is almost IMPOSSIBLE!
out - or better still, print out - this quick
list of things to do in the most beautiful city
in the Caribbean...
1.Visit the Convento
de la Popa. Established in 1607, it
was once the site of a devil-worshiping and
goat sacrifices by runaway slaves. It was occupied
by George Washington's brother Lawrence Washington's
troops during Admiral Vernon's seige
of Cartagena in 1741. There is a small
chapel with photographs commemorating the Pope's
visit to the convent in the 1980's. The 360
degree view is astounding, and the architecture
inside absolutely beautiful. The Convento de
la Popa is Cartagena's number 1 tourist attraction.
Allow 2 hours.
2.Bathe in the Volcán de Totumo, or nearby
Arboletes. These are mud volcanoes. Totumo
looks like it jumped straight out of the set
of a Steven Spielberg movie, and is the tallest
mud volcano in the world. Time: half a day.
Heredia. This stunning theatre, designed
by Luis Felipe Jaspe, rivals any in the world
for its ornate gold-leaf interior, and leaves
the more modern Centro de Convenciones for dead.
Notice the unique Cartagena main stage curtain.
Try especially to see anything by the local
ballet company. Tickets can be bought from early
afternoon at the theatre entrance. Time: one
and see a corralejas...but only if you
aren't squeamish. The bulls aren't killed, but
the humans who torment them sometimes are, accompanied
by live music and watched by crowds drinking
rum and aguardiente. They are held in the bullring
on the outskirts of Cartagena, on the road to
Turbaco (you can't miss it from the road - its
the bullring made of reddish-brown bricks alongisde
the main football stadium). They are also held
in Arjona and surrounding towns at different
times of the year, according to the patron saints;
days. The ring is ten minutes by taxi from Centro
or 20 minutes by bus. Catch any bus marked Turbaco,
Turbana or Arjona. Time: they usually run from
midday to sundown, followed by the Fandango
the fort at Bocachica. This strategic fort
saw a lot of action, is surrounded by a moat
and is riddled with tunnels that are inhabited
by bats. There was once a thick chain that ran
under thge water across the bay entrance, to
stop any pirate ships from entering. Hidden
underwater escolleras, or breakwaters
were built for the same reason.You can get there
in a water-taxi that leaves from the Muelle
de Pegasos, the wharf in front of the clock-tower
for around US$6...though you must bargain hard.
The boats usually stop at a lot of smaller fishing
villages en route. There are several restaurants
in the nearby village where you can buy drinks
and food. Allow three quarters of a day.
inside the Cathedral de San
Pedro Claver. Dating from 1575, the
building had to be rebuilt after Sir Francis
Drake partially destroyed it in 1586. San
Pedro was a Spanish Jesuit who baptised
hundreds of thousands of African slaves. The
room where he lived the last of his days can
be seen adjoining the cathedral, along with
the Saint's actual bones, encased in a glass
coffin under the main altar. Look for the beautiful
stained-glass window and the dramatic series
of paintings that depict his life, specially
commissioned to inform the illiterate. Time
scared out of your wits in The
Palacio de Inquisicion. Facing Plaza
Bolivar, this large building displays Indigenous,
Colonial and post-independence exhibits. The
Palacio also houses the Cartagena Historical
Archives. Be sure to see the rack in the Spanish
Inquisitions Torture Chamber. (note; the Palacio
closed in Jan 2002 for a period of restoration,
check to see if it open)Time 2 hours.
a stroll and a seat in Plaza
Bolivar. Recently restored at great
cost, it once again is a pleasant place to sit
and admire the massive statue of Simon Bolivar
made in Germany, or the many street performers
who wander through. The Palacio de Inquisition
faces this plaza. Time: one hour.
Naval. Situated behind the San Pedro
Cathedral, adjacent to the Santa Teresa Hotel.
Time 1 hour.
aboard the tall ship Gloria. This historic
sailing ship can be toured free of charge simply
by asking at the Colombian Naval Base in Bocagrande.
Bovedas. These former dungeons now house
varied stores of Colombian souvenirs. There
are more than a dozen of them and no two are
the same. Just the place to go to buy a Costeña
doll or Guajiran hammock.
a drink in Plaza
Santo Domingo on a Friday or Saturday night.
Once a place where slaves were auctioned
off, the plaza is the home to Botero's `gordita
(the fat lady statue), Pacos, and the beautiful
Santo Domingo Church.
picturesque is Plaza San Diego, also once
an auction area for slaves. It is surrounded
by many restaurants and the beautiful Hotel
Santa Clara, just a short walk away from Gabriel
Garcia Marquez post-modern residence.
Museum, (Museo de Oro). It is situated
facing Plaza Bolivar, opposite the Palacio de
Inquisicion, marked by a large sign. It also
houses pre-Columbian antiquites. Open Tues-Fri
8-12 and 2-6pm, Saturdays 9-5pm, closed Sun-Mon.
(beware of imitators: at least one nearby jewellery
shop has a large poster saying Museo de Oro
beside its entrance, but if you read the small
print you will see that the poster is for the
Bogota Museo de Oro).
and explore San Felipe de Barajas. This
massive fort took years to build and was used
by Don Blas to thwart Vernon's attack of 1741.
Entry is free on the last Sunday of each month
(other days US$3). Half a day.
Manga's Cementerio de la Cruz. If you are
interested in ornate old graves, this is just
the place to be. The many gravediggers who work
there would be happy to tell you the history
behind the graves, though none speak English.
Time: 2 hours
a ride on a horse-drawn carriage. The men
who drive these coaches are very knowledgeable
about Cartagena history, but don't speak English.
Its probably better to go at night when the
traffic is not so hectic, and the coach drivers
use candles inside glass lanterns to illuminate
the path ahead. They can be hailed in many parts
of Centro and Bocagrande. Rates are negotiable,
depending on the time taken, but it is a good
idea to agree on the price and route before
you climb aboard.
sing and dance the night away on a Chiva tour.
These tours are popular with both Colombian
and foreign tourists. The tours include live
music, unlimited rum and Coca-Cola, some snacks,
a stop at Las Bovedas, and free entry and one
complimentary drink at the La Escollera disco
in Bocagrande. The bus will usually wait for
an hour before taking you back to your hotel,
or you can party on in the disco till the wee
Arsenal on a Friday or Saturday night. This
street is crammed with bars and discos, and
really starts to come alive after 11pm. Parallel
Calle Arsenal has many bars too, but is a little
out the Casa Roman. A unique and very colourful
arabesque building. To view it just continue
down the street that runs off to the left of
the Convention Centre, Calle Larga, cross the
bridge, and keep walking for a block or two,
looking to the left. It is adjacent the Colegio
Montessori. If you walk, allow 2 hours. Not
open to the public, but well worth the walk,
you can take photographs through the picket
fence.(see photo at the top of this article)
the Cabalgata. This equine festival is held
every year. Horse riders descend on Cartagena
from the towns and villages all around and trot
through the streets from Bocagrande to Centro
and up to the Convento de la Popa, bearing candles.
The date is usually 2 Feb, in memory of Nuestra
Señora de Candelaria. Time: one afternoon.
comes to a standstill in November during National
Beauty Pageant , or Reinada Nacional de Belleza.
The whole week is a holiday in Cartagena, and
the contestants parade along Avenida Santander
on the back of floats and also travel by boat
around once in Bocagrande, all the time being
cheered by crowds of thousands. Tickets to the
judging and testimonial dinners are sold out
months before, but you can get a table at a
disco like Mr Babillas and watch it live on
TV which is nearly as good. There are many preliminary
contests in the smaller towns and suburbs that
start much earlier in the year.
Go for a walk along Avenida Santander and the
fortified city wall. You can walk on top
of the wall most of the way, with the beautiful
Caribbean on one side and colonial architecture
on the other. If you start at the statue of
La India Catalina, near the eastern corner of
the wall, you will pass the following attractions:
the old wooden bullring, las bovedas,
the Hotel Santa Clara, Gabriel García Márquez
residence, Plaza de Tejadillo, Teatro Heredia,
then, rounding the coner at the Baluarte de
Santo Domingo, pass the Plaza de Artillería,
the Hotel Santa Teresa, where you must cross
a foot bridge and descend the wall which ends
at the Naval Museum. If you go under the bridge,
cross Avenida Santander and continue, you will
pass some monumental anchors donated by the
Colombian and Spanish Navies. Here also you
will find a monument to` Gabriel García Márquez
literary masterpiece Relato de un Naufrago
- Story of a Shipwrecked Sailor - immortalized
in the form of a giant concrete model of his
book. Continuing along this route you will come
to Bocagrande in about 15 minutes. Time: 2 hours.
See the Mapale dancers in Parque Bolivar,
Plaza Santo Domingo or the Plaza de las Coches.
These troupes, usually accompanied by a couple
of drummers, perform a stunning dance that can
trace its origins via the slaves back to Africa.
the best films from Latin America and elsewhere
during the Internacional Festival de Cine.
Stars from all over the continent can be seen
wandering the streets, and cinemas suspend their
normal showings to participate. Even the old
Luis Felipe Jaspe-designed Teatro Colon, Cine
Bucanero and Cine Calamari, all closed some
time ago, re-open to screen the films. These
cinemas are adjacent the Centro de Convenciones,
which shows the majority of the films, and hosts
the judging, usually the week before Easter.
you like chess, have a game at the Liga de Ajedres,
or Chess League, housed in an open room
on the corner of Plaza Bolivar. You will see
about a dozen tables and chairs set up under
a painting of a wizard-type character gazing
over a chess set. The room is in a beautiful
colonial building with a large stone arch. Time:
depends how good you are.
de Nuñez. Just a short walk from Centro,
this is the historic house of one of Colombia
most famous sons, 4-time President of the Republic
and composer of its national anthem. Adjacent
to the museum is a small park with a chapel
where he is buried, and a group of huge, oversize
bronze busts of other notable locals (including
Carex the Native Indian leader), under a circular
arrangement of roman columns which is the Homenaje
de la Constitucion.
you like art, visit the Museo
de Arte Moderno in front of the Cathedral,
open Mon-Fri 9-12, 3-5pm, Sat 10-12. There are
occasional art exhibitions held in the Museo
Naval, and other locales, and at Christmas there
is and exhibition of large murals hung o­n
the inside of the wall, illuminated at night
by floodlights. They are situated along the
Paseo de la Muralla, to the left of the Café
Libre, facing the Conjunto de Santo Domingo.
sunbathing at one of Cartagena's beaches.
There are several to choose from: Bocagrande,
Bocachica, La Boquilla, Islas del Rosario, Isla
Baru, Tierrabomba and Playa Blanca. Wandering
vendors sell ice cream, fresh fruit and juice,
trinkets, or offer their services as masseurs
or will plat and bead your hair. At Playa Blanca
you can rent a beach hut and string up your
hammock for the night. The Isla beaches are
only accessible by boat, but all beaches can
get crowded on weekends and during the vacation
period. Some boat opeartors include lunch and
a visit to the Fort at Bocachica.
and cheer for Real Cartagena , Cartagena's
first division soccer team. Home games are played
at Estadio Pedro Heredia, about ten minutes
by taxi or 20 minutes by bus from Centro. Catch
any bus marked Turbaco, Arjona or Turbana. The
way they have been playing lately, they need
all the encouragement they can get! There are
also professional baseball and basketball leagues
Go and see a bullfight. These are held in
January, in the bullring adjacent to Estadio
Pedro Heredia, ten minutes by taxi or twenty
minutes in a bus. Catch any bus marked Turbaco,
Turbana or Arjona. In 2002 a group of professional
Mexican matadors, all of them "enanitos" or
dwarfs, entertained sell-out crowds. Not for
the squeamish - severe gorings and even fatalities
your PADI diving certificate and dive in
the Caribbean observing tropical fish and reefs,
and the odd shipwreck.Cartagena is o­ne
of the cheapest places in the world to get your
Learn Spanish with your own personal tutor.
There are many language schools in Cartagena,
offering classes in English, Spanish and a host
of other laguages. Sometimes people on the street
will offer you a deal such as an hour for an
hour, ie you help them with their Spanish for
an hour in return for their hour of Spanish
lessons. Such lessons are usually only good
for beginners, however, and formal classes with
qualified teachers and textbooks soon become
Talk to some sailors or look at some beautiful
boats at the yacht clubs. Cartagena's two
yacht clubs, Club de Pescaand Club
Nautico, are both located a short walk from
the center of town in Manga. Both have waterside
bars and Club de Pesca has a nice restaurant
and is located inside Spanish fortified walls.
Visit Cartagena for the Semana Cultural,
or Cultural Week. This is usually held during
Easter, known as Semana Santa in Spanish.
Events include free concerts, roller-blades
races through Centro, street theatre and art
your photo taken with a boa constrictor at Villa
Babilla. Just a few minutes drive from Cartagena,
near Campestre on the road to Turbaco, this
nature farm has eco-tours that feature sloths,
monkeys, turtles, iguanas, caimans, horses,
ducks and parrots. Tour groups catered for.
Go on an eco-cruise of the manglares.
The mangrove swamps around Cartagena have recently
been promoted as a tourist attraction. Catch
a taxi out to La Boquilla and ask for a guide
called Ferny Hernandez. He will take you on
a canoe through mangroves teeming with all sorts
If it is raining, read the article #25 tips
for Cartagena tourists for pointers on how
to avoid being ripped off.
we miss anything? Feel free to post your comments
compiled by Glen David Short, a freelance writer
based in Cartagena. His adventure travelogue,
`An Odd Odyssey: California to Colombia
by bus and boat' is available from
Casa Roman in Manga: One of Cartagena's lesser
B A C K -
and Photos Copyright 2005 Glen David Short