Our Blue Parallel team has traveled extensively throughout Colombia to learn the ins and outs of this diverse and special country. For a traveler looking to learn about the intersections of Colombian history and culture, there is no better place than Cartagena. Here’s what our travel experts have to say about their day in this remarkable city.
Nestled along the Caribbean Sea, Cartagena has a unique position as a culture cross-point for Colombia. Encompassing Afro-Caribbean and European characteristics, the culture of Cartagena is almost as colorful as its buildings found within the Old Town walls.
After a hearty breakfast, our day in Cartagena begins by walking beside the port towards the entrance of the Old Town. As we walk ahead, the sun slowly continues its rise up over the Caribbean. After a few minutes, we arrive at Puerta de Reloj. Constructed in the 19th century, it has historically served as the guarded entrance to the walled Old Town. The faded yellow exterior of the clock rises above two archways that formerly housed an armory and a chapel. This impressive structure is a well-known monument and can be seen from several points within the Old Town. As the the historic entrance to the city, it is a great starting off point for a day of discovery.
From the Puerta de Reloj, we stroll to the nearby Plaza de los Coches. A colorfully decorated plaza with a market that was once used to sell slaves but now has a much better tradition of selling dulces, or sweets. The architecture of the plaza is not to be missed. Lined with old colonial houses and balconies that face the plaza, each house is painted in vibrant colors giving the space a unique and picturesque character. After snapping photos of the brightly hued houses, we stopped to buy some customary sweets like dulce de tamarindo and continued our tour to Plaza de Bolivar.
Located near the ocean and filled with shady trees, Plaza de Bolivar is an excellent place to stop for a cool respite from the Colombia heat. In addition to shaded park benches, the plaza is site of two of the most beautiful colonial buildings in the city: the Palace of the Inquisition and the Cathedral. The 18th century seat of the Holy Office of the Inquisition, today the Palace of the Inquisition serves a museum and architectural landmark noted for its combination of colonial and civil style. Nearby, is the beautifully constructed Catedral. Designed by the famous Simón González and modeled after basilicas in Spain, the Catedral was constructed in the 16th century and remodeled again in early 20th century. It has a charming yellow facade with an ornately decorated tower that makes the building stand out from the Plaza.
After our tour of the Plaza de Bolivar, it is time for a well-deserved lunch at Cafe San Pedro. We are told this one of the best places for people watching in the city as it is ideally located between many of the plazas in Old Town. We feast on arepas and reinvigorate ourselves with fresh limonadas as we sit in the open air patio observing the coming and goings of tourists and locals alike.
Following our delicious lunch we begin the final part of our tour with a stop at the Modern Art Museum of Cartagena. Inaugurated in 1959, this former customs house houses important collections of art by Alejandro Obregon and Enrique Grau. Obregon is well known for his impressive sculptures and murals. Born in Spain, he moved to Colombia at a young age and fell in love with local culture. His surrealists art depicts the various stages of Colombian history. At the height of their careers, Obregon and Grau were considered part of the “Big 5” of Colombian artists. Depicting the Caribbean influence on Colombian culture, their art is both elegant and contemporary in its portrayal of this confluence.
Our tour was expertly planned with the sights and locations combining seamlessly as we traveled through the layers of Cartagena’s unique culture and history. The landmarks that we visited were topped off with delicious traditional food that added to the experience. Although one could spend a whole week in Cartagena, a day spent seeing these few highlights is a great introduction to this iconic port city.