Dragoman had arranged a group walking tour this morning. While it probably wasn’t the best walking tour I’ve been on, to be fair to the guide some members of the group can be hard work to deal with. People were moaning about being too hot, asking for breaks and rudely wandering off at their own accord. We managed to see a fair bit of this beautiful historic city. Cartagena lies at a key location on Caribbean coast of South America and hence has been the site of many battles over the years. Therefore it was heavily fortified and the largely intact city walls are evident today. Cartagena has an abundance of narrow cobbled street, lovely squares and authentic period buildings. The city walls also provide great views of the surrounding water. I’d probably go as far as saying that it’s the nicest colonial city that I’ve visited.

A city as nice as Cartagena will invariably attract a lot of visitors. You’ll find yourself pounced upon by traders around the iconic clock tower, seemingly tourist ground zero. The wares of choice for sale included hats, fake Colombia football shirts and to quote the slip of a tongue from what a trader said to me, “Columbi—, erm Cuban cigars.” At least he had the grace to laugh about it! While they were a bit of a pain in the arse, once you passed through the first couple of main squares you didn’t tend to get pestered too much.

This was the first time that I’d been able to spend much time in a decent sized Colombian city. Previously we’d either stayed on the outskirts or quickly passed through places. It was noticeable that Colombia is a fashion conscious nation. There are loads of clothes shops and the locals have plenty of figure-hugging jeans, tight tops and accessories on display. And that’s just the blokes! Sorry. The ladies seem to take their highly regarded reputation of being easy of the eye very seriously. Many are plastered in make-up, even during the day, and cosmetic enhancements seem common and certainly noticeable. While many places have some sort of walk of fame, Cartagena has a tribute to Miss Colombias. Unlike some parts of the world where such contests aren’t really in vogue nowadays, they are still all the rage around here. I once heard someone say that while the national activity of Colombia is football, the number two sport is either cycling or beauty contests! The tour guide told the famous story of when during Miss World or Miss Universe or whatever, the presenter announced the wrong winner, mistakenly awarding first prize to Miss Colombia. This caused some sort of Colombian national outrage especially when during a written apology the country was misspelled as Columbia!

For the final night of the tour we all went out for a meal and a few drinks in the Getsemani area. I’d walked around here during the day and not much seemed to be happening. However it comes alive at night with lots of bars, outside tables, buskers and people simply hanging around the plazas with friends while enjoying a beer and a dance. There was a nice mix of locals and tourists, old and young people. We finished up in an excellent bar with a courtyard beer garden, set in ruins of an old colonial building.

Cartagena walls and clock tower
One of the plazas
The new town from the old walls
Walking through the old city
Fernando Botero sculpture
Miss Colombias