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Sprawled along the shores of the turquoise Caribbean Sea, Cartagena is a city in a magical tropical locale with a rich history. The city's roots date back to the 16th century, when the Spanish built a settlement on the Bay of Cartagena and began using it as an important trade port. Today, Cartagena represents Colombia's fifth-largest urban area, and draws millions of visitors with its beaches, fascinating historical sites, and lively nightlife. As you soak up the sights and attractions of this vibrant metropolis, experience for yourself why Cartagena has become such a dynamic Caribbean destination.
Cartagena spreads outward from its downtown area, which juts out on a peninsula between the Caribbean Sea and the Bay of Cartagena. The walled Old City and the Getsamaní neighborhood offer charming glimpses of the city's characteristic plazas, flower-filled balconies, and colorful street art, while the skyscrapers of the beachfront Bocagrande reveal its modern flavor.
Cartagena's UNESCO-listed Ciudad Amurallada, or "walled city," was constructed during the 16th century and is packed with gems of colonial architecture. Well-preserved churches, plazas, mansions, and palaces wait around every corner, and the formidable walls surrounding them all showcase a feat of Spanish military engineering.
Located right next door to the walled city, Getsamaní retains the bright Caribbean colors and narrow streets of old Cartagena but has emerged as the city's hippest neighborhood. As you wander past lively dance halls, bustling eateries, and boutique hotels, the energy in this up-and-coming area is palpable.
White skyscrapers rise from the narrow strip of land known as Bocagrande, which stretches along the longest of the city's beaches. After dark, the fashionable hotels and ritzy apartment high-rises sparkle with colorful lights, and the bars fill with party lovers in search of a good time.
Cartagena boasts more than its fair share of history, and the result is a rich collection of landmarks and fascinating museums to discover. Walk the battlements and uncover the subterranean passages of Castillo de San Felipe de Barajas, an imposing fortress built during the 17th century to protect the city from attacks by land or sea. The walled city contains the Cartagena's highest concentration of centuries-old buildings, from the majestic Cartagena Cathedral and the Church of Santo Domingo to the vibrant yellow Puerta del Reloj ("clock tower") that adorns the main entryway. The storied Palace of Inquisition stands as a remnant of a dark period in Catholic history, and today functions as a museum with artifacts from Colombia's pre-colonial days up to its independence period. For more indigenous history, set aside time to browse the glittering treasures of Museo del Oro Zenú, which houses a collection of the gold and ceramics of the Zenú people.
Between its Caribbean beaches and vibrant city center, Cartagena offers plenty of opportunities for relaxation and exploration. Get your fill of sun, sea, and sand with an idyllic beach day at Playa Blanca, a postcard-worthy spot on Isla Barú with rustling palm trees and crystalline waters. A boat ride away from Cartagena, the Rosario Islands beckon visitors with pristine beaches and incredible snorkeling opportunities, and are easily accessed with a speedboat tour. If you're planning to spend the day on the mainland, consider a hop-on hop-off tour to make the most of your time for sightseeing. As you cruise the city in an open-air bus, disembark to visit sites like the leafy Plaza de Bolívar or the impressive fortifications of Fort San Sebastian de Pastelillo at your leisure. Finally, don't miss the chance to party Colombia-style with a wild evening on a colorful chiva bus. Fueled by an open bar and traditional snacks, admire the views of the illuminated cityscape and dance to the pulsing beats of Latin music late into the night.