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Discovering the colonial charm of Cartagena’s Old City

Secondary Categories: ColombiaGuide

The evocative walled city of Cartagena de Indias on Colombia’s northern coast, is a city that never ceases to amaze. Known for its stunning beaches, lively nightlife, and rich history, it’s the kind of place you’ll never want to leave. And if you're looking for a true taste of Colombia's colonial past, look no further than Cartagena's Old City. 

Colombia is a country full of contrasts, from its bustling cities to its stunning natural landscapes. And nowhere is this more apparent than in the coastal city of Cartagena de Indias. Dating back to the 16th century this is an evocative wonderland of bougainvilleas and balconies…

If walls could talk 

The Old City, also known as the Walled City, is a UNESCO World Heritage Site and one of the best-preserved examples of Spanish colonial architecture in South America. With its cobblestone streets, brightly colored buildings, and charming plazas, the Old City is a photographer's dream come true. 

One of the best ways to explore the Old City is on foot, taking in the sights, sounds, and smells of this historic neighborhood. Start your journey at the iconic Torre del Reloj (Clock Tower), the main entrance to the walled city. From there, stroll through the narrow streets and take in the colorful buildings and colonial architecture that line the way. 

Plaza de la Trinidad in Cartagena, Colombia
Torre del Reloj, or Clock Tower, at the gateway to Cartagena’s Old City.

As you wander through the Old City, be sure to stop at Plaza de Santo Domingo, one of the most picturesque plazas in the city. Here you'll find the Church of Santo Domingo, the oldest church in Cartagena, and a statue of the city's most famous son, Gabriel Garcia Marquez, the Nobel Prize-winning author. The novelist spent much of his childhood in the city and it served as inspiration for many of his works, including One Hundred Years of Solitude and Love in the Time of Cholera which is set in the Cartagena. The city even has a Gabriel Garcia Marquez Museum, which showcases his life and work. 

The Plaza de Bolivar is another must-visit spot in the Old City. Here you'll find the Palace of the Inquisition, a historic building that was once used as a courthouse and prison during the Spanish Inquisition. Today, the building houses a museum dedicated to the history of the Inquisition in Colombia, offering visitors a fascinating glimpse into the country's past. 

As you continue to explore the Old City, you'll come across a multitude of other historic buildings, including the Cathedral of Cartagena, which is considered one of the most important religious buildings in the city. The cathedral, which was built in the 16th century, is a stunning example of colonial architecture, with its intricate carvings, stained glass windows, and towering bell towers. 

But perhaps the most iconic feature of the Old City is its walls. Built in the 16th century to protect the city from pirate attacks, the walls now offer stunning views of the Caribbean Sea and the surrounding city. There are several entrances to the walls, but one of the most popular is the Puerta del Reloj, which leads directly into the heart of the Old City. 

Dance the night away 

Plaza de la Trinidad in Cartagena, Colombia
Plaza de la Trinidad

While the Old City is undoubtedly a historic gem, it's also a vibrant and lively neighborhood, with plenty of bars, restaurants, and nightlife spots. One of the most popular spots in the Old City is the Plaza de la Trinidad, which comes alive at night with street performers, food vendors, and plenty of music and dancing. 

For a taste of Cartagena's famous cuisine, be sure to visit the Mercado de Bazurto, a bustling market located just outside the Old City. Here you'll find a wide range of fresh produce, seafood, and other local delicacies, as well as plenty of street food vendors serving up delicious empanadas, arepas, and other traditional dishes. 

Life’s a beach 

Rosario Island off the coast of Cartagena, Colombia
We highly recommend an excursion to the Rosario Islands off the coast of Cartagena!

Of course, no trip to Cartagena would be complete without a visit to the city's stunning beaches. Just a short distance from the Old City, you'll find a variety of beaches, each with its own unique charm. One of the most popular is Playa Blanca, a pristine stretch of white sand beach that's perfect for swimming, sunbathing, and soaking up the Caribbean sun. If you're looking for a more lively beach experience, Bocagrande Beach is the place to be. Located in the heart of the city, this beach is surrounded by high-rise hotels and bustling streets, giving it a more urban feel. 

If you're willing to venture a little further from the city, the Rosario Islands are an absolute must-visit. This group of small islands, located just off the coast of Cartagena, offers some of the most stunning beaches in the area, with crystal clear waters, colorful coral reefs, and a wide variety of marine life. Another island paradise just a short distance from Cartagena is Isla Barú. This stunning island offers a range of beaches, from secluded coves to lively spots with beach bars and restaurants. 

What are you waiting for? 

Whether you're a history buff or just looking for a beautiful place to explore, Cartagena's Old City is a must-visit destination. With its colonial charm, vibrant culture, and stunning architecture, it’s easy to see why this city has captured the hearts and souls of travelers from around the world. 

Keen to experience the wonders of Cartagena for yourself? Take a look at our most popular Colombia itineraries here, or speak to a Destination Expert about curating your own Cartagena adventure. 

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