Cartagena is just the idyllic Carribean gem of a city and a perfect counterpoint to the big cities of South America. Colonial outpost of the Spanish it was the launching point for the great Spanish Treasure fleets bringing gold and silver back to Sevillle.

Only a few months before the wreck of the San Jose galleon was discovered somewhere off Cartagena 300 years after it was sunk by a British warship. The treasure within its hold is expected to be worth up to $1 billion.


Cartagena was one of the shipping centres of New Granada in Spanish colonial times

Due to this importance the city was walled and heavily defended on all sides, particularly by the Castillo San Felipe – an imposing mound of a castle sitting outside the city walls with commanding views out to sea and inland.


Castillo San Felipe – gun barrages in all directions

Supposedly the design was such that each barrage could cover another so all would have to be taken simultaneously to overcome the defence. Inside the elaborate tunnel system allowed troops and supplies to move around with safety in event of attack.


Multi-layered barrages can cover each other making it difficult to overwhelm

It also helped to have a mosquito infested swamp to the rear which would sap any attackers looking to lay siege to the fort. The British attempted to take the town in the 18th century in a naval and land attack but failed.

All traces of this martial past are invisible down the beautiful cobbled streets flanked by wooden frame buildings with bougainvillea and other flowers bursting over the balconies. Occasionally after walking for ten minutes the city walls are visible but inside are a selection of boutiques, cafes, restaurants and pleasant squares.

I started with lunch in El Baron – a fantastic little bar and café with strong gin cocktails which had my bar stool swinging after only two.


Some strong gin based concoction!

After it was time to do a bit of shopping for linen shirts – something which is a speciality here. The guayabara is a dress shirt often worn to weddings. Technically it should have four pockets but I opted for a white embroidered one in heavy Irish linen.

There are several lovely tree lined squares with park benches where people sit and chat and watch the world go by. That’s not to say Cartagena was all tropical leisure, nearby is the Palace of the Inquisition where the barbaric practices from Spain were exported to her colonies.


Inquisition is oddly in one of the prettiest buildings in town

Toward sunset everyone heads to the walls and Café Del Mar for a few sundowners as the sun sets over the Caribbean in the distance.

Later in the evening I found the beautiful Sofitel Santa Clara, a converted covent with a beautiful inner garden and colonnades where previously nuns must have recited prayer but now have lounge couches for those less puritanical souls to have an evening g&t or even a nice margarita or two!

Later in the night I headed down to the Trinidad area where people gather in the main square to eat some food, have a few drinks and dance until the early hours. It’s no wonder that when Hillary Clinton visited for a diplomatic conference she was snapped out hitting the tiles – Cartagena will have that effect on anyone!

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