Cartagena, Coastal Colombia: A lovely Latin American HolidayPosted in Where to Travel to Now
Erica Jeffery is invited on a very special trip to Latin America for WhereAndNow.com. This is part one of her journey.
Newspaper headlines don't report on Colombia’s beauty and its mix of visible history and modern convenience. But a decade of reforms has contributed to making the country safer, allowing people who are seeking something just a little different the opportunity to experience the country. I recently had the opportunity to spend some time in Cartagena, with a small band of journalists, on behalf of Whereandnow. I found the people inviting, felt safe on the streets, and thoroughly
enjoyed Cartagena’s culture, historical architecture and incredible storylines.
Music of Cartagena
Everywhere we went, Cartagena played us a song, providing a portal into the city’s
personality. Sometimes we’d hear a melodic Latin American salsa, sometimes we
were treated to the trill of indigenous flutes accompanied by the African beats
of cumbia, other times vallenato, a traditional Colombian folk music played
with an accordion, a ribbed stick making a rasping sound, and drum, was the
soundtrack to the streets.
For the history
I stepped back in time on the narrow winding streets of the
UNESCO heritage old city, El Centro, with its meandering miles of cobblestone, marvelling at the Sorbet hues of Cartagena’s colonial palaces and churches. I
enjoyed the opportunity to take in the colourful architecture, the balconies
festooned with flowers, monuments to the memory of great battles and victories, numerous plazas and squares, the beautiful churches and 17th century forts
built along the 8 miles of coral stone Las Murallas (walls).
The historic city is surrounded by a coral stone wall topped with seaward-pointing cannons. If these walls could talk, they’d tell tales of pirates and gold, the Spanish Inquisition, slavery, religion, and of love. This seaport developed rapidly into the most important
centre of trade for Spain and the American colonies, as well as a centre for trading African slaves. Cartagena’s ethnic culture derives from the fusion of
three combined histories: the Calamari, the native ethnic group; the Spanish conquistadors; and freed African slaves.
We visited Plaza Bolivar, peeked in the cathedrals and toured the Castillo SanFelipe de Barajas – one of Colombia’s oldest buildings and an important defence.
The Plaza de los Coches, where the slave market was held long ago, and now you can catch a ride on a horse and carriage, appears as an interesting
intersection of the many cultures and histories that currently define Cartagena. In
the plaza stands a statue of the city’s founder Pedro De Heredia, with a plaque
dedicated to La India Catalina, the ‘Cartagena
in the square, we were treated to traditional song and dance by roving
performers wearing dresses in a riot of primary colours, swirling to the sounds
of vallenato – traditional Colombian storytelling music.
The triangular plaza is flanked by the Torre del Reloj (Clock
Tower), the symbol of Cartagena and the gateway to Getsemani; by arches where
ammunition and military equipment were stored in colonial times, and now house
souvenir shops and the Portal de Dulces arcade, where local vendors sell
handmade local candies. You will see stalls stacked high with glass jars
stuffed with sweets: muñecas de leche (‘milk dolls’) or bolas de panela (brown
sugarloaf balls), mounds of coconut and condensed milk, sour guava slabs,
blocks of caramelised peanuts, chocolates, flavoured rock candy and other
side of the plaza offers the opportunity for fun. In the evening, open air
tables allow to you relax and soak up the atmosphere. We grabbed a beer at Donde
Fidel, a tiny salsa joint with a large outdoor seating area in the corner of
the Plaza de la Coches. Horses and carriages trod past, as did groups of friends
off to dine or dance as we enjoyed the warm night air. Men selling sweets and
cigarettes wandered amongst the tables. Be warned, we bought a pack of gum and weren’t certain the pesos he returned to us were real; do familiarise yourself with the look and feel of the currency to be more certain.
Next installment: Erica heads to Colombia’s Caribbean coast.