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.
Torre de Reloj (clocktower), Cartagena’s most famous landmark, was once the main gateway to the Walled City.
Horse drawn carriages are typical sights on the streets and evoke colonial nostalgia.
During the day, be prepared to be blinded with vibrant colors as you walk the streets.
Even the government buildings are very vibrant and elegant.
There 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.
The 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.
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.
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.
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.