The colonial port city of Cartagena got rich on gold but now thrives on its rich contemporary literary scene
At best Colombia is renowned for its unexplored jungles, hill-top towns and friendly locals, while at worst the country has become a by-word for the problems facing South America and the dangers posed to tourists travelling there.
However, the city of Cartagena offers a welcome respite from such stereotypes, with tourists able to immerse themselves in two things not usually associated with Colombia: literature and a taste of the Caribbean.
Traditions and culture in Cartagena
The city is distinctly colonial and, as such, much of the architecture reflects this, as does the art and culture, with museums displaying instruments of torture from the Spanish Inquisition as well as pieces from both pre and post-Colombian times.
More recently, however, Cartagena has become synonymous with Gabriel Garcia Marquez, the multi-million selling author who set such classic as Love in the Time of Cholera in his native city. This means visitors here are as likely to be offered tours of fictional locations by the welcoming locals and end up relaxing and reading from a hammock by a beach than they are ticking off the usual cultural institutions.
Aside from its colonial past, Cartagena also has a distinctly Caribbean feel to it of a type felt in no other city in Colombia. Dishes usually associated with countries such as Jamaica, such as jerk chicken washed down with strong rum and limes are sold from street stalls, while the dozens of bars and restaurants play reggae music well into the early hours, with moonlit beach parties a regular highlight.
Recommended in Cartagena
The Plaza Bolivar, right in the heart of the old city is an excellent place to start off an exploration of the colonial villas and churches which testify the still-strong Catholic faith of the locals. The city's impressive cathedral is a definite must-see, having finally being completed in 1602 after the cannons of Sir Francis Drake put back construction work for some years in 1575.
As well as the numerous places with literary connections - almost every café or hotel will boast of a link to Gabriel Garcia Marquez, however tenuous - other highlights include Las Bovedas, dungeons originally built for military purposes but now home to boutiques and gift shops, and also the fascinating Castillo de San Felipe de Barajas, a series of tunnels designed to protect the city from pirates but now serving only to amuse tourists with rich imaginations.
Weather in Cartagena
There are no real seasons in Cartagena, so visitors are unlikely to be on the end of any nasty surprises. Year round, the temperature remains tropical, with an average high of 32 degrees C and low of 25 degrees C. October, however, can be very rainy, while the high humidity levels should always be taken into account.
Destination Checklist for Cartagena
Cartagena has a population of around one million people, though the city centre is nevertheless compact and easy to navigate. As with the rest of Colombia, the official language is Spanish, while the currency is the Colombian Peso. Additionally, the country's international dialling code is +57 and it is five hours behind GMT.