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Cartagena Cruise Port Promises Full Day of Attractions

Cartagena Old Town. Credit: Wikimedia Creative Commons license

Cartagena is a cruise port city on the northern coast of Colombia in the Caribbean coast region. It is the fifth-largest city in Colombia and the second largest in the region, after Barranquilla.

A vivid seaport, Cartagena attracts Latin Americans and European socialites to its restored colonial mansions in addition to cruise visitors, especially on longer Panama Canal and southern Caribbean cruises.

There is a faint sense of preserved history with fancy fusion restaurants, Old World-style plazas and cobblestone alleyways. This combined with concerts, beauty pageants, techno dance clubs and dance festivals keep the city swinging.

Apart from the sceneries and nightlife, there is something else about Cartagena: it’s white sand beaches and crystal-clear waters that are always just a short walk away.

Cartagena is a common port of call for Panama Canal cruises. Cruise visitors with enough time can choose among three itineraries for their visit.

1) Cartagena’s Rich History

Start the visit to Cartagena with an easy, calming walk through the city.  Cartagena’s historic walled district “feels like a Moroccan medina”, with 300-year-old Spanish colonial buildings huddled along brick streets. Cartagena is really a city for walking as the cool sea breeze and abundance of shade will attest to it.

For those who prefer or for some other reason require assistance, multiple horse-powered taxis are available for commuters. The coachman will point out sites as the carriage clip-clops along.

Many visitors take on the challenge of fully or partially walking the 400-year-old stone walls encircling the city. Not only is the trek refreshing, but the scenery mixed with views of the Caribbean Sea as well as old, restored medieval streets make the journey worthwhile. Once the sun sets, travellers can head over to Café del Mar for cocktails.

2) Cartagena Cuisine and Music

Cartagena is undoubtedly a centre for wonderful Columbian cuisine featuring a rich culinary palate, combining flavours and ingredients from the Caribbean, Europe, Africa and even Asia.

Cartagena city center
Cartagena city center. Credit: Wikimedia Creative Commons license

Many eateries here feature great food as well as amazing activities. One popular establishment is El Santísimo (Calle del Santísimo), located just at the corner from Gabriel García Márquez’s (the famous author of the Satanic Verses and other works) home. Trained chefs prepare classic Colombian dishes, and visitors can have selections such as “Prawns in a Tamarind Coconut Sauce” and the “Sins of the Nun”.

In the late evenings, the city calms down to a settling atmosphere filled with rhythms. Visitors can enjoy live music, in almost any popular area including La Vitrola and Donde Fidel (Plaza de los Coches 32-09). At these places, most nights feature talented combos performing merengue, salsa and Cuban music.

3) Cultural Attractions

The third itinerary can begin on an easy going note with calm and easy going historical visits. Cartagena’s history is filled with rich art and other monuments. Three must-see museums lie within a block of one another and can be seen in less than 30 minutes each:

The Gold Museum: Housed in a Baroque mansion and exhibits jewellery that eluded the Conquistadors.

The Museo de Arte Moderno:  Showcases the fantastical works of Colombian artists like Dario Morales. 

Palacio de la Inquisición: Rusted instruments of torture document the Roman Catholic Church’s efforts to root out heresy in the New World.

Finally, the day can end with a slip back to nature. Whether it’s travelling to La Ciénega, a mangrove forest that teems with wildlife, or touring the natural parks or beautiful beaches, Cartagena will facilitate any or all.

Attractions and Shore Excursions

Cartagena, also called “The Walled City”, is known for having nearly seven miles of walls built by the Spanish around the historic center to protect it from pirates and other attackers.

The center is filled with cobblestone streets, historic churches and other buildings, and especially Fort San Felipe built by the Spanish in 1533. It dominates the town and approaches to it from water and land in its strategic location on the Hill of San Lázaro. Visitors can explore the battlements and underground passages.

But La Papa is actually Cartagena’s highest point. Visitors can explore the colonial convent of Nuestra Señora de La Candelaria and experience views of the Caribbean, the island of Tierra Bomba, the city walls and the fishing village at La Boquilla.

The historic center of Cartagena is small enough for visitors to walk through it. Anyone who wants to go to La Papa or elsewhere needs to use an organized tour.

Beaches Near the Cruise Port

Visitors will find numerous beaches outside of the city. They include Bocagrande, El Laguito, Marbella, Crespo, La Boquilla, and Manzanillo del Mar, along with Tierrabomba, Bocachica, Barú, and the Rosario Islands. Chairs and umbrellas are available for rent.

Cartagena Cruise Weather

© 2022 Scott S. Bateman

Cartagena, one of the most southern Caribbean ports, lies closer to the Equator than most ports in the region. It means warm weather throughout the year.

The average high temperature stays in the upper 80s Fahrenheit or low 30s Celsius every month. Swimming and beaches are normally comfortable year round.

Rainfall varies much more than temperatures. The city has a distinct dry season from December through April, moderate rain in the summer and heavy rain in the fall during the Caribbean hurricane season, according to the country’s Institute of Hydrology, Meteorology and Environment Studies.

Scott S. Bateman is a professional journalist who has traveled widely throughout the Caribbean and the Americas. He is the author of four books about cruising in the Caribbean, Alaska and Mexican Riviera.
March 05, 2024

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