Cartagena – pronounced ‘Cartahena’.
A fairy-tale city of romance, legends and sheer beauty, Cartagena is a beautiful city with cobbled alleys, enormous balconies shrouded in bougainvillea and massive churches casting their shadows across leafy plazas.
Founded in 1533, Cartagena swiftly blossomed into the main Spanish port on the Caribbean coast and the gateway to the north of the continent. Treasures plundered from the indigenous people was stored here until the galleons were able to ship it back to Spain.
It attracted pirates and in the 16th century alone suffered five sieges, the best known of which was led by Francis Drake in 1586.
In response, the Spaniards made Cartagena an impregnable port and constructed elaborate walls encircling the town, and a chain of forts. These fortifications helped save Cartagena from subsequent sieges.
Cartagena continued to flourish and during the colonial period the city was the key outpost of the Spanish empire, influencing much of Colombia’s history.
Today, Cartagena has expanded dramatically and is surrounded by vast suburbs. It is Colombia’s largest port and an important industrial centre. Nevertheless, the picturesque old walled town has changed very little.
Cartagena’s climate is hot but a fresh breeze blows in each evening, making this a pleasant time to stroll around the city.
Colombia is proving to be a real treasure trove. The trepidation that I had been feeling, about visiting, is slowly starting to ease. In fact the Colombians have been incredibly friendly and welcoming. The police are protectors rather than criminal cohorts, and the army is engaged in peacekeeping and the continued destruction of what’s left of the cocaine trade. Many parts of the jungle have now become meccas for trekking rather than hideouts for kidnapping bands.
Next stage: Medellin