Loved by the sun, Cartagena de Indias (Colombia) is the most beautiful city in the Caribbean Sea. If you are on a cruise ship stopping in this city or is part of a longer itinerary, in this article you will find the most important things you need to know:
How gay is Cartagena?
The Caribbean coast in Colombia is a vibrant geographic area, full of flavours, music, drums and lively people. Since centuries Cartagena has been a center for music, pleasure and party and that has not changed a single bit until today. Only the Corona pandemic affected somehow many of the businesses and the last time I checked (January 2022), some of the most traditional gay bars in town had closed.
However there are new bars opening and also there are the gay parties that can take place at different venues. Since the situation may change and is fluctuating, I will not recommend any gay bar or party until I have tried it on my own.
But you can know for sure that Cartagena is a very gay city: there are drag queens on the street and Colombian attitude towards homosexuality has changed a lot the last years, in spite of the catholic legacy left by the Spanish rule. Today Gay Marriage is legal in Colombia, one of the few Latin American countries to have this fundamental right. Even one of the biggest female political leaders in the country, Claudia López, major of Bogotá, is lesbian and happily married to another woman.
How to arrive?
Most cruise ships traveling around the Caribbean make a stop in Cartagena. Also, the international airport Rafael Núñez is located very close to the city center. There are also plenty of inland flights. One typical itinerary for Europeans (which I always do) would be to take the KLM Flight from Amsterdam to Bogotá. After making different flights and connections inside the country and discover many gay spots in Colombia such as Medellín, make Cartagena your final stop. Then you can take the same KLM Flight in its return trip, directly from Cartagena to Amsterdam without stopover anywhere.
What is Cartagena’s Walled City (Ciudad Amurallada)?
The Walled City or Ciudad Amurallada is the core of the city founded by the Spaniards, walled and protected from any pirate attack. You have to remember Cartagena was usually the last stop in the American continent of all gold and silver going towards Europe, so the stakes were really high! An architectonic jewel, the city must be felt by waling aimlessly around. However there are some few spots that we strongly recommend:
- Torre del Reloj and Portal de los Dulces: usually the common entrance to the Walled City. A shiny tower with a clock on its tip looks down on the square where different sweets, candies and beverages are sold in the arcades. You must taste the cocadas, made of coconut, extremely sweet and delicious.
- Plaza de la Aduana and Plaza San Pedro Claver: walk towards the imposing San Pedro Claver Church through the Plaza de la Aduana (Custom Square) with the old City Hall and numerous art installations. San Pedro Claver’s dome is easily recognised from many places around the city and is one of the saint patrons of all cartageneros. Just like the Italians invoke the Virgin Mary in astonishment (Madonna!), so do people from Cartagena with this saint (¡San Pedro Claver!). Back in the 1500s, Pedro Claver was a Jesuit priest who protected the black slaves from hard working conditions and abuse. There is a sculpture of the saint together with a slave, though patronising reminds you of the slave legacy of the region.
- Palenqueras: in this square you will most probably find a palenquera or woman from the Palenque. Palenques were towns founded by slaves who were able to scape their chains and some of them still persist until today as refuges of Afrocaribbean Resistance. The palenquera is usually a black woman dressed in colourful dresses who will not stop talking and charming you until you buy one of the fruits she is selling. Do not even attempt to make a photo without buying something first!
- Plaza de Santo Domingo: here is the famous sculpture by Botero of a lying woman. Fernando Botero is the most internationally renowned artist from Colombia and has sculptures in many cities’ public spaces such as Barcelona, Spain (Raval’s Cat), Bilbao and Liechtenstein. The square itself is gorgeous and here you can also find the exquisite Café San Alberto, with coffee tasting and wonderful desserts.
- Gabriel García Márquez’s House: this is a must-do for literature-lovers, near the Baluarte de Santa Clara. García Márquez made the unmatchable task of writing the Latin American novel of the 20th Century, 100 Years of Solitude (100 Años de Soledad) which some say is the best novel in Spanish Language after Don Quijote (which is a lot to say). He used to spend his final years in this house in Cartagena, where he stayed until political differences with the then Colombian Government made him exile to Mexico.
- Walk over the Baluartes: just walk over the City Walls and experience the wind coming from the Caribbean Sea and witness Boca Grande Skyscrapers.
- Try Juan Valdéz’s Coffee: this is the Colombian alternative to Starbucks and is so damned good you will be ordering a Nevado de Arequipe in every corner.
Where to stay?
We have tried two possible ways of accommodating. One is renting an Airbnb in Boca Grande with all the luxury that entails, the infinity pool, the breathtaking views over the harbour and the comfort that is to be in a modern area such as Boca Grande with modern supermarkets and facilities. The other possibility is to stay in a hotel inside the Walled City, having all the most important attractions close to you. We recommend staying inside the Walled City if you are for a short stay. If you stay in Cartagena for longer than four days, you probably need something more comfortable and should head towards Boca Grande.
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