Cartagena is magical—a graceful colonial masterpiece set on the sparkling Caribbean Coast. Long ago "discovered" by European travelers, the city's charms are still unknown to most North Americans. Those who have visited wax nostalgic about the city's colors, cuisine, and culture.
Cartagena was founded in 1533 by the conquistador Don Pedro de Heredia on the site of a Carib settlement. Fueled by gold, gemstones, and the slave trade, the port developed rapidly into a jewel of the Spanish crown. The city's expanding wealth attracted waves of pirates, corsairs, and English troops over the next three centuries. Spain protected its cash flow by constructing the largest collection of fortifications in the New World—high walls (Las Murallas) around the central city and a series of coastal fortresses.
As a result, Cartagena's colonial center—now called the Old City—was also protected from expansion and redevelopment. Today, Cartagena has what may be the Americas' finest collection of colonial architecture; frosted spires and pastel-hued domes soar above balconied façades and narrow, cobblestone streets. Restoration accelerated after 1984, when UNESCO granted the city World Heritage status. Visitors are quickly enchanted by the palm-shaded plazas, open-air cafes, and photogenic side streets.
During the 19th century, Cartagena was at the forefront of the region's independence movement. That independent spirit lives on in the city's Caribbean influenced music, innovative cuisine, and willingness to celebrate. Here, the parties are spontaneous, frequent, and mobile.
Visitors to Cartagena can stroll the historic center; enjoy panoramic views from the hilltop Convento de la Popa; marvel at the pre-Columbian gold collection; and tour the walls and tunnels of the hemisphere's greatest fortress. Farther afield, you can enjoy gold and white sand beaches; visit picturesque fishing villages; and snorkel the coral reefs off the Islas del Rosario.
Cartagena's warm climate changes little throughout the year. Temperatures reach into the 90s, with 90% humidity. Welcome breezes cool the area from November to February. Hurricanes are rare, and even in the wettest season (September – November) monthly rainfall almost never exceeds five inches.
Cartagena is convenient to Bogota (90 minutes) and Miami (2.5 hours). The Old City has a fine selection of boutique hotels; inside their historic outer shells, accommodations range from contemporary to grand.
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