My Itchy Travel Feet | The Baby Boomer's Guide To Travel

Four Hours in Cartagena

2012/01/05by Donna Hull

Updated: 08.01.2014


Cartagena, Colombia

Cartagena—how many boomer travelers have this South American city on their travel list? I admit that Alan and I had never considered visiting Cartagena, Colombia, until our Silver Cloud Panama Canal Cruise made a short stop here after transiting through the Canal. One of the benefits of cruising is learning about destinations that we might not have considered before. That was the case with Cartagena, which surprised us with its history and colorful charm.

Silver Cloud‘s four-hour cruise excursion in Cartagena gave us a taste of what to expect in this colonial city that was founded in 1533. Tour guide José provided plenty of insight about Cartagena and Colombia, which we listened to through wireless devices while riding and walking through the city.

Taking in the View from La Popa Hill


La Candaleria Convent

When the tour bus parked at the top of La Popa Hill, we found more than a panoramic view of Cartagena. La Candelaria convent, which is actually a monastery, offered a flower-filled inner courtyard framed by arched walls with fluted columns that were still decorated with Christmas garlands. Inside the small chapel, Our Lady of Candles, a famous statue of the Virgin Mary, held court in the niche of a red altar gilded with gold leaf.

Discovering the Hidden Passages of San Felipe Fortress


Passage to hidden tunnel in San Felipe Fortress

It’s a steep walk up the cobblestone ramps of San Felipe Fortress but the view of Cartagena’s old city is worth it. Built with slave labor, the coralstone fort protected Cartagena from pirate raids in the 17th and 18th centuries. At the top, Alan and I discovered lookouts and secret tunnel passages complete with booby traps to surprise attackers.

Shopping at Las Bovedas


Which hand-crafted item should I buy?

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A short drive through the gates of the old city introduced cruisers to the duty-free shopping area of Las Bovedas. Located in a colonial military barracks—later a political prison and eventually a hospital—the UNESCO designated building is as charming as the handcrafted items sold inside the many shops. Boomers will also find two of Colombia’s major exports—coffee and emeralds. Even if you’re not a shopper, strolling along the arched arcade is a pleasant experience filled with colorful photo opportunities.

Walking Tour of the Old City


Cartagena’s Old City is a UNESCO World Heritage Site

Our wireless receivers proved especially useful when José led us on a walking tour down the narrow streets of the old city, another UNESCO World Heritage site. Flowers spilled from the balconies of colorfully painted buildings that reminded me of the colonial architecture in Charleston, South Carolina. A peek through massive doors that fronted many of the buildings revealed inviting courtyards that offered a shady spot to cool off from the equatorial heat.

The historic buildings housed boutiques, restaurants and small hotels. Locals lounged on benches of the main square where a statue of Simon Bolivar dominated the scene. As we crossed narrow streets, our group dodged the horse drawn carriages that offered tourists another way to experience the Old City.

After photographing San Pedro Claver Church from the outside, we stepped inside, once again to discover a hidden garden. A nativity scene still decorated the church that honors the missionary, Saint Peter Claver, the patron saints of slaves.

After stopping at Pierino Gallo Shopping Plaza, with its many emerald shops, the four-hour tour concluded back at the port.

Baby boomer travel tips:

•    Slather on plenty of sunscreen— the equatorial sun is strong
•    Grab that bottle of water at the gangway to keep hydrated
•    Dress in lightweight clothes—Cartagena’s climate is usually very hot and humid
•    Leave the flashy jewelry back in your cabin
•    Ignore vendors and they will leave you alone
•    Educate yourself before making an emerald purchase—the 30 minutes of shopping allotted for this tour is not enough time for making a wise choice.

Have you joined a cruise excursion in  Cartagena? Post a comment to share your experience. Alan and I enjoyed this brief glimpse of colonial history in South America.

A boomer travel and lifestyle authority who is exploring the world one activity at a time. Besides writing and publishing My Itchy Travel Feet, she also writes about boomer travel for My Well-Being Powered by Humana, Make It Missoula and is the author of New Mexico Backroads Weekend Adventure.

{ 16 comments… read them below or add one }

Barbara Weibel January 6, 2012 at 10:15 am

I have two friends who live in Colombia and they rave about Cartagena, so it has long been on my travel wish list. Your photos prove it is as charming as they say.
Barbara Weibel recently posted..PHOTO: Indigenous Quichua Vendors in San Francisco Plaza, Cuenca, EcuadorMy Profile


Donna Hull
January 10, 2012 at 7:40 am

Barbara, I hope you find time to add Cartagena to your travel schedule. You will enjoy it. Lots of photo opps.


Christy & Scott January 6, 2012 at 11:36 am

San Felipe Fortress looks really cool! I’m going to add that to our list for Cartagena.
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Donna Hull
January 10, 2012 at 7:39 am

San Felipe Fortress is cool. Be sure to save time for walking around the Old City, it’s very colorful. I wanted to stay in one of the boutique hotels to experience the place for a couple of days.


Vera Badertscher
January 6, 2012 at 1:19 pm

Your photos are great. However, I’ll have to rely on you for those 4-hour forays. I cannot bear to visit anyplace for such a short time. If its worth going to, I want to immerse myself. (Another reason I don’t go on cruises).


Donna Hull
January 10, 2012 at 7:38 am

Vera, 4 hours is better than nothing. And cruises have introduced me to destinations that I would have never seen, otherwise. A ship is the only way to visit St. Helena, the site of Napoleon’s incarceration. And the only way to experience the fascinating Panama Canal is to cruise through it.


Kate Convissor
January 6, 2012 at 2:47 pm

Wow! Cartagena! Who knew? I’m planning a long trip through Latin America, and I would’ve given Colombia a wide berth. Maybe not. Thanks, Itchy Feet.
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Donna Hull
January 10, 2012 at 7:37 am

Hi Kate. Cartagena was a very pleasant surprise. It’s definitely worth a stop on your Latin America tour.


January 6, 2012 at 2:59 pm

I’m intriqued by the emeralds – I have a saphire ring that I bought in Sri Lanka but it took a lot longer than 30 mins to choose!


Donna Hull
January 10, 2012 at 7:36 am

I bought pearls in Shanghai but it took thinking about the purchase overnight before pulling out the credit card. The emeralds were beautiful but expensive. Hmm, saphires in Sri Lanka? I need to go.


January 11, 2012 at 4:59 pm

I was in Cartagena with my kids a year ago. Gorgeous place, so photogenic. Definitely somewhere I could linger for a while…
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Donna Hull
January 11, 2012 at 7:40 pm

Sophie, I would have enjoyed more time there. Many on the cruise commented about needing longer to explore. A lovely city.


Jade - January 15, 2012 at 1:01 am

I would love to visit Colombia some day!But south america is not on our travel itinerary for a while yet
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Donna Hull
January 16, 2012 at 3:37 pm

You’re young, Jade. Lots of time to add South America to your travel list.


Marie-France August 22, 2013 at 3:38 pm

I spent a week in Cartagena in March 2010. It’s a beautiful colourful Spanish colonial city! The best time to walk around is actually at night when the heat abates a bit. Although I was travelling alone, I felt very safe since there were policemen on every corner! Eventually the heat got to me and I moved on to cooler Medellin. This was part of a 5-week trip through Colombia. Lovely country. Have you heard of Salento and Villa de Leyva?
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May 27, 2014 at 9:34 am

Great pictures of Cartagena! We just got back and loved it! It has amazed me how few Americans we have ran into during our month in Colombia. With more and more positive things written about the area I’m sure that will change over time. The Colombians are very welcoming and hopeful more people will visit. Glad to add our voices to the mix!
Happy Travels!
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