Colombia, as I constantly find and write about, is not exactly on most people’s radar as a tourist destination. However, more and more, tourists of every ilk are descending on the city of Cartagena de las Indias, and this past week I did the same.
The week was spent exploring old haunts, seeing old friends, and returning to the island and small town where I lived and taught for a year (more on that in the epilogue of the book. Hint: that the road is paved is bringing about more changes than I had forseen).
But I was also a tourist again, and enjoyed all the Cartagena offered.
The “romantic charm” of the historic center of Cartagena is irresistable. Narrow curving streets with brightly colored houses and shops. The 16th century stone wall surrounding the entire Centro with the impressive fortress of Castillo San Felipe de Barajas rising in the distance. The crashing surf of the Caribbean never far off in the distance. Horse carriages clip-clopping through the streets in the evening.
Cartagena is also known as a favorite source of inspiration for writer Gabriel García Marquez, as the hosts of its own crazy party on November 11 each year, and as the city where the national Beauty Contest takes place.
In fact as touristy as it is, there are only two things I would change about the city.
- It’s a bit more expensive than most other Colombian cities. However, outside the ritzy district of Bocagrande and the historic Centro (even in the nearby district of Getsemaní), meals and such are almost half price. So you just have to shop around.
- The heat. During the day, it can get a bit miserable, though tolerable in the shade sipping a fruit juice. However, it does cool down significantly at night, and still warm enough to walk around in a t-shirt.
Cartagena may be a growing tourist destination, but it is still the home and pride of many Colombians. One of my friends, who lives outside the histortic part of town, told me that she still loves seeing the historic wall every time she comes into the Centro.
And for almost a year, it was my home away from home where I could escape the pressures and stresses of teaching.
It was good to be back. And I am sure its charm will invite me and others more and more each year.