Cartagena

Cartagena Columbia is our port of call on April 21. The map, below, shows the location of the pier and some of the top rated attractions available for excursions. The area in red is the historic Old Town, a UNESCO World Heritage Site. This is where you will want to spend your day in Cartagena.

Top Attractions

My favorite advice for visiting Cartagena is from Lonely Planet. “This is the place to drop all sightseeing routines. Instead, just stroll through Cartagena’s maze of cobbled alleys, where enormous balconies are shrouded in bougainvilla and massive churches cast their shadows across leafy plazas. Take time out to relax at one of Cartagena’s many open-air cafés, prime viewing spots to watch the parade of horse-drawn carriages, fashionable locals and mystified tourists.” This advice applies directly to the very-walkable Historic Old Town.

Click to enlarge

Street scene from the Cartagena Historic Old Town

Historic Old Town – By far, the number one attraction is Cartagena’s Old Town. This walled city within Cartagena includes amazingly well preserved 16th-century plazas, colonial-era mansions, churches, and ornate balconies. Add to this, numerous outdoor cafes, museums, and shops. The Old Town area is basically level and is best explored by walking. You can spend the entire day here and not see it all. It is difficult to find good English language information for Cartagena on the Internet. Here is the best walking tour information I could find. Here is another page with a better map but no text descriptions.

Castillo San Felipe De Brajas

Castillo San Felipe de Barajas – This is another must-see attraction. This huge fortress was built between 1639 and 1657. Numerous tunnels line beneath the fort, some of which are open to visitors. (Bring your own flashlight – just in case.) The fortress is about 1/2 mile east of the old town or about a 20-minute walk.

Convento de la Popa – The “Convent of the Stern” is located on a high hill overlooking the city and harbor. The main reason to come here is for the view. It’s a 1.5 km taxi ride to the convent from Castillo San Felipe de Barajas.  (Given our limited port time, I’m going to forgo visiting la Popa and spend our time at the fortress and Old Town.)

Weather

The temperatures in Cartagena are almost the same year round. The average high is around 89 F and the average low is 77 F.  The humidity averages a sweltering 90% resulting in a heat-index in the upper 90s.  This is a climate that you will really want to take precautions against heat exhaustion.

April and May are one of two rainy seasons with about 6 inches of rain each month. (The other rainy season is Oct0ber-November with similar rainfall. For April 21, sunrise is 5:48 a.m., sunset is 6:13 p.m. At this time of year, Columbia is on the same time as the Central time zone in the USA.

Here is the real-time weather for Cartagena.

Click for Cartagena, Colombia Forecast

Port Information

View of Catagena pier from a cruise ship

The cruise ship pier is located about two miles from the Old Town area at a container ship wharf. There is nothing of interest within walking distance so you will need to take a tour or taxi to the Old Town area. A taxi should cost $4 – $9, depending on your negotiating skills. Expect to pay about $25 if you don’t haggle them down. Here is a guide to taxi rates. There is also a sign at the pier. If you read Spanish, here is the official rate list.

Official taxi rates from pier in $COP (15000 COP = 8 USD) courtesy of HeinBloed's blog

To avoid the worst of the heat, you might want to take a taxi early in the morning to the fort and explore it first before walking downhill to the Old Town. Once the temperatures rises, you will appreciate being able to step into the air-conditioned shops within the Old Town.

Maps

Download and print out these maps to take on the cruise.

Cartagena Old Town map with walking tour

Cartagena Overview map

Currency Exchange

The local currency is the Colombian peso. The currency symbol is the “$”, just like in the US, Canada, and Mexico. Remember that the meaning of periods and commas in numbers is reverse of that in the USA. So $ 15.000, as shown in the TARIFAS TAXIS sign above means fifteen-thousand Columbian pesos (about $8 USD). Here is the exchange rate for Colombian peso to USD. You might want to print out the Traveller’s Cheat Sheet just before the cruise.

Web Sites

Here are some links to web sites with really interesting travel information about Cartagena. Mr. Galen R Frysinger has a very good photo essay of Cartagena. His photo essay has several pages. Be sure to click on the underlined links such as the balconies of Cartagena. Mr. HeinBloed has a blog with photos of his visit to Cartagena on the Celebrity Equinox. He has four web pages on Cartagena – be sure to click the Tag 5.2, Tag 5,3, and Tag 5.4 links on the right column of his blog to see the other pages.

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8 Responses to “Cartagena”

  1. lasitorni January 24, 2011 at 2:25 am #

    Hi,
    thank you for this, the information on the taxi prices from the port to the Walled City varies so much online. But people telling to pay 20 to 25 dollars seemed a bit too much for me for such a short trip. Now I know it is worth haggling with the taxi drivers, and I guess a little knowledge of Spanish helps also! Looking forward to our cruise, we will be in Cartagena next week!
    Thanks!

  2. Jean Schroeder January 16, 2011 at 8:32 pm #

    Thanks for all of your wonderful research, we’ll be stopping in Cartagena on our cruise in February and I was wondering if you know how early La Popa and the Fort are open? We’re planning on taking a cab to La Popa and the Fort first and then wandering around the old town area on our own. How early La Popa and the Fort are open will determine if we can do both of them.

    Thanks.

    • mercruiser January 17, 2011 at 8:30 pm #

      Jean,

      I do not know the opening hours for La Popa. But, this photograph shows the opening hours for the fort: 8 a.m. – 6 p.m.

      Opening hours for the fort in Cartagena

  3. Melinda Turner January 7, 2011 at 10:55 am #

    Hi…do you have any tips on printing your maps. I can’t seem to get the whole map printed on one page.
    Thanks!

    • mercruiser January 7, 2011 at 5:36 pm #

      Here are the step-by-step instructions on how to do it on my computer, using the Firefox web browser and Windows XP. You may need to change things a bit to match your computer. But, this should get you started.

      1. Point to the map and right-click the mouse. Choose “Save image as” and save the file to your desktop. (The default file name for the first map is “cartagena-old-town-map.jpg”)

      2. Find the map file icon on the desktop. Point to the map file icon on the desktop and right-click the mouse. Choose “Print”. The “Photo Printing Wizard” should appear. Click Next and follow the Wizard’s instructions.

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