Exploring Colombia: Getsemaní, Cartagena

Church of the Holy Trinity, Cartagena, Colombia. Photo by Bryanna Plog.
La Iglesia de la Santísima Trinidad, Getsemani, Cartagena was built in 1643 and is one of the many historic stone buildings in the neighborhood.

Colombia has much to offer visitors. Today, our destination is the historic neighborhood of Getsemaní, in the Caribbean colonial city of Cartagena de las Indias.

Cartagena has become a popular tourist destination, but most tourists stay within the ritzy beach-front properties of Bocagrande or limit their wanderings to the winding streets of the small but picturesque historic Centro.

Cross the street, and you can experience a historic district not quite so overrun by tourists.

If you are visiting Cartagena, walk under the gold clock tower that signifies the exit from the Centro, cross Calle Venezuela (be careful of speeding taxis, motorcycles, and the occasional horse cart all of which may or may not heed the stoplight) and if you made it safely across the road, you are in the historic barrio of Getsemaní.

The large pedestrian walkway lined with white statues from Cartagena’s past soon turns into Parque Centenario (Centennial Park). The park was built in 1911 to celebrate the 100th anniversary of Cartagena’s independence; in fact, that independence was first proclaimed in Getsemaní, a fact of which residents of Getsemaní are devotedly proud of.  Exit Parque Centenario under a wide stone archway painted an orange-gold and head into the curving streets to explore the neighborhood.

Parts of Getsemaní is similarly historic, and has a similar colonial feel as the more colorful Centro.  However, while the neighborhoods of the Centro in the walled city turn into boutiques, expensive restaurants, and luxury hotels in old stone buildings, all of Getsemaní retains a mix of homes, seedy corner stores, a few trendy clubs. A smattering of larger buildings and smaller plazas turn up on street corners, but Getsemaní is much more a neighborhood in the traditional sense that most parts of the Centro. While there are certainly that smattering of discotecas and a few hostels and hotels, Getsemaní is still a home for Cartageneros and has little of the touristy feel of the Centro.

That is both for good and for bad.

Art on a wall in Getsemani. Photo by Bryanna Plog.
Art on a wall in Getsemani

I have walked around the streets and stayed in Getsemaní many times, but at night I was accosted by prostitutes and an occasional drug dealer. I danced the night away at a few of the salsa clubs, but tried not to walk back alone from those clubs at 2 a.m. in the morning.  Getsemaní wasn’t the recipient of the restoration money other parts of Cartagena had (shining it up for tourists) and it showed. Getsemaní’s buildings were more run down, its plazas just a little less inviting, and its streets just a little more piled with trash.

Now, it seems, Getsemaní is starting to profit from the changing landscape of Colombia.

Colombia was changing rapidly while I was there and a big reason I wanted to write a travel book on Colombia was to highlight some of those positive changes. This recent article from BBC Travel highlights Getsemaní as a tourist destination in its own right and the changes that have occurred since I was there in 2011.

The BBC article is titled “A Renaissance Beyond Cartagena’s Historic Walls,” referring to the fact that the more popular Centro is framed on all sides by 16th Century stonework, but it fails to mention an important fact: Getsamani has its own set of 16th and 17th Century stone walls around it. It may have gotten even more run down than the Centro during the 1980s and 1990s, and although more dangerous than the main tourist areas of Cartagena, Getsemaní has been one of the city’s important historic districts for a long time.

If you are visiting Cartagena, it would be a shame to miss walking through the neighborhood of Getsemaní, a mere walk across the street from Cartagena’s famous Centro. Just be careful walking across the road.

Explore Getsemani further through the BBC travel article. 

Getsemani Street. Photo by Bryanna Plog.

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