One of the unforgettable highlights of any travel to Colombia is a visit to the historic and magnificent Walled City in the heart of Old Cartagena. Strategically located in the country’s Caribbean Coast, Old Cartagena was one of Colonial Spain’s important ports.

Stone fortresses and massive walls up to 20 meters thick and 11 kilometers long surround the area.  This fortification was built by Spaniards in the 16th century after Cartagena was raided numerous times by pirates, most notably by Sir Francis Drake.

Walking the mesmerizing colonial streets of the Walled City  (also referred to as ‘Old Town’) is like stepping into the magical pages of the books of its famous author son, Gabriel Garcia Marquez.  Its historic plazas evoke romance and its narrow streets burst with colors and charm.  It is a delightful place to lose yourself.

The Walled City of Old Cartagena has certainly preserved its colonial charm, but is it still authentic?

Join us in exploring the splendid Walled City through our lenses.

La Torre de Reloj, Old Cartagena, ColombiaTorre de Reloj (clocktower), Cartagena’s most famous landmark, was once the main gateway to the Walled City.

Sto. Domingo Church, Old Cartagena, ColombiaPlaza Santo Domingo, with a dramatic backdrop of the oldest church in the city, is filled with colonial ambiance. It is one of the most vibrant plazas inside the Walled City. 

Street in Old Cartagena, ColombiaA stroll on a typical street in the Walled City of Old Cartagena is always captivating. 

Horse carriages in the street of Old Cartagena, ColombiaHorse drawn carriages are typical sights on the streets and evoke colonial nostalgia. 

San Pedro Claver Church, Old Cartagena, ColombiaOne of Cartagena’s magnificent and historic churches, Iglesia de San Pedro Claver, was built by the Jesuits in honor of the first saint in the new world known for his works with the slaves. 

Plaza de Aduana, Old Cartagena, ColombiaPlaza Aduana, once the seat of power in colonial Cartagena, is surrounded by stately colonial mansions and is made lively by bars and outdoor cafes.

Old Cartagena at night, ColombiaOne of the many well-preserved elegant colonial architectures.

Street shopping stall in Old Cartegena, ColombiaSome streets are bustling with local crafts.

Restaurant in Old Cartagena, ColombiaThe facade of one of the many atmospheric restaurants that dot the Walled City. The area offers great culinary experience. 

Colorful street in Old Cartagena, ColombiaDuring the day, be prepared to be blinded with vibrant colors as you walk the streets. 

Colorful facades in Old Cartagena, ColombiaThe handsome streets are lined with  “case altas” (two-story houses) that were homes to wealthy merchants. 

A colorful facade in Old Cartagena, ColombiaEven the government buildings are very vibrant and elegant. 

Colorful street in Old Cartagena, ColombiaThere were some things that we noticed though — we didn’t see children playing on the streets or locals looking out of the charming balconies or peeking out of the intricate windows of the houses. We learned that not much locals live in the Walled City anymore. In fact, only a handful of them reside here.

Hotels in Old Cartagena, ColumbiaThe property value in the Walled City has skyrocketed in the past decades, motivating the residents to sell their properties. Most of them were grabbed by mostly non-locals who converted the properties into guest houses and fancy hotels. Even the religious institutions cashed in. A lot of convents and monasteries have been converted into upscale boutique hotels.

Restaurants and hops in Old Cartagena, ColombiaA lot of properties were also converted into shops and restaurants.

So has the Walled City lost its authenticity? Has it became purely touristy?

Although no longer a residential area for locals, we felt that the area still pulsated with local vibes. For one, the Walled City is the home to prestigious University of Cartagena and several other schools as well as government offices. During the day, the streets are filled with locals students and workers. And during the night, they come to hangout in many of the area’s bar and restaurants.

University of Cartagena, Old Cartagena, ColombiaThe prestigious University of Cartagena. Gabriel Garcia Marquez went here.

Students in one of the plazas of Old Cartagena, ColombiaStudents hanging out in one of the plazas where a lot of merchants still cater to locals.

Wedding in San Pedro Claver Church, Old Cartagena, ColombiaLocals still come to the Walled City to worship in many of its splendid churches. It is also a popular place to get married. 

Kite flying on the wall of Old Cartagena, ColombiaYou will always see locals on or along the massive walls of the city where they engage in one of their popular activities, kite flying.

Cafe del Mar on the wall of Old Carteganam ColombiaAnd we enjoyed hanging out with them at Casa del Mar, one of popular local bars located on top of the historic wall.

We ventured outside the Walled City and discovered a neighborhood in Old Cartagena where locals still reside, thus, some call it the “real” Cartagena. We will share it with you in our next post.

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Travel Notes:

Where to stay :  We stayed at Hotel Casa San Agustin and we highly recommend it.  It is a luxury boutique hotel comprised of three beautifully restored Spanish colonial mansions.  It combines contemporary design, exotic Caribbean ambiance and historic charm. The rooms are well-appointed and the service is excellent.  It is a well-located within the Walled City and we found the area very safe.  Many major attractions is within walking distance of the hotel. It has been voted as one of the top hotels in Colombia.

Where to eat and drink :  Cartagena offers great gastronomic adventure and boasts of plethora of dining and wining options.  Here are some of the places we recommend inside the Walled City:

  • El Boliche Cevicheria  – It was here where we had our best ceviche ever  – very fresh, flavorful and creative.  We highly recommend the one with tamarindo.  The place is popular and seating is limited so call ahead for reservation.
  • Cande – For traditional Cartagenan cuisine, this is a place to be. Lots of seafood.  Dishes are a bit on a heavier side, so we recommend that you dine here for lunch. 
  • La Cevicheria – Made popular by Anthony Bordain’s show, this casual place offers good ceviche and other seafood fare. It has outdoor dining on a pleasant street.
  •  Maria – One of the two restaurants by a celebrity chef trained in 3-Michelin starred restaurant in Spain. The Basque-Colombian fusion will not disappoint.
  • Cafe del Mar – Outdoor bar sitting on top of the wall.  Popular for both locals and tourists. Best place to watch sunset.
  • El Coro Lounge and Bar – An upscale bar in an old convent, which is now Sofitel Hotel Santa Clara. Offers very creative cocktail.

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30 responses to “Colombia: The Walled City of Old Cartagena

  1. Welcome back!

    Wow, I never thought that Cartagena is THIS gorgeous. I have no intention of going there but there are cruises that stop there for a day. Do you think one can cover all the sights in a few hours?
    Photo cache recently posted..Sailing to the SunsetMy Profile

    • Marisol

      Hi Maria, thank you! Nice to be back in blogosphere. Cartagena is indeed gorgeous. Few hours will allow you to see some of the highlights but I don’t think you it will get a feel of the spirit of the place.

  2. Your amazing photos (which I have missed so much!) could not have come at a better time, Marisol: Tony & I will be flying to Colombia tomorrow and will spend 2 weeks exploring (parts of) the country. We end our trip in Cartagena, where we’ll be spending 3 days; your pictures have really gotten me excited… it looks so beautiful! And I’ve made note of all of your food recommendations too—we’ll definitely check out the cevicheria you suggested!

    One quick question: we were chatting with a friend last night who is actually from Colombia and were asking him about safety. He said he wouldn’t recommend taking our cameras out with us at night… did you feel that the walled city of Cartagena was sufficiently safe to walk around in the evening with your camera? Did you keep it concealed in a bag and only took it out when you saw a picture you wanted to take, or did you have it around your neck (like a typical tourist… which is how Tony & I tend to wander around cities as you never know when inspiration might strike, but we don’t want to make ourselves targets…)?

    Looking forward to seeing more of Cartagena! Did you visit anywhere else in Colombia? We will be hitting Bogotá, Medellín, and Cartagena on this trip.
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    • Marisol

      Hi Steph, wow, I’m glad this post came timely for you. We found the Walled City really safe. We walked around a lot and even late at night with my big camera. I had it out most of the time. The only place I didn’t take it out at all was when we did a local market tour. We went with a guide and he advised to only take out our small point and shoot camera. We only traveled in the coast. Have a wonderful travel. I look forward to read about your experience.

  3. You have painted a most tempting portrait of Cartagena. . .love the shots and would be hard pressed to pick a favorite from among them as they are all tantalizing! Look forward to your next post!

    • Marisol

      Thank you, Jackie. I’m sure you’ll enjoy a visit to Cartagena as well. Looking forward to catch up with your travels.

  4. Bama

    Marisol! Glad to have you back in the blogging world. :) Cartagena has always been on my wishlist since I heard about the city many many years ago. About the commercialization of the old town, it’s not ideal but I think it’s still much better than the fate of some of old colonial buildings in Asia which were demolished in the name of development. I really love both your night and day shots!

    • Marisol

      Thank you so much, Bama! It feels good to be back. Being a history buff, I know you will enjoy Cartagena. What I like is that ‘it’s ‘not in your face kind of commercialization.’ Almost everything was restored with love and care. Looking forward to catch up with your travels.

  5. Hi, Marisol … it’s been long :)

    Colombia seems to be a very popular travel destination of late, more so the city of Cartagena, would love to travel there some day.
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    • Marisol

      Hi Rachel, I know it has been long. Glad to be back. Yes, it has been a popular destination lately, and for good reasons. It’s worth a visit. Hope you get there sometime soon.

    • Marisol

      HI Aditi, it’s hard not to love them. Thanks for dropping by.

  6. There are so many great photos in here that I had to take a close look at them many times. They show color, character and charm. But, I also like them because they show how life is conducted in Cartagena. Seems like the perfect city to meet people and socialize.

    • Marisol

      Thanks Ruth. It’s such a photogenic place and is not hard to take good photos of it. It truly is a delightful place to visit and meet lovely locals.

  7. I’ve never thought of Cartagena as a travel destination, but you showed us a beautiful side of it! #PhotoFriday

    • Marisol

      Thanks Jennifer. I’m glad you see the pretty side of it.

  8. Molly

    What a beautiful place. I love the brightly coloured houses and the balconies over hanging the narrow streets.

    Mollyxxx

    • Marisol

      Hi Molly, it truly is beautiful. I hope you get to visit it someday.

  9. Corinne

    Marisol, What a gorgeous post. I love your night photos. We have never been to Colombia…so much to do. You are constantly inspiring me!

    • Marisol

      Thanks Corinne. I hope you and Jim get to visit Cartagena soon. Your camera will love it there.

  10. Cartagena possess undeniable charm that comes across in the photographs. It certainly looks like a very colorful city.

    • Marisol

      Hi Mary, it truly is charming and colorful. I hope you and Brett can visit it someday.

  11. For some reason, much of my impression of Cartagena comes from the 1984 movie Romancing the Stone. So, I never thought of it as much of a destination for travelers. This Walled City looks like a great place to explore and reminds me somewhat of Intramuros in Manila. Those Spaniards certainly got around! I like the colorful exteriors you showed us in the daylight. I had been wondering if locals still lived there, so I’m glad you addressed that. Good to hear from you again. Glad to see that you’re still traveling even if the blogging has slowed.
    Michele {Malaysian Meanders} recently posted..Postcards from The Library of CongressMy Profile

    • Marisol

      Hi Michelle,
      Oh yes, those Spaniards did get around! It reminded a bit of Intramuros but a lot more of towns in Cuba. I hope to speed up on my blogging pace and I look forward to catch up with your blog.
      Marisol recently posted..Colombia: The Walled City of Old CartagenaMy Profile

  12. What a fantastic place! Wow! I love everything about this lovely city from the architecture to the colors.

  13. Seriously the colors are so vibrant, it really looks fantastic.
    Colors speak a lot.
    Glad that you were here and have shared the experience you had with.
    Keep Posting :-)

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