A Walk Around Cartagena’s Historic Old Town
We arrived early into Cartagena. It was hot and humid and the temperature was in the 90s. We met our guide and driver and then we were on our way to the hotel. The Old Town of Cartagena, built in the 16th century, is a UNESCO World Heritage Site and remains largely intact behind high stone walls. We arrived at the hotel and were surprised there was no air condition in the reception area Then we discovered there wasn’t an elevator. Not that we had far to walk as our room was on the first floor, but after walking around the city in the heat and humidity, those last few steps seemed almost too much! I was also recovering from a cold and so wasn’t feeling that well. We made arrangements to meet our guide after we got settled. He was going to take us on a walk through the Old Town and show us the historic buildings and colonial architecture.
In Cartagena’s Old Town one can walk the narrow, winding cobblestone streets, see the Spanish-Colonial architecture that’s been restored or left to crumble and enjoy a Colombian coffee cappuccino in a modern espresso bar. Here are some of the sights we saw on our early afternoon stroll.
The Getsemani neighborhood is the artistic heart of Cartagena. A walk down this street introduces you to the vibrant depiction of Carribean life. Local artists use authentic Spanish colonial buildings to tell their stories in striking colors.
The Palenqueras (villagers) of Cartagena are an established fixture in the city. It’s easy to spot these Colombian women dressed in their bright costumes, balancing bowls of fruit upon their heads. They tend to cluster in shady spots in the squares and parks where they chat up travelers. Our guide introduced us to these friendly ladies and they were happy to pose for us. Later on, I saw another group and they called us over and I offered to tip them but the leader of the group didn’t like the amount of my tip and wanted more so I just walked away without a photo. Originally these women came from a small town south of Cartagena. It was considered to be one of the first “free” towns in the New World. It was founded during the Colonial era by runaway slaves. The villagers negotiated their freedom in 1691 and became the first free Africans in the Americas.
Beautiful colonial architecture, a labyrinth of narrow cobblestone streets, massive churches that cast their shadows across leafy plazas all combined to make a splendid walking tour. Look for part two of our visit to Cartagena in the next blog.