After Panama (see blog) I flew into Cartagena, Colombia to start my South American trip.
This is one of the best cities I have visited so far and considered by many as one of the World's most beautiful, fascinating, and magical cities. Dating back to 1533, Cartagena was founded by Spanish conquerors as a main port to bring Europeans and their goods into South America. Cartagena is a UNESCO World Heritage site and one of the best venues for any tourist looking for a good rest with a Caribbean and Colombian flavor. The city was one of the first sanctuaries of freed African slaves in the Americas and is currently populated by an ethnic mix representative of the country's own variety and is the most visited city by tourists in Colombia, so the infrastructure and security are above average.
I ended up staying in the Boca Grande area for a month. It reminded me of Cancun because when you see it from the plane it's a four block strip that extends out for miles lined with new hotels and restaurants. The beaches are perfect with the exception of persistent vendors. If you want to get more of genuine Colombian feel stay in Old Fortress or El Centro area which is surrounded by a wall built in the Spaniards in the 16th century. The wall was built because the wave of pirate attacks over the years before and now serves to protect the living museum of Spanish architecture inside. The streets are packed with shops, cafés, restaurants, bars, and hotels. There are a few clubs that sit high on the wall with great views of the Caribbean and lights from the Boca Grande hotels. Across one of the bays is a huge fortress (Castillo de San Felipe) designed by the Dutch engineer Richard Carr and built in 1657 by the Spanish for protection against pirates while shipping gold out to Europe. You can get lost in the labyrinth of tunnels or walk along the top to get some of the best views of the city.
The people in Cartagena are some of the nicest in the world and will stop to help with directions and transportation reminding me of Costa Ricans. In just one month I left behind quite a few friends and plan to go back some day.
My next stop is Santa Marta for a few days and then a 6 day trek to the Lost City (see blog) in eastern Colombia before heading off to Caracas, Venezuela.