Colombia’s jewel in the crown, Cartagena is arguably South America’s finest colonial city, a beautiful UNESCO world heritage site that overlooks the dreamy turquoise waters of the Caribbean. Founded by Don Pedro de Heredia in 1533, Cartagena was the gateway to the Americas, a thriving port that attracted the attention of pirates and buccaneers alike. Today, modern skyscrapers dominate the horizon yet at the heart of the city behind sturdy rampart walls, the historic old town has been beautifully preserved. Pass through the famous Clock Tower gate and you step into a different world. Churches and colonial mansions overlook cobbled plazas while elegant hand-carved balconies are awash with tropical flowers. Much of the original architecture has been lovingly restored, its town houses converted into sumptuous galleries, shops and restaurants. Gorgeous boutique hotels provide the perfect base from which to explore the key attractions from the historic churches of Santo Domingo and San Pedro Claver to the Gold Museum and Palace of the Inquisition. Outside the walls in stark contrast, the imposing fortress hints at Cartagena’s strategic position, a city that was held to ransom in the 16th century by Sir Francis Drake and raided throughout its colourful history.
Cartagena is without doubt the highlight of any trip to Colombia and perfect for simple pottering. Away from town, the coral reefs of the Rosario Islands offer wonderful fishing and snorkelling or you may prefer to head out to the golden beaches of Isla Baru and Playa Blanca.