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
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
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
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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
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.