Cartagena is a city with a rich history and a lot of sights to see. Since I only have my weekends to be a tourist, I did a city tour yesterday to maximize time. The city tour was going to hit at least two of the Cartagena must sees.
I booked the 65000 peso (approx $28 CDN) tour through a hostel in the old town, El Viajero. I met the tour guide at the clock tower at 130 pm. The plan was to see a couple of the big sights and get a ride around the city to boot.
I didn’t know until the morning of the tour that the barrio was going to have a party that day. It turned out to be a good time to leave though because the sound system was blaring from 10am and was still going when I got home and then some! I wore ear plugs from 10a-12noon when I left for the tour.
So this is the Caribbean and nothing moves fast. About 12 of us loaded into the bus and waited. Then we drove around for a bit and returned to the clock tower to pick up some latecomers. Then we drove around some more and picked up other tourists. Most of those were in Bocagrande, a big tourist section on the beach. Bocagrande has a lot of big hotels and fast food restaurants and I am glad I got to see it on the ride because it confirmed what I thought: I don’t need to hang out there.
The bus was pretty full by then and our 1:30 tour got started at around 2:15pm. This was actually very good because we beat the other groups to every stop!
Our guide was a pretty flamboyant guy who I am not kidding got something to eat everywhere we went! He was entertaining if extremely loud on the sound system. That seems to be the Colombian way. The tour was conducted entirely in Spanish and the majority of the group was from Colombia with a couple from Argentina and Brazil. I think I got the gist of the tour plus I had my Lonely Planet so read about each place before we arrived.
- Monumento del Zapatos Viejos– old shoes.we stopped for 15 minutes so people could take photos sitting in these shoes. I read that this was a tribute to the famous poet, Luis Carlos Lopez. Meh. Definitely not a must see.
2. Convento de la Popa– an old convent at the top of a hill with gorgeous views over the city. The drive up was interesting with the bus zooming around corners past people’s homes. People live all along the road up the hill in pretty rough conditions. The convent was quite pretty and included a chapel and some interesting artifacts like old maps and money from around the world, even Canada, which the guide pointed out so I could look at my country’s money. Leaving La Popa was a challenge because all the other busses were there or arriving. It took a while to get out but we made it. I took some nice shots of the views. It was a little cloudy but still everything was visible.
3. Castillo de San Felipe – pretty cool place created by the Spanish to defend the city and protect all their gold and jewels in the 1600s. A little bit of climbing involved but not too hard and you’re rewarded with some pretty views here too. The highlight of this spot is all the tunnels you can walk up, down and over the castillo. The Spanish did a good job because the sound carries really well throughout so they always had the drop on anyone trying to attack or escape via the tunnels.
4. Plaza San Diego– a perfect example of exiting through the gift shop. Not to demean the story behind this place which I am glad I learned yesterday. This part of the old city was where they used to hold slave auctions. Many of the shops and the people selling fruit are representative of this heritage It’s a beautiful plaza on the edge of the old city and the gift shops weren’t bad either. On a Sunday, there were many people flying kites in the area.
Back on the bus and the guide was going to head back to Bocagrande so after seeing the house of the author Gabriel Garcia Marquez (which you can’t visit because his sister lives there), I hopped off for good. The tour ended around 5:30 so about 4 hours from the supposed start time, but really more like 3 of actual touring. I was ready for una cerveza.
The tour was worth it for getting to and into the 2 key attractions even if it did take a while. Despite my lack of fluency I saw a lot, learned a lot and got some photos.