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A world heritage site, founded by Pedro de Heredia in 1533 and fortified by the Spanish with an 11km wall that surrounds the old town, Cartagena is the jewel in Colombia’s golden crown. Resonant with naval history and folklore, associations with pirates of the high seas, not to mention raids by Sir Francis Drake, Cartagena is one of the most enchanting cities in the Americas. It can be easily explored on foot with colonial treasures, such as Plaza Santa Domingo, the Torre del Reloj (Clock Tower) the naval museum, or the unconquerable castle of San Felipe which sits just outside the old town. A stroll through its cobbled streets at dusk, basking in the gentle breeze that filters through its parks and squares, or watching a sunset from the old city walls, will be an unforgettable part of your trip. Cartagena has undeniably become more touristy in recent years, but there is still always a quiet street and despite the small size of the old city, its still a place where you feel like you could step back in time with one right or left turn.
The three main areas are the old town (within the fortified walls), Gethsemane (just outside) and Bocagrande, the modern new town with high rise condominiums further around the bay. The beaches directly around Cartagena are not notable themselves, but the nearby Isla Baru and the Rosario Islands offer great options for sun and swimming.
It gets extremely crowded during December holidays as well as the holy week in March (Semana Santa / Easter), when most Colombians take their vacations. The “sweet-spot” for visiting is mid-January to April. October and November are the wettest months when it can get very steamy.
Make sure you catch at least one sunset from the city walls and try to visit the famous Havana bar, just outside the old town in Getsemani, for an unforgettable evening of salsa and cool mojitos.
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