Colombia: Cartagena

Last year (between March and April 2016), we took a Panama Canal Cruise. We prefer to plan our travels but since this is the Panama Canal, we’ve decided that a cruise would be the best way to see this man-made engineering marvel.

From Maryland, we flew to Miami and went straight to the Port of Miami to catch our ship bound for the Panama Canal. However, we have a few ports to visit first. These port calls are perks when you’re in a cruise because you get to explore a city within a day – not too bad.

First port of call is Cartagena!

Cartagena felt steamy, hot and abuzz with people and cars. As we approached Cartagena’s Old Town, what struck us are the bright, colorful houses and buildings and the century-old colonial stone walls.  The Old Town is a Unesco World Heritage site with maze-like cobbled alleys, balconies covered in bougainvillea and other flowering plants, churches tall and watchful, and colorful plazas filled with mango and fruit vendors and at times performers.

We joined a tour while in Cartagena and below are the highlights from our trip:

LA POPA MONASTERY
Our first stop was the La Popa Monastery, built in 1606-1607 (both dates appear in both our research so it’s safer to use both) and dedicated to the Nuestra Senora de la Candelaria, the patron saint of Cartagena.

Unfortunately, Kayni caught a nasty cold on the first day of the cruise and the heat in Cartagena was a little too much for her to bear. Who knew that this cold and later turned into an annoying cough will accompany us for the duration of our trip. It sucked big time!

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We were profusely sweating and perhaps Kayni already running a fever, we found refuge inside the walls of the monastery.
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We sat near an old well, and took in the old historic walls and wondered what stories they can tell if they could speak. A tour group came through and their voices and chatter seemed to echo through the walls (or perhaps that was Kayni’s fever speaking). We were particularly drawn to the blooming Bougainvilleas and other plants that grew in and around the monastery. In the midst of a sweltering day, this place is refreshing.
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Red and dark pink – these Bougainvilleas artfully curved and hugged the building posts.

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Since La Popa is located at the highest point in Cartagena, it offers a sweeping view of the city. It was hazy when this photo was taken.
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It was close to noon when we saw this pup napping. He/she didn’t even budge when we stepped closer to take a photo. Perhaps he/she has gotten used to the crowd and tour buses that frequent the area.

CASTILLO SAN FELIPE DE BARAJAS
Castillo San Felipe is a fortress in the city, located on the Hill of San Lazaro. This fortress played crucial in the warding off attacks from invading forces. Visiting this place requires a lot of walking but quite an adventure to explore the complex maze of tunnels within.

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Las Bovedas Artisan Center
The center was built to both serve as dungeons and storage. It is now a shopping center. We enjoyed checking out the souvenir shops. We bought a few bags of Colombian coffee.

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Walled City
We explored the walled city. We walked through the narrow cobblestone streets and squares and wandered through Plaza de Bolivar. If you have the time, do visit the Inquisition Palace, established in the year 1610 to punish any crimes against the Catholic faith. For us, wandering and getting lost on the the streets of the walled city gave us a thrilling sense of adventure.

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The streets are filled with character and enchantment.

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Walking around the walled city was a great way to get the feel and rhythm of the old city. On our way back to the ship, we managed to get a glimpse of Bocagrande. However, it was the old city that gave me a good reason to come back and reacquaint with Cartagena again.

~kayni & kepi~

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