A city of myths and legends overlooking the Caribbean Sea, travellers are keen to take in Cartagena de Indias’ unique contribution to Colombian history, as well as those gorgeous views. Here’s why this seaside citadel should be on your 2018 travel wish list.*
Cartagena's colourful Old Town
Cartagena’s perfectly preserved Old Town is a UNESCO World Heritage site, full of cobbled streets, flowering wooden balconies, and vibrant houses painted in canary yellow, poppy red and azure blue. Leafy plazas offer respite from the high temperatures and local restaurants compete to offer the freshest seafood, all served with a cold Aguila local beer.
Torre del Reloj, Cartagena's main city gate
One of the reasons Cartagena’s Old Town has been so well preserved is due to its historical significance. Not only was Cartagena one of the first Spanish colony in South America, it was also among the first cities to offer sanctuary to African slaves leaving the USA. Many colonial buildings have since been turned into museums dedicated to this important history. The Palace of Inquisition is especially atmospheric – stay less than a minute’s walk away at Casa Pizarro Hotel Boutique.
The 16th-century Cathedral of Cartagena
Start your exploration of Cartagena's architecture at the 16th-century Cathedral of Cartagena. This orange-domed church is the ideal spot from which to orientate yourself within the narrow streets – visit at sunrise or sunset for the best views. Next, head to the Plaza Santo Domingo to admire Fernando Botero’s Mujer Reclinada ("Reclining Woman") statue. Looking for somewhere to stay? Check into the historical Tcherassi Hotel, a 250-year-old refurbished mansion.
Open-air food stalls surround the central plaza
Cartagena’s coastal location and cultural influences are reflected in the local cuisine, which tends to focus on seafood, pork and beef, flavoured with mountain-grown herbs. In the Old Town you’ll find plenty of fine-dining options, such as Moshi and Restaurante 1621, as well as informal eateries – La Cocina de Cartagena is a must-visit. For impromptu meals, open-air food stalls are dotted around the central plaza, or you can try gourmet street food at the Tcherassi Hotel TucTuc Restaurant.
The beautiful Playa Blanca
Most coastal cities take pride in their beaches and Cartagena has plenty to boast about, with white sand beaches, mangroves and coral reefs. Most local hotels offer beach excursions but if you fancy heading off on your own, Playa Blanca is your best bet. Only a 40-minute drive from the city, this tropical beach is close enough for a day trip, but many travellers prefer to stay overnight.
** The data scientists at Booking.com looked at the activities most endorsed in Cartagena by international travellers. This is part of a series looking at the top 10 trending destinations for 2018.