When it was founded in 1533 by Spanish conquistador Pedro de Heredia, Cartagena was the only port on the South American mainland. Gold and silver looted from indigenous peoples passed through here en route to Spain, making Cartagena an obvious target for pirates. The most destructive of these was Sir Francis Drake, who in 1586 torched 200 buildings, including the cathedral, and made off for England with more than 100,000 gold ducats. Cartagena's magnificent city walls and countless fortresses were erected to protect its riches, as well as to safeguard the most important African slave market in the New World. The Ciudad Amurallada attracts many to Cartagena, but it actually comprises a small section of this city of half a million. Most of Cartagena's hotels and restaurants are in the Bocagrande district, an elongated peninsula where high-rise hotels overlook a long, gray-sand beach. - Copyright © 2014 by Fodor’s Travel, a division of Random House, LLC. All rights reserved.
Copyright © 2016 by Fodor's Travel, a division of Random House, LLC. All rights reserved.
Things You Can't Miss
Stroll the broad fortifications around the World Heritage site old town with its narrow streets and lively plazas. Don’t miss the lovely clock tower.
Taxi up to Castillo San Felipe de Barajas and explore its arched passageways and ramparts where cannons still point toward the Caribbean Sea.
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Once run-down, this revitalized area south of El Centro boasts boutique hotels and some of the city’s most popular restaurants and music clubs.
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Escape the city’s so-so beaches by taking a short boat ride to this excellent stretch of sandy shore. Book through your hotel to avoid tour scams.
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Learn about colonial-era persecution at the grim Inquisition Palace; cheer up again by marveling at the glittering exhibits in nearby Gold Museum.
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