Cartagena de Indias, located on the Caribbean coast, is the capital of Bolivar department. Founded in 1533 by Pedro de Heredia, Cartagena is the 5th most populated city in Colombia. It is surrounded by a great wall that protected it from pirate invasions. Cartagena is a city full of contradictions and enchantments. Its architecture, its magnificent colonial houses and its picturesque streets scented by the scent of tropical fruits and a delicious sea breeze make the unique charm of this illustrious city, considered the most beautiful colonial city in South America. Cartagena’s soft nights, illuminated by colors that contrast with its colonial history, make it the ideal destination for those who love romance.
The city is divided into two parts, the old town or “ciudad amurallada” and a more modern area filled with skyscrapers: “Boca Grande”. Surrounded by beaches, Boca Grande is mainly home to large hotels and shopping centers.
The history of Cartagena can be divided into several periods, starting with the arrival of Christopher Columbus. In pre-Columbian times, the bay of Cartagena was inhabited by the “Calamari” of the Karib group. Later, during the period of Spanish colonization, the city was a major port of the Americas; it was from Cartagena that the greatest wealth of the Spanish crown left.
It was also a major trading centre for slaves brought from the African continent. Large landowners built magnificent colonial-style mansions, which can still be admired today. The 20th century brought about changes to the colonial city in economic, socio-cultural and political terms.
A centre of economic and cultural exchange, the city beautifully displays its colonial past, with the rich houses and buildings built over the centuries by the great landowners. The fourth-largest port in Latin America has evolved with the times by modernizing its infrastructure and diversifying its economic activities.
La Boca Grande, the modern part of the city, offers numerous shopping centres, hotels and offices. Cartagena de Indias is the most beautiful gateway to the Caribbean and its cultural treasures.
Climate in Cartagena
The tropical climate is hot or very hot all year round. There are usually afternoon thunderstorms from May to November. The dry season is from December to April.
When to visit Cartagena?
December to April: This period corresponds to the dry season with milder weather with low rainfall. However, you can visit Cartagena all year round. Beware: Christmas and Holy Week periods should be avoided as Cartagena becomes very congested. Also avoid going on a long weekend and favor weekdays.
There are also many events in Cartagena such as the Hay Festival and the Film Festival (see our section below). If you’re not interested in these events, don’t come during this period, as the city will be full of people and the prices will go up!
Health and equipment needed to go to Cartagena.
During the day, the heat in Cartagena can be stifling. If you have health problems related to the heat, we advise you to go out at the end of the day, around 5pm. For the rest of us, we walk a lot in Cartagena! It is important to bring comfortable and light shoes, sun cream, sunglasses, hat or cap.
The historic center is, both during the day and in the evening, quite safe. The huge concentration of tourists means that the number of police and security guards is very high. However, you should always be alert to pickpockets. Avoid walking alone in quiet corners in the middle of the night.The historic center is, both during the day and in the evening, quite safe. The huge concentration of tourists means that the number of police and security guards is very high. However, you should always be alert to pickpockets. Avoid walking alone in quiet corners in the middle of the night.
In Getsémani, the general atmosphere is quite serene, but vigilance is required regarding pickpockets and the quiet little streets at night.
For the rest, don’t venture into neighborhoods you don’t know, even though Cartagena is generally not a city that can be defined as dangerous.
What are the main cultural events in Cartagena?
- Late January: Hay Festival Cartagena, international music festival.
- February 2: Festival of the Señora de La Candelaria ; with processions, ferias and several events.
- End of February: fair náutica, the most important in the country.
- End of February – beginning of March: International Film and Television Festival, allowing to reward Iberian-Latin American films and television programs.
- Holy Week: the Festival del Dulce, dedicated to Caribbean gastronomy.
- November 1: Independence of Cartagena, popular festival with parade of music schools.
- Wed-December : Jazz Festival “Under the Moon”.
How to get to and around Cartagena?
This region is easily accessible by air, land or sea.
- BY AIR: Rafael Nuñez International Airport in Cartagena, serving the main cities of the country as well as foreign cities (Miami, Havana or even Panama City). Main airlines: Avianca, Easyfly, ADA, Copa Airlines, LATAM, Spirit Airlines, Air Panama.
- BY BOAT: the main port of Cartagena is called La Bodeguita. In addition, it is easy to reach the islands surrounding the city: Isla del Rosario, Isla de Barú, Isla Tierra Bomba, Golfo de Morrasquillo, with daily round trips.
- By land from other cities. It is then easy to get to Barranquilla, Santa Marta (in 4 hours), Mompox (5 hours) to Volcan Totumo from Cartagena by bus. From the bus terminal, several companies will offer you to take you to these destinations, such as Marsol or Berlinas del Fonce.
Urban: within the city, it is common to travel by cab ($5000COP minimum).