Posted by: rosyroadsadventures | December 6, 2012

Contrasts in Cartagena

N 10° 24.95′   W 75° 32.68′

Cartagena, Colombia.


Entrance to El Centro in the inner section of the Walled City

A stop in Cartagena has offered a very different Colombian experience. The city of about a million people is not at all as I had expected. It has more of a residential than an industrial feel, is fairly clean and very attractive. As in Santa Marta, there are extremes in social classes but there seems to be much more wealth here.  For a city, it seems relatively safe, and here in the state of Bolivar we have not heard about any of the paramilitary activity that lurked beneath the surface in the Magdalena district farther north.

The city is filled with pretty residences and examples of gorgeous architecture. Many buildings, both old and new, are afforded the respect of being officially named and it is common to see designations such as “Edificio Los Delfines” or “ Edificio Casablanca” on each one. There is a strong tourist presence, with cruise ships arriving most days and tour buses operating throughout the city day and night.  Vendors promote tours and souvenirs along with food and convenience items.  We had heard from past visitors that the pressure to buy Colombian emeralds here was intense, but I guess we don’t exactly look like precious stone buyers.   I don’t even wear jewelry anymore, other than my wedding band and maybe a small pair of earrings, and feel it is best to keep a low-key appearance when traveling in new places.  We already stand out enough as it is.

But we are often asked about booking a trip to the popular Rosario Islands.  Some of the small vessels packed with passengers hardly seem seaworthy enough for the 28 mile offshore trip and there are some humorous internet reviews describing past voyages in less than optimal conditions.  We hope we will be able to stop at the Rosarios on our way to the San Blas. The islands are about 40 minutes away by fast boat, about 4 hours via the Mar Azul.

Transportation here, like in Santa Marta, is easy with plentiful inexpensive little yellow taxis. Most rides within the city cost between 5,000 and 10,000 pesos ($2.70 – $6.00) depending upon which districts you are transiting and when you are traveling. We get around mostly on foot and use taxis when we get tired or have lots of parcels. So far we have explored the surrounding neighborhood of Manga, an upper class area with a waterfront park, and nearby Getsemani with interesting webs of small shops. We have walked through the Bocagrande beach district, the lovely residential Castillogrande neighborhood on the westernmost peninsula overlooking the Caribbean Sea & the El Laguito area which houses waterfront hotels such as the familiar Hilton. We have visited the historic Walled City, which is within walking distance of our location. It is spectacular, filled with Spanish Colonial buildings that have been carefully restored.  The Walled City provides a glimpse into the past when Cartagena and its harbor were fiercely coveted assets in the days of Sir Frances Drake.

The shopping experience in Cartagena is similar to Santa Marta in terms of variety. There are street vendors, perhaps fewer in number, many hundreds of small stores and some high-end plazas. The Carulla market about 6 blocks away has a beautiful bakery, deli and butcher section in addition to a wide variety of staples and imported items. Cart vendors roam the streets in the morning with fresh fruit, avocados, coffees and pastries. Food is a tad more expensive here than in Santa Marta, but with some of the current holiday specials we have found some good buys. I am slowing adding to the San Blas provisions.

The harbor is wide and attractive and the only place we have seen so far in Colombia where many boats of the cruising variety are anchored. The anchorage is said to be video monitored by the Navy, with a base just across the harbor. Still, I am happy to be in a marina with its conveniences and security.

Club de Pesca is a private organization and they have a few slips available for transient boaters from time to time. It helps to have a referral from a member when requesting a slip. I had corresponded with Lee Miles, Local Ambassador with the Seven Seas Cruising Association, who is a Club member, but somehow managed to get a reservation via email before he had the opportunity to make a request on our behalf.  I had never gotten a response to my inquiries from Club Nautico, the local marina, and with all the negative rumors we had heard about the state of affairs there it was simpler and more appealing to stay at Club de Pesca even though not as economical.

The Club is an interesting place, where the remnants of an old fort have been incorporated into the design. There are capable staff on duty throughout the facility in numbers that would make corporate America cringe.  There are numerous security guards stationed throughout the property 24/7 including one designated for the section of the marina that houses our dock, a boat lift where expeditious bottom jobs are accomplished right in the lift, a small store and the fuel station.  The guards here are not for show, they carry guns.  We’ve also seen a stash of rifles.  Sunset at the Club bar on Fridays is popular with the members when they serve complimentary hors d’oeuvres and reasonably priced beverages. During the daytime the place is buzzing with boat workers who somehow manage to keep all the boats immaculate. It would be so nice to have our own “boat boy” but unfortunately that would be me at the present time.  Everyone is friendly and helpful, although we do miss the English-speaking cruising camaraderie, especially since our immediate neighbors on Foxi Lady moved on last week.

We are filling our days exploring the city, shopping, doing boat projects and catching up on internet time in preparation for a couple of months away from “civilization” in the San Blas. In the evenings we have enjoyed the local ambiance and a few restaurants. We had the pleasure of spending an evening with Lee and his wife Pachi and it was a great experience to learn more about life here from long-time residents of the city.


Pretty historic buildings, clean streets, horse-drawn carriages, souvenir and fruit vendors are among the sights in El Centro


More walls! Some were built to 20 meters in thickness, about 65 feet,to deter invaders.


Cartagena anchorage near the Manga waterfront park


Lots of greenery here – even a designated doggie bathroom! Bandit is loving it and has made many amigos with the locals frequently stopping to admire her and ask “Que raza?” In this area where pure bred pets seem the norm we try to explain what a Heinz 57 is. Lady, however, has developed a strange new behavior and often will not venture far from the boat, firmly planting her paws and refusing to move. Even when escorted by Bob. Hmm . . .


Club de Pesca incorporates the remains of an old fort – Fuerte de San Sebastián del Pastelillo. This area of the public parking lot is a popular sunset spot for the locals.


Some of the pretty apartment buildings in the Castillogrande district. A three bedroom, 2 bath apartment in some of the nicer neighborhoods can be rented for about $1200 – $1500 per month, USD.


A little white sand can be found in Castillogrande and Bocagrande


Sunset over the Club de Pesca


Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )


Connecting to %s