History and modern charm collide in Cartagena. Once described as, “unchanging on the edge of time,” by the late Nobel Prize-winning Colombian author, Gabriel García Márquez, Cartagena was dubbed Latin America’s “hippest secret” by the New York Times.
The Clock Tower Gate, entrance to Old City, stands as one of Cartagena’s signature symbols. Just past the gate is Carriages Square, and at the far end of the plaza, past the central statue of Cartagena’s founder, Pedro de Heredia, lies Sweets Hall, a corridor of candy shops. A few blocks away is the fountain-filled Plaza de Bolívar, site of the city’s 16th-century cathedral, the Minor Basilica. Look for the unmistakable colorful bell tower and Florentine-style dome. On the corner is the Gold Museum and across from there is Inquisition Palace, a most intriguing attraction. During the New World’s Spanish Inquisition of the 1600s, those accused were tried in the grandiose structure at the Court of the Holy Office. Today, the museum houses artifacts, documents, and strange torture devices.
Head to Plaza Santo Domingo to see Colombian artist Fernando Botero’s famous Gordita statue. The painter and sculptor is renowned for his volumetric stylization of figures and objects.
For souvenirs, check out Las Bóvedas. The old arcades, with 46 arches and 23 dungeons, have been transformed into a retail center with shops, galleries, and a local market. Also try the Bocagrande Peninsula, where the Pierino Gallo Shopping Plaza has become the premier place to buy leather goods, Colombian emeralds, and coffee.
Whatever the day brings, be sure to save time for a good meal. Cuisine is a fusion of intense flavors from Arab, Spanish, Caribbean, African, and South American cultures. Try an arepa de huevo, a deep-fried patty made of yellow-corn dough and stuffed with egg, or a carimañola, a fried potato-shaped yucca fritter filled with cheese and meat. And, of course, plenty of refreshing tropical fruit is on hand, often sold by palenqueras, local vendors.