Cartagena Cathedral Columbia (Hemera)


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What to do in Cartagena

Forget everything you have ever heard about Colombia if your first visit to the country is to Cartagena de Indias. It's a tranquil, popular resort town that once was a special South American secret and now has hit the radar of American and Canadian cognoscenti looking for a new hot spot.

Founded by the Spanish in 1530s, Cartagena is among the oldest of beach resorts in the Americas. The early history of the city includes many grim acts—gold exportation, slavery, sugar production, and piracy—but through all this an architectural legacy began that made Cartagena one of the most important historical gems of the continent. Colonial churches, cobblestone streets, long seafront walkways, and other ancient treasures abound in the old walled city. Beaches begin just feet from the old walled city, the most popular include the high-rise- lined Bocagrande and Laguito.

Cartagena is comprised of a series of islands and peninsulas jutting out into the Caribbean Sea. During the high season, December through April, temperatures can reach the 80s and the climate is humid. The water is exceedingly tranquil, as it is well protected by its geography—the original reason it grew to be an important port during the Spanish colonial era. Immense waterfront forts have protected the city for centuries and today provide calm and romantic places to watch the sea. Among the most visited forts are Castillo de San Felipe de Barajas in the main city, and Fort San José, on one of the outer edges of the harbor on Bocachica Island.

Many visitors will grab a cab or a bus to Boquilla Beach and Manzanillo Beach, each about a half-hour's ride. For an even more tranquil beach experience, take a boat from Pegasos Bay, near the city's convention center, to Bocachica Island, in the shadows of Fort San José. It's famous for its wandering masseuses who offer mud-bath and aloe massages for as little as five dollars for a half-hour session. Others head to the more remote beaches of Playa Blanca, known for its white sand, south of Cartagena on the island of Baru, or to the Rosario Islands, reachable by a two-hour boat trip.

Windsurfing, scuba diving and other water sports are all available in the Cartagena area, but for most of these activities you'll have to head out of the city center. Whether you're in Cartagena to relax by the sea, explore maritime history, or for adventure on the water, your visit will change your view of Colombia.

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