Cartagena de Indias

Cartagena

Founded in 1533, Cartagena de Indias was the main Spanish port on the Caribbean coast and the gateway to the north of the continent.  As a result of the city’s location, frequent pirate attacks prompted the construction of elaborate walls encircling the town.Cartagena street  Today, Cartagena’s old walled town, a Unesco World Heritage Site, is its principal attraction, particularly the inner walled town.  It’s a showcase of 16th and 17th century Spanish architecture, much of it beautifully restored, with narrow winding cobbled streets, massive churches overlooking wide plazas and large mansions, all with balconies.  There are tourists too, though not nearly as many as we are used to seeing and far fewer foreign owned bars, restaurants and hostels, even despite the fact that Frommers has named Cartagena one of the top 12 world destinations to visit in 2009. 

As it turns out, we managed to avoid any run-ins with guerrillas, paramilitaries or drug traffickers during our time in Colombia.  Instead, I’ve spent most of the week trying to decide which part of the historic old town I prefer – the clean, perfectly restored and heavily police patrolled inner walled town or the dirtier, more chaotic outer walled town with its street markets, food carts and interesting cast of characters – and I still haven’t been able to decide.  Either way, we couldn’t have hoped for a better introduction to South America.  And, it appears, word is getting out.  In recent years Colombia’s tourism industry has been experiencing rapid growth.  Along with improvements in safety, the country’s reputation among travelers is improving and it likely won’t be long before previously forbidden travel routes open up making the country an even more attractive destination.  We love that we got to see it now!

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