If there’s one place you have to visit on Colombia’s Caribbean coast, it’s Cartagena.
And you won’t be the only one. The old town has had pirates, army’s, Nobel prize winning authors, tourists and backpackers banging at its famed old fort walls for more than five centuries now. (Incidentally these old fort walls are a perfect spot for cheap beer sundowners and to take advantage of Colombia’s relaxed attitude to drinking in public).
Quick (but awesome) history lesson:
Quickly after its founding in 1533, Cartagena became a rich town and tempting target for pirates because it was used to store most of Spain’s plunder from the new world before it headed to the homeland. One of its more (in)famous conquerors was uber-buccanneer, Sir Francis Drake, who stole everything and ransomed the city for 10 million peso’s.
But you shouldn’t mess with the locals here either.
When the 25000 strong British, led by Edward Vernon, attempted to take the city in 1741, a Spanish officer called Blas de Lezo who had all ready lost an eye and leg in previous battles rallied a mere 2500 to defend the city. Unfortunately Blas lost another leg and died shortly after but is regarded as the savior of Cartagena.
Hence the fort walls neatly encapsulating a snapshot of what the heady days of fighting pirates and swimming in colonial wealth must have been like.
It took 200 years to build, is mainly made out of coral-stone and has safeguarded the city from pesky invasions ever since.
The best guide book for Cartagena is Gabriel Garcia Marquez’s Love in the Time of Cholera. After being shown around the city by the author, one of the Nobel prize winner and legendary author’s friends remarked that they didn’t think Marquez’s famous imagination existed because Cartagena provided too much magic-realism inspiration. While Love in The Time of Cholera never named Cartagena specifically as its setting, it’s widely perceived to be (with scholars even identifying squares, benches and windows particular to the story), Marquez still owns property in the city and the film was shot here. The good news is fans today can still hear the reverberating hooves of the many horse carriages, languish on benches in shady squares and gaz
But the tourists and backpackers aren’t only in town for its colorful history and romantic setting.
Cartagena is a party town with more than a little crazy thrown in. It was also the last stop I was spending with the friends I had been traveling Colombia with … And there couldn’t have been a better one. We spent afternoons escaping the heat with Mojito’s, enjoyed amazing artisan ice cream, added some rum to coconuts bought off the street, filled horse carriages for a spin around town, watched some late night salsa …. And a lot more.