Section in Cartagena
Do & See
There is a great deal of things to do in Cartagena, even if simply taking a stroll through the city's beautifully preserved Old Town with a distinct colonial flare. Some of the highlights include an obligatory visit to the imposing Castillo San Felipe de Barajas, a stroll along Cartagena's defensive ramparts, a trip to the chilling Inquisition Palace (which still contains the original torture devices used to extract "confessions"), and a deep dive into the incredibly hip neighborhood of Getsemani, teeming with eateries and bars where locals mix and mingle with guests from far and wide.
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Cartagena Walled City

Cartagena Walled City

Enclosed within a protective wall reaching up to 20 metres in width, the Ciudad Amurallada (or "Walled City") is Cartagena's old beating heart. Packed with well-preserved colonial buildings, it's a pleasure to stroll through; its streets of colourful low-rise merchant homes marked by iconic balconies are now mostly walked by either tourists or students, who attend classes at the University of Cartagena during the day and linger for meals and nightlife after school is out. Cafes in Plaza Aduana and Plaza Santo Domingo teem with patrons, forging an incredibly jovial atmosphere; the districts of San Diego and El Centro are two not to be missed. There is plenty of food and shopping to be had, with a mixed bag of world-class restaurants and street food hawkers and the incredibly photogenic palenqueras – black ladies dressed in vibrantly colored clothing selling fruit in the streets – images of whom have become emblematic of Colombia as a travel destination.
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Bazurto Market

Bazurto Market

While seasoned travelers may venture into Cartagena's gritty Bazurto Market on their own, those not yet toughened by locals-only markets of the region may prefer to explore as part of a guided tour. This sprawling market, where trade starts before the crack of dawn, features incredibly fresh produce and seafood from Cartagena and beyond; much of it makes its way to the tables of local fine dining establishments within the space of the same day. There is plenty to look at and taste, including local street food and multiple succulent varieties of tropical fruit you're unlikely to have encountered before.
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Rosario Islands

Rosario Islands

Just an hour's boat trip away from Cartagena lie the magnificent Rosario Islands, which belong to Colombia's only underwater natural park (the Rosario and San Bernardo Corals National Natural Park). Abundant marine wildlife (including over 50 species of corals) and some of Colombia's best beaches draw in many in search of relaxation and active pursuits such as snorkeling and diving. Isla Grande is best for kayaking through unique mangrove forests and seeing the phosphorescent plankton light up the waters of a brackish lake at night, while Playa Blanca is Cartagena's most spectacular white-sand beach (also reachable by land). It should be said that the company you choose to tour with has the potential to make or break the experience. Low cost tours can mean multiple intermediate stops en route to your destination, as well as unpleasant surprises such as no transfer back to your hotel. Try and choose a trusted company with consistently good reviews, or opt for a private tour. Mind that seas may be rough at certain times of the year, particularly in December and January, when tours on smaller boats may even become dangerous.
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Palace of Inquisition

Palace of Inquisition

This beautiful example of Spanish colonial architecture contains a small museum dedicated to the Spanish Inquisition's brutal persecution of heretics once carried out in these very chambers. Visitors can still see some of the torture devices used to extract confessions of heresy and witchcraft, along with some of the questions used in "witch" interrogations, which are still displayed on the museum wall. Needless to say, no prisoner could hope to be acquitted of their purported crimes against the Catholic Church, and most met their tragic end at the very guillotine still on display in the courtyard.
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La Boquilla and the Mangroves

La Boquilla and the Mangroves

The mangrove tunnels of nearby La Boquilla are an easy day trip from Cartagena. Guided tours will often combine a visit to the beach (one of the Playas De La Boquilla) with a boat or canoe tour of the mangroves, passing through Cienaga de Juan Polo and the Cienaga de la Virgen lagoons; some tours will also include a closer encounter with local fishermen and offer insight into their craft. La Boquilla is an area of contrasts: the district of upscale hotels – Morros – borders on humble neighborhoods populated by workers. When sitting down to tuck into no-frills seafood dishes served up by local eateries, make sure you're clear about the price of each item ordered from the get-go, as there have bee reports of "surprise" bills amounting to several hundred US dollars.
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San Basilio de Palenque

San Basilio de Palenque

Once the first free settlement in the Americas founded by those who escaped slavery during the colonial period, the town of San Basilio de Palenque still stands today, and with it the unique culture of its inhabitants. A portion of the population still speaks palenquero, a creole tongue that emerged from a mix of several European and African languages, now used almost exclusively in San Basilio de Palenque. Music and dance occupy a place of paramount importance in residents' lives, with the Drums and Cultural Expressions Festival held annually in October. The palenque cuisine deserves a separate mention – a culinary tradition upheld by inhabitants of a small Colombian village has garnered international acclaim, with a cookbook written in the town receiving the highest prize at the Gourmand World Cookbook Awards in 2014. If your schedule happens to be too tight for a dedicated day trip (which earns our highest recommendation), try some of the tropical fruit sold by palenqueras in downtown Cartagena. The village was named Masterpiece of the Oral and Intangible Heritage of Humanity by UNESCO in 2005.
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