Topping every “World’s Most Beautiful Cities” list and hands down my favorite “colonial” city of Latin America is Cartagena, with all of it’s old world charm and Caribbean mystique.
This city is unique for a multitude of reason. For one, Cartagena was the first sanctuary for freed African slaves in the Americas. Giving the city a rich and soulful culture that slightly differs from the rest of the the country.
Also, all of the city’s colonial buildings and churches are located within a 500 year old wall. Built to keep pirates out, the wall has also succeeded in protecting these colonial gems from the elements of the sea. The “walled city” remains amazingly intact, housing many upscale restaurants, boutique shops, hotels and even some residential condos.
The first thing we did when we arrived was to take a private guided walking tour of the “walled city”. Our guide took us to every church, museum, and building that had even the slightest historical significance. Names of patron saints and plundering pirates entered and quickly left my brain. I didn’t want a history lesson. I wanted to take my pictures and then duck into the first cafe with AC to escape the sweltering heat. It was hard to stay interested. And I often wandered off taking pictures of sometimes obscure items.
Our guide took us to a hotel that use to be a church. The hotel had completely dismantled the old church’s main altar. Taking all of the altar’s relics and artwork and placing them around the hotel’s entrance, main counter, and restaurant.
The tour continued to small Emerald boutique . There we were given complimentary ice cold water as long as we pretended to look interested in the jewelry that they had on display. Emeralds are known to be inexpensive in Cartagena but Ben and I were still not about to hand over a few days budget on a ring that I would never wear. So as soon as we both finished our water I politely handed back the ring.
We were back in the heat again but this time fully hydrated. At this point, I was feeling less obligated to listen to my guide. I mean he did just try to slightly bully us into getting an emerald ring. I started stopping every few feet to snap pictures of well whatever I wanted.
I even wandered into a really interesting Thai restaurant. Here are some of my favorite pictures from there.
We did manage to visit more churches in spite my lollygagging.
Not only were the churches stunning, but the streets of Cartagena were gorgeous. Cobblestone streets, brightly colored buildings and flowered hanging vines gave it an old fashioned romantic feel.
If Ben and I could do it all over again we’d probably have kept our money and just walked around the city ourselves. But despite the heat and the annoying guide who wanting us to buy more tours with him, we had a great time walking around this amazingly beautiful city. It is no wonder that Cartagena’s walled city and fortress are designated as an UNESCO World Heritage Site.
2011-09-06 Cartagena, ColumbiaCheck out all our photos! Click on any photo to see a larger image.