Beyond the Port Area
A remarkably preserved city of colonial-era mansions, churches, and ornate balconies, Old Town of Cartagena, Colombia, is a gem. Enter the city through one of Cartagena's cherished architectural sites, the Torre del Reloj. From here, you’ll walk into the triangular Plaza de los Coches, surrounded by pastel-hued houses with lacy balconies. Nearby, vendors sell local Colombian confections beneath the arched doorways of Portal de los Dulces.
Visit the free Museo del Oro as well as the Palacio de La Inquisición, with exhibits on the cruel methods of the Spanish Inquisition, and La Biblioteca Bartolomé Calvo, Cartagena's famous historic library. A spraying fountain and statue of Simón Bolívar are the centerpieces of pretty, tree-shaded Plaza de Bolívar, which is part of the La Papa Monastery & Walking Tour excursion. Continue on to the vibrant Plaza de Santo Domingo which provides the perfect setting to explore on your Cartagena cruise. Don’t miss a peek inside the lovely 450-year-old Iglesia/Claustro Santo Domingo church on the plaza. Best of Cartagena will take you on an excursion to visit the Iglesia/Claustro/Museo San Pedro Claver, constructed in 1580 and the sprawling ruins of El Castillo de San Felipe de Borajas, a massive stone fortress considered one of the military wonders of the world. You can explore its underground tunnels and clamber around the battlements overlooking the city.
Beaches in Cartagena
Many travelers on Cartagena cruises find that Playa Blanca is the area’s prettiest Caribbean beach. Its aqua seas and palm-lined sands are located 40-minutes from the city. Las Islas del Rosario (Rosario Islands), a national park of coral reefs, crystalline waters, and golden beaches, is located 50-minutes from the city. Cartagena’s main beaches—Bocagrande, El Laguito, and Castillo Grande, in the south, and, in the north, La Boquilla and Marbella—offers plenty of sun and sand.
Shopping in Cartagena
You’ll have no trouble finding attractive boutiques in the historic center selling Colombian designer clothing, leather goods, and precious stones on cruises to Cartagena. If you’re in the hunt for handicrafts, head to Las Bóvedas with the Shopping Tour & Historical Highlights excursion, where you shop at that former jail cells, which now house enticing souvenir shops on Calle de las Bóvedas. Getsemaní is the best neighborhood for discount shopping, where you can buy cheap clothing and shoes—and just about anything else you can imagine.
The biggest business in Cartagena is in emeralds and many shops in the Old Town sell Columbia’s favorite stone. Unless you're an expert, it is difficult to determine the quality of the gems. The best buys are those that you like simply for the look, not because you think you're getting a good deal.