Originally home to the Monsú culture and later to the Carib, Cartagena city was born as Cartagena del Poniente in June 1, 1533 founded by Pedro de Heredia.
Under Spanish rule -that lasted for 275 years- it became one of the three main ports in the West Indies, notorious for the infamous slave trade and the wealth of gold and silver shipped out to Spain via Havana.
The city grew rapidly, first due to the gold plundered from the Monsú tombs and later by becoming the storehouse for the gold and silver from the mines of New Granada and Peru, which made it a tempting target to all sorts of buccaneers on the Caribbean sea.
In fact, during XVI century alone it suffered five dreadful sieges, the most famous (or infamous) being the one of Sir Francis Drake and his fleet in 1586. He partly destroyed the city before negotiating a ransom of 107,000 Spanish Eight Reales (around 200 million in today's US dollars) that were sent to England.
In response to pirate attacks, Cartagena city began the biggest fortification project ever known in the Americas, a process that took over two centuries to be completed and ended with some 11 kilometers (6.8 mi) of walls surrounding the city, including the Castillo San Felipe de Barajas, initially built between 1639 and 1657.
The fortress, equiped with sentry boxes, underground tunnels and buildings to store food and weapons was later expanded, in 1762, and the final result is the current bastion. Despite numerous attempts, it was never penetrated, giving the city its unconquerable character and reputation.
Several other fortifications were built between XVI and XVIII centuries, namely San Luis, San José and San Fernando in Bocachica, San Rafael and Santa Barbara in Pochachica; Santa Cruz, San Juan de Manzanillo and San Sebastián de Pastellilo.
This outstanding example of the military architecture, together with beautiful colonial architecture that characterizes the old part of town motivated UNESCO to declare Cartagena de Indias a World Heritage Site in 1984.
When the winds of independence swept over Colombia, Cartagena city was one of the first towns to proclaim it, in 1811.
However, in 1815, Spanish loyalist forces took the city after a four-month-siege, causing thousands of deads by starvation and disease.
Their fierce resistance to the invaders inspired Simón Bolívar to name Cartagena "La Heroica" (The Heroic City).
Its final independence occurred in 1821, two years after the battle of Boyacá, when Bolívar defeated the Spaniards bringing freedom to Bogota.
Located about midway on Colombia’s Caribbean Coast, in the Department of Bolívar , Cartagena de Indias is the country's premier tourist attraction, a city filled with legends, history and sheer beauty. Its main attractions is the historic old town, comprising the neighborhoods Centro, San Diego, Getsemaní and the modern part La Matuna, while the oldest part is around Plaza Trinidad, in Getsemaní. Bocagrande (Big Mouth) is the Miami-like area with the city's bulk of tourist facilities.
With a population of around one million, Cartagena features a tropical wet and dry climate, with an average high temperature of 31°C ( 89°F) and average low of 24 °C ( 75°F). Observe the city map here.
When ready to do a bit of sightseeing in the surroundings, Islas del Rosario and Playa Blanca are worth a visit. Volcán del Totumo (45km NE of Cartagena city on the road to Barranquilla) is the place for a highly recommended mud bath. There is a nearby laguna that serves as a natural bath for washing off the mud.
If you are feeling adventurous and with time to spare, the overland journey from Cartagena to Quito (Ecuador) is a three-week adventure run by Intrepid travel. They also offer similar tours to La Paz and Lima.
Cartagena’s Rafael Nunez International Airport (CTG) is located in the suburb of Crespo, 3km northeast of the old city, around 15 minutes drive from the walled city. It receives domestic flights from every major city in Colombia as well as from Miami (FL) via Bogota. Main carriers are Avianca and COPA Colombia, while Spirit Airlines has direct flights from Fort Lauderdale (FL).
If traveling overland, the main bus terminal "Terminal de Transporte de Cartagena S.A." is located 6km away at Doña Manuela sector on the road La Cordialidad to Barranquilla. There are daily buses to Bogota (20 hours), Medellin (13 hours) and Barranquilla (2 hours), where to connect further down to Santa Marta.
If you choose to come by boat, there are no ferry services from Colón (Panama) to Cartagena, but sailboats that connect via San Blas Archipelago (Panama) in about five days, including a two day stopover at San Blas for snorkeling and spear fishing.
Find a compare best hotel rates in Cartagena City. For inexpensive accommodation, Getsemaní is the hostel neighborhood and low-priced hotels. Book budget accommodation here. If you plan a longer stay of several weeks or so your best option is to rent an apartment.