As a life-long resident of a small town in the country, I am usually not drawn to cities. I do love the excitement of New York of course, and am awed by the world’s great metropolises, but most of the time I’d rather be out in the country.
My trip to Colombia last week however took me to a storied city that lived up to all of the hype that I had read about it before I ever visited. The narrow streets, colonial architecture, and the dazzling sun-splashed parks were truly spectacular.
Cartagena is Colombia’s gem. Founded in 1533, it’s been fought over countless times and invaded by what Colombians called pirates, but who we might call explorers, like Sir Francis Drake and others. In the Spanish Colonial era rulers erected an 11-kilometer wall that to this day encircles the old city. It took about 200 years to fully complete the wall, and during that time the British and the French tried to invade and take over Cartagena. The city once endured a 103-day seige in 1815, during the time of Simon Bolivar.
There was once even a submarine wall, 1 1/2 meters below the waterline between two towers in a watery gap, to keep out enemy ships.
Today the city is bustling with tourists, it’s the only Colombian city that has been visited in recent years by US presidents. The president of the nation keeps a home on a nearby island outside of Cartagena, and helicopters into the city when he needs to be seen.
We jumped aboard a speedboat and zipped out from the harbor, past gigantic cranes at the container port to the Isle del Sol, which looked just like a Caribbean Island, which in fact it is. There, we got the rare treat of swimming and sunning instead of touring and photographing–a rare treat for journalists on a press trip. We lazed around until it was time to eat inside a circular thatch roofed palapa–there we were presented with fish soup, fresh fruits, and the main dish, grilled Caribbean lobsters.
To anyone who might be still hesitant or afraid of visiting Cartagena or the other places in Colombia we just saw, I assure you it felt as safe as anywhere I’ve been in the US. We walked back from the restaurant through the deserted streets in the old city late one night with the lovely sea breeze and there was nothing ominous or scary at all.
This colonial city with so much rich history is waiting–as is the beautiful beaches and the grilled lobster. All you have to do is stop letting fear get in the way. There are also some of the most luxurious hotels I’ve ever stayed in tucked into discreet alleyways, and opening up into grand courtyards with stunning views.