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Cartagena is a city in Bolívar, Colombia.
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Points of Interest in Cartagena
- Historic old town. Cartagena's main attraction is its historic old town surrounded by the city wall. Main entrance is the Clock Tower Building. The walled city includes the neighbourhoods Centro, San Diego, Getsemaní and the modern part La Matuna. The oldest part of Cartagena is around Plaza Trinidad in Getsemaní.Cartagena's five hundred year-old coralstone forts and great parts of its walled city are admirably intact and represent some of the finest examples of civil and military architecture of the Spanish colonial times.
- Castillo de San Felipe. 8AM-6PM. A fortress designed by the Dutch engineer Richard Carr and built in 1657 by the Spanish for protection against pirates while shipping gold out to Europe. Opening hours , entrance fee . $17,000 COP.
- La Popa. Close to the San Felipe fortress is the 150m high La Popa hill, which offers great views over Cartagena and the harbour area. The 17th century Santa Cruz monastery is here, which has a beautifully restored courtyard and a fine image of the Virgin of La Candelaria. Entrance to La Popa is $8,000 for adults and a little less for children. Note that taking a taxi up and down the hill will cost you a shocking $50,000. Negotiate this with the driver before going. It is advised that you do not walk up as it can be dangerous.
- Palacio de la Inquisición. Cartagena is a city full of history, which can be visited in the museum of Palacio de la Inquisición (Palace of Inquisition), where the Spanish Inquisition tortured, judged and convicted people accused of crimes against religion. It is situated in 'Plaza de Bolívar', in the historic center. A tourist guide, in English, can be purchased for $15,000.
- Churches. Almost all churches in the historic center are worth visiting, especially Iglesia de San Pedro Claver, in honor of the priest St. Pedro Claver, who was the first saint of the new world for his work with slaves; La Catedral, near Plaza de Bolívar and the Iglesia de Santo Domingo
Popular events in Cartagena in the near future
The city was one of the first sanctuaries of freed African slaves in the Americas and is currently populated by an ethnic mix representative of Colombia's own variety.
Cartagena with its almost 900.000 inhabitants is located on the northern coast at the Caribbean Sea. It is the most visited city in the country by tourists. It gets extremely crowded in the December holidays and the holy week, when schools are out and most Colombians take their vacations. The city has basically two main parts where tourists go: the walled colonial city ("ciudad amurallada"), which is truly amazing and has many fancy restaurants, clubs and hotels; and a long strip of hotel towers and condos fronting onto the beach, known as Bocagrande. It is also nice to visit the exclusive neighborhood of Castillogrande, filled with recently built condos, places to jog, and a quiet beach to soak up some sun.
- Nearby coral reefs, powdery beaches, impressive mangroves, and waterways complement the historic and urban beauty.
- If you are interested in beaching it, Playa Blanca is the place to be. You can take either a ferry from the port near the or go by car (via the bridge to the island of Baru). There is also a direct bus going on Sunday morning. Several motor boats leave from the port every morning and cost around $45.000-50.000 for a round trip day trip including lunch (Feb 2012). The beaches are far cleaner than those in and around the city. There are a lot of vendors trying hassle you for oysters or massages. You can rent a hammock or cabin and stay the night as well, which is a very budget-conscious and rustic way to spend a few days. Enjoy eating fresh seafood, latrines, the sound of the ocean tide, and semi feral dogs fighting each other throughout the night. When you get there ask for La Espanola (The Spanish Woman)She as well as others rent hammocks and cabins. Be advised that if you plan on spending the night, vendors at the port will sell you a one-way ticket for $30,000 and "assure" you that you pay the captain $10.000 when you choose to return. However since most people taking boats to Playa Blanca go for the day, your captain may tell you the boat is "full" and ask for $20.000 or more. If this is the case, you can always take a nice walk down the beach to where the Alcatraz Ferry departs and pay between $10–15.000 for your return trip. Be sure you pay one of the captains and not a middle man. (April 2011)
- Farther down from Playa Blanca on Isla Baru in the bay of Cholon is Sportbaru- a place well worth of visit. This tranquil beachfront resort offers water sports, boat tours, eco hikes, gaming and gathering facilities, restaurant and bar; and an exceptional staff that is very accommodating to meet any of your needs. You can take a day tour there from Cartagena, or stay overnight in comfortable cabanas that are all facing the beach.
- Several agents arrange boat tours to Islas del Rosario. A set of small islands out of the coast. Usually the tour include lunch, a visit to an aquarium and a few hours at Playa Blanca. Not included in the price is harbor tax and park entrance ($12.000 total) and the entrance fee to the aquarium ($15.000). If you buy your tour at one of the street vendors, don't pay in advance, preferably pay part or all at return in Cartagena. At least one of these tours is to a resort "Coco Liso" which is something like a Colombian butlins. You will be promised a beach, pay a high fee, then disembark a boat after an hour and a half to be greeted with a fairly basic hotel, gimmicky pool, and a tiny slice of beach. Buying a piece of "coral" jewellery from one of the many hawkers, engage them in conversation, and they might lead you to their private beach - quite beautiful, and all the more interesting for having its existence totally denied by the tour operators. The tourist offices in the centre of the old town and a good place to compare the many possible trips to the islands.
- Chiva Bus is a must do fun activity in Cartagena. If you've visited Cartagena for even a day you've undoubtedly seen the open air, colorful buses going through the city loaded with people having fun, drinking and enjoying the loud beat of local music. A good activity for couples, families or groups. There are various pickup locations at mostly tourist hotels (Decameron, Caribe, Hilton etc.) or just talk your the people to make arrangements. Prices range from $18.000 to $25.000 depending on tour.
- Latin Dance Lessons - Latin dances, first of all the Salsa form an integral part of Caribbean culture. The colorful mixture of people in Cartagena and their passionate way of living find one if its most eminent expressions in the vibrant rhythms all around. Crazy Salsa offers you a wide range of Latin dance classes, focusing on Salsa, Meringue and Bachata. There are introductory classes every Friday and Saturday at 5PM for just $10.000—for advanced and intensive classes, workshops or other questions visit crazysalasa.net.
- Spanish Classes. Cartagena is an ideal city for some extended Spanish language studies—a beautiful but not too large city center, close by beaches and heaps of activities to do. Colombia is also renown for it´s pure Spanish which is perfect for learners. There are several Spanish language schools in Cartagena. BABEL International Language Institute is located directly in the old city in one of the picturesque streets. They offer all kinds of group and private classes and also combined Spanish and Salsa packages
- Playa Blanca. Playa Blanca is widely regarded as the best beach of Cartagena, but is not that easy to reach. With its white sand and crystal clear water it is probably one of the best beaches in Colombia. After tour boats leave in the afternoon it is also very peaceful and quiet. It is worth staying on Playa Blanca for at least one night. There are several places where you can rent hammocks, get food and drinks. For example “Wittenbergs place”. On the beach you will be approached to buy massages, fruit platters, sea food and jewelry among other things. Look out for the vendors selling oysters: they will give you an oyster as a present (regalo) to taste. They will quickly crack the shells and serve you a number of oysters, after which you are told that they each cost $2.000. Avoid this $30.000 charge and the subsequent argument on the beach. If you are looking for great seafood and Coco Locos, ask around for Nelson Mandela.
- By boat Take a bus or taxi to “Mercado Bazurto”, the big market of Cartagena about 10 minutes from the Center. From there, every day, except Sundays, small cargo-boats (lancha de carga) leave for Playa Blanca. They don´t have an exact departure time, be there before 9AM to be sure. You will have to pay about $20.000 each way (December 2008) and the trip takes more or less 1 hour to reach the beach. The way back is much easier, most boats (tour boats) will bring you back for around $15.000. Keep in mind that the last boats from Playa Blanca to Cartagena leave around 2-3PM! More comfortable and safer is taking a round-trip from the centre at Muelle de las Pegasos. You can bargain down a one-way-trip without lunch to about 25.000 Pesos plus 8.300 port tax. The tour takes you to Rosario Islands first until it reaches Playa Blanca in the late morning. You can leave the tour there to stay overnight.
- Overland by public transport (2-3 tough hours): 1. Bus to Pasacaballos 2. Ferry or canoe to cross “Canal del Dique” 3. On the other side you take any kind of transport to Santa Ana (bus,jeep,mototaxi) 4. From Santana further on to Playa Blanca there are buses, jeeps, or mototaxis—if you like it cheap try to reach Santana until 9PM, later on the only bus is gone and you have to take a mototaxi for $12.000 which you actually can take already once your crossed the "Canal del Dique". It's about 2 hours walking distance from Santana to Playa Planca. Fare all together around $3.500 or $12.000 if you take a mototaxi once you crossed the "canal del Dique".
- Ocean Front Baru (on Baru Island, on Cholon Bay), ☎ 321 502 4625. Offers two cabins (for eleven people max) to stay. Private deck where you can park your boat, cook and small boat to go to white sand beaches or snorkeling included. US$200-600 depending on amount of people and season.
Cartagena features a rich fusion cuisine, combining ingredients and methods of the New and Old worlds, as well as of the original African, Arabian and other legacies of its inhabitants. Eating set menu lunches and dinners in local restaurants called 'corrientes' costs around $6.000 (US$3). A typical dish consists of fried fish (if you are by the beach), chicken or meat, served with coconut rice (arroz de coco), fried plantains (patacones) and salad. There are many places that sell $2.000 fruit juices. Colombia boasts a very good range of exotic fruits that can be mixed with water or milk.
In the old town, dozens of good restaurants can be found dotted around the streets. They are particularly concentrated close to the Plaza Santo Domingo in El Centro, such as:
Note that many of the below restaurants are not open on Sundays - La Cocina de Carmela is not open for dinner at all (late Sept 2011), El Bistro and La Suiza are closed on Sunday.
- A great 'corriente' is Donde Chandy on San Augustin 6-15. $5.500 for salad and main.
- Don't be fooled by the name Pizza and Pasta on Calle Arzobispado. Try their special menu of the day for dinner, just COP$1800 for salad, main, and choice of drink.
- Club de Pesca - great seafood and great atmosphere. Located in Manga with view to the bay and marinas of Cartagena.
- Saint Michel, on the northwest corner of the Plaza. If you fancy a change from the usual seafood or Italian restaurants, this French option serves some very tasty fondues as the main courses in its three-course menus, very good value at around US$10, as well as plenty of other dishes and wine at more reasonable prices than at most restaurants in this area.
- El Bistro, in Calle Ayos 4-46, 2 blocks from Plaza Santo Domingo. Excellent European Kitchen, German Bakery, reasonable prices.
There are also several around the smaller but more intimate San Diego Plaza next to the Santa Clara hotel and include:
- La Cevicheria, ☎ +57 664-2760. Calle Stuart, opposite Hotel Santa Clara. A great selection of hot and cold ceviches, around US$8 a dish.
- Pazza Luna - Good, super thin crust pizzas, but expensive considering what is available nearby. There are other dishes as well such as pastas. Located on Plaza San Diego. Live music as well.
- La Vitrola - Considered the best restaurant in town. Cuban ambiance, good food - high prices. It is located Calle Baloco on the corner front to the historical walls.
- La Cava - Very good restaurant in the calle Santo Domingo. Dishes around US$16.
- Quebracho - Argentinian restaurant at its best. Good meat, good ambiance. Dishes around US$18. It is located Calle Baloco.
- Crepes & Waffles - Very nice Colombian franchise restaurant which offers very good dishes to excellent prices (dishes around US$5). It is located Calle Baloco.
- El Corral - very nice Colombian franchise hamburger chain. Good quality hamburgers for $10.000-$15.000 pesos for a combo. One is located in Boca grande; there are probably more.
- La Cocina de Carmela - Colombian gourmet food in the Calle Santisimo close to Parque Fernandez de Madrid. Dishes around 12 USD. Hard to find open.
- Cafe El Santisimo - One of the must see restaurants of Cartagena. Dishes around US$16.
- Atahualpa had the best dinner 'Menu of the Day' I had seen. Peruvian place with fresh fish. Set dinner Soup, Main and Juice for only $12.000. At end of Calle de Tablada at the Plaza de Managua.
- Restaurante Casa Suiza, Calle de la Soledad 5-38 Centro Historico (Near Juan Valdez and the Universidad de Cartagena), ☎ +57 312-678-9309. 7:30AM-8PM. Great food at a great price. The Swiss-trained chef offers a daily lunch menu starting at US$4 including a fresh fruit juice, soup, mixed salad, main dish, and coffee. All meals are made from scratch. Even the bread and pasta are made in house. Pastry and pie dishes are also available. Check out the breakfast, lunch, and dinner menu on their website. US$4 and up.
- Gelateria Paradiso has unreal ice cream. Fans of coffee ice cream must stop by for a scoop. $4.000 for small cup, $6.000 for medium. Corner of Calle del Cuartel and Calle de la Estrella.
- Abaco Cafe & Book Store is a great place to relax and get some peace and quiet. Local books on Cartagena in addition to great coffee. Calle de la Mantilla
- Sol de la India, San Diego: Calle Tumbamuertos 38-43, ☎ +57 660-9476. 11:30AM-10PM. Excellent Vegetarian Indian food in the old town. For lunch they offer an all-inclusive (also drinks) buffet for 15,000 pesos that varies every day. They also offer yoga classes (around US$8) and massages. Supernice and enthusiastic restaurant owners.
- El Laguisto Beach Club (Carrere 1 ra. No. 1A - 23). There are many good restaurants in the Bocagrande area on the beach. The food is of decent quality, but the delight is the water coming up to the restaurant. The host speaks English, Spanish, French, some Portuguese and Turkish!
- La Mulata, Calle Quero 9 58, ☎ 66 46 222. A choice of a few set lunch options. Different menu every day of the week. Delicious and unpretentious.
- Otro Mundo (Bistrò-Bar-Pizzeria), Centro, Calle San Agustin 6-68 (Cartagena de Indias), ☎ +57 5 6602314. 09-24. Otro Mundo Bistrò-Bar-Pizzeria it is located in Centro Historico de Cartagena de Indias, Calle San Agustin 6-68, close Universita de Cartagena (Cartagena University). There you can eat excellent Croatian dishes, pastas, and the best pizza of America. Ambient is rustically tip, very clean with excellent service. The price of dishes and pizza is very good. Croatian Cevapcici $18.000 (US$10), Pasta frutos del mar $20.000 (US$11), Pizza small from $12.000 (US$7), Pizza medium $25.000 (US$14), until Pizza large $35.000 ($20). In the local you can use gratis WiFi internet connection. They do also pizza delivery.
- El Balkoon, Calle Tumbamuertos No. 28-85 2do. Piso Esquina. 2nd floor restaurant that overlooks the Plaza San Diego. Small balcony for seating, but great food. Good set menus and 2-for-1 specials on cocktails every day from 6PM-9PM. (Feb 2012) About $26.000 with drink.
- One of the most popular watering holes for local Cartageneros is Mister Babilla, located on the Avenida del Arsenal, near the Centro de Convenciones. This place is great on the weekends and is notorious for having people dancing on the tables and the bar late into the night! A great time!
- La Avenida del Arsenal is located along the bay near the Centro de Convenciones. In its heyday it was the place to be. Now much of the nightlife in Cartagena has moved to the Ciudad Vieja, but this strip of about 10 discotecas is still a raging place to experience on weekends. Entry to most of the discos is $10.000-20.000.
- Olano´s (Near Plaza de Santo Domingo). Great sea food with fusion style, don´t miss the shrimps in passion fruit and coconut rice!
- Cafe del Mar. Located atop the western wall providing sunset views and cocktails.
- Donde Fidel, Plaza de la Aduana (Right by the clock gate). Great place to sit and people watch as the night gets going...good prices on drinks and the place to meet Cartageneros and tourists alike.
- Otro Mundo (Bistrò-Bar.Pizzeria), Centro, Calle San Agustin 6-68 (Cartagena de Indias), ☎ +57 5 6602314. 09-24. Otro Mundo Bistrò-Bar-Pizzeria is situated in Centro Historico de Cartagena, Calle San Agustin 6-68 and is near Universita de Cartagena. There you can eat excellent croatian dishes, pastas, and the best pizza of America. Ambient is very clean and service is excellent. The price and quality of the dishes and pizza are very good. Every day you can listen good music and taste also good drinks, like beer, coctails, juice and natural juice, all this with very good price and hospitable service.
Zorba Wiskeria is a great little corner bar that offers bottle service and a decent street scene. Very local. Beers are COP$3000 and a bottle of rum will set you back $27.000, which is pretty good. Right next door to a Pizzeria and up the street a few doors from a Lebanese Falafel house. Calle de la Tableda.
- Handcrafts are fashionable and sophisticated.
- Emeralds are available for sale all over Cartagena, including polished and uncut loose emeralds and beautiful jewelry. The prices are extremely reasonable and the variety available is extensive in the old walled city. The stores that sell emeralds and emerald jewelry use various names such as "Taller y Fabrica de Joyas" (workshop and manufactuer of jewelry), "Museo de Artesanias y Esmeraldas" (museum of crafts and emeralds) or simply "Joyeria" (jewelry). The street vendors will be persistent in trying to take you to one of these as they frequently get a commission for bringing in a tourist from the street. The store owners will negotiate and provide a certicate of authenticty.
This article is based on Creative Commons Attribution/Share-Alike 3.0 Licensed text from the article Cartagena (Colombia) on Wikivoyage.