After enjoying the quaint villages of Villa de Leyva and Barichara, we headed north to Cartagena, a city on the Caribbean coast of Colombia. Cartagena is famed for its beautiful old colonial town surrounded by 13 kms of intact century-old stone walls. It was founded in the 1500's as the main Spanish port and northern gateway to South America. It was from here that many of the treasures taken from the indigenous people were shipped back to Spain. Because of the riches that were kept here, it became a target of many pirate attacks. Thus, a series of forts and the expansive wall around the city was built by the Spaniards to protect the city and its treasures. This fortified city proved to be impenetrable, saving it from subsequent attacks.
Today Cartagena is a bustling city of nearly a million people which draws a huge number of tourists from around the world. Most visitors stay in the old walled city but we rented an apartment in the more bohemian, local part of town. By day it was pretty quiet, but when the sun set the streets came alive with loads of street vendors selling food and crafts, and restaurants and bars pumping the tunes. There was a main square in front of a church near us where we went nightly to hang out and people watch. One night, there was even an aeorbics/dance class that went on for hours which added to the energy of night. The boys in particular loved the skewer stand and it became our routine to sit in the square eating meat skewers and watching the commotion around us before calling it a night.
Cartagena has a decidedly Caribbean vibe and it is hot and steamy! That sticky feeling never quite goes away and reprieve from the heat comes in the form of a cold shower! Music can usually can be heard (loudly) on the streets and coming from people's homes. Many people sit and lounge around outside of their homes in the evenings to socialize and enjoy the cooler temperatures.
Aside from checking out a few of the tourist sites such as the Palace of the Inquisition, the Fortress of San Felipe de Barajas, and otherwise roaming the streets of the walled city, we also spend some time at the local beaches. The waves were perfect for body surfing and the boys could not get enough. And of course you could not go 2 minutes without someone walking by selling drinks/fruit cups/massages/knick-knacks/packed lunches. One could get used to this!
I had actually been to Cartagena before.... 21 years ago! Although my memories have faded with time, I seem to recall handling the heat better. This could only mean one thing... I am old! So, while Cartagena is a beautiful city and a usual stop for most visitors to Colombia, a few days was enough for us. Time to move to the hills......