Approaching Cartagena, Columbia By Cruise Ship
The furthest point south on our 26 day cruise was to be Cartagena, Columbia! Looking out our front balcony on the cruise ship we could see the very modern skyline of Cartagena emerge. On one side you could see resort properties and on the other a very busy port, with the city of Cartagena in the middle.
We docked beside another cruise ship and joined our tour leader on the bus. Maria was a wiry woman who who had us running through Cartagena! She took total control over our tour group, hustling us much too quickly at times from spot to spot and never hesitating to stop traffic while she stood in the middle of the street to explain something.
Castillo San Felipe Guards Over Cartagena, Columbia
Our first stop as we were running through Cartagena was at Castillo San Felipe on the hill. Maria hustled us past the long line of aggressive street vendors hawking t-shirts, hats, purses and a wide assortment of other tourist trash. She made sure to warn us not to pose with the women in traditional garb unless we were prepared to pay for the picture.
It was a good climb up the ramp and stairs to multiple points in the fort (not really the “simple” tour that the brochure promised). We had no problem – having climbed so many stairs onboard the ship as part of our plan to not gain a pound a day – but many of the group struggled and almost went back to the bus. We walked inside one of the many tunnels at the top that led from vantage point to vantage point.
At the top we could see the panoramic view of Cartagena and why this hill spot had been chosen as a major defence for the city.
Walking back down, we boarded the bus for our next stop at the dungeons. I had great visions of dark, mouldy rooms and was surprised when we alighted at a row of 23 small shops currently housed in the restored dungeons. While we wandered from shop to shop, there was nothing we wanted to buy and the hawkers lining the walkway eventually just became tiresome to dodge.
We were let back out to continue running through Cartagena old town to see a few more sites. The narrow streets presented very European balconies overflowing with flowers as we walked towards the central square. We would find Cartagena to be a colourful city, filled with artist expression everywhere we looked.
The House of Torture At The Cartagena Inquisition Museum
Our first stop in the old town was the Inquisition Museum. Maria gave us a bit of history on the Inquisition while we stood in the courtyard and then went on to talk about each of the machines of torture as we walked around the museum. Of course, most of the machines she claimed were not used in Columbia!
Walking into the main square we were not surprised to find the Juan Valdez coffee shop, looking very much like a Starbucks franchise store. We wandered in to check on coffee prices (too high) and were a bit surprised to find they would not accept US dollars. Luckily we found a more local little coffee shop that had a menu in US dollars and was happy to take our business.
Seeking Sanctuary With San Pedro Claver in Cartagena, Columbia
From there we found another courtyard in front of the San Pedro Claver church. The courtyard was filled with colour and decorated with maybe a dozen different iron statues. The tourists posed with the statues and the birds used them as resting spots. Also found in the square was the statue of San Pedro and one of his followers.
Exploring the Maritime History of Cartagena, Columbia
The last thing Maria had for us when running through Cartagena was a very brisk walk through of the Maritime Museum. There were many displays that talked about the maritime history of Cartagena (including the obligatory pirates swinging from the ropes). This might be an interesting place to re-visit when we could really spend some time at the displays.
In the outer courtyard we finally got a chance to sit down and get some cold water. There was a local band and dancers entertaining us while we had our first and only rest stop. I am sure they would have got a heartier reaction if we all had not been quite so wilted at that point.
We got a quick 30 minutes to continue running through Cartagena on our own before we were marched back to the bus. The bus took a winding path to get back to the cruise ship so we got to see glimpses of the colour of Cartagena rushing past. It had been quite a whirlwind tour with barely enough of a taste. Perhaps Maria wanted us to leave really wanting more?
A Surprise In The Cruise Port When Finished Running Through Cartagena
After a quick lunch on the ship, we took a small bus to the cruise terminal and were surprised to find a small park. The pink flamingos were plentiful within an enclosed area but the peacocks seemed to walk more freely around the park and the shop area, many times finding a perfect spot to pose for the tourists. We spent about 15 minutes trying to get a good view of the toucan hiding in the tree but while he regularly managed to drop leaves on the flamingos, he did this while keeping himself hidden behind the leaves. Unfortunately the aviary was not open so we could not get a closer look at the birds.
One day in Cartagena was not enough to get more than a taste test. When we met the Emerald expert on board the ship later that day he suggested that we should return for 7 – 10 days and use Cartagena as a base to explore more of Columbia. That would now go on “the list”.
What would you recommend we add to a Columbia itinerary? What did we miss when running through Cartagena?