The salt-weathered facades of the old colonial houses have given a make-over. Many are now tranformed into designer boutiques. The courtyards of what were once the convents now, in many cases, now lead to exclusive hotels and restaurants.
But despite the gentrification, Cartagena de Indias remains, in essence, a port town and as in all such places parts are still a considered little dangerous. Several times on our wanderings, we were warned by locals not to venture down certain streets. as with most South American cities graffiti, very good graffiti, is everywhere especially in Getsemeni where we were staying.
The old city has more than enough sights to hold ones attention for a few days; some amazing street food, interesting bars and unusual restaurants seem to be everywhere.
Cartagena is not a place to be hurried so we hung around for about ten days and included a side trip to Mompox. It is one of the hottest places we have visited on our travels around the continent so it pays to take things slowly. Fortunately, it is very easy to do just that in this town.
The massive walls, 17 metres thick in places, were built by the Spanish colonists in the 16th century to protect the city from gold-seeking pirates. The most famous and most vicious of these was one of my own countryman, Sir Francis Drake. He besieged the city and only called off the bombardment by his cannons after receiving ten million pesos in ransom. One country’s national hero is another’s terrorist I suppose!
Nowadays, there is still plenty of gold around and most of it is to be found in the Museo del Oro Zenú , a miniature version of the massive Museo del Oro, in the capital, Bogotá.
Plaza de Bolivar, which was formerly known as the Plaza de Inquisición is nice place to grab an ice cream and rest awhile in the shade of the trees to admire the ubiquitous statue of Simon Bolivar on his horse.
There are many museums, church’s, plazas and some amazing colonial architecture around the city and we found the best way to explore was to wander aimlessly until we found somewhere to that to our fancy.
We found Cartagena to be the most expensive place in Colombia but still good value compared with England. We stayed just outside the walled town in the barrio known as Getsemini. Not yet too gentrified, it was a bit “edgier” than the old town but safe enough.
We stayed at Posada La Fe in Callejón Ancho, a tiny street in Getsemeni. The too ladies running it were wonderful, very friendly and servicing up some amazing breakfasts. It was just around the corner from a vibrant square which became alive at nights with street theatre, street-food stalls. Friendly staff and great breakfasts, it was one of the best places we stayed at on this trip.