour begins with a departure to Convento de la Popa, where you’ll be treated to breathtaking views of the harbor and the city. Here, we’ll visit the monastery with its ornate 22 karat gold foil altar and a lovely, flower-filled courtyard.
Next, we’ll continue to Las Bovedas (The Dungeons) for about 35 minutes of handicraft shopping. Local artisans display their works of art and handicrafts here.
A short ride outside the city of Cartagena is the Totumo Mud Volcano, located in the municipality of Santa Catalina. From the ground. like an oversized anthill, El Totumo is a classic example of a mud volcano that has been created by natural gasses emitted by decaying organic matter underground. As the mud is pushed upwards by the gas, it deposits and hardens above ground. As more mud oozes out and spills over the edge, it grows in size and gradually forms what you can see today–a miniature volcano with a rich, creamy mud crater at the top.
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