Context, Contrast + Color: Impressions of Cartagena

Context, Contrast + Color: Impressions of Cartagena

After leaving Santa Marta, and after making a short pitstop in Barranquilla, our 4-hour bus ride to Cartagena begins to draw to a close as we reach the outskirts of the city. On the edge of the highway, black Colombians have established swamp-side communities where homes are made from tin and tarp, adjacent to yards littered with heaps of trash.

Although nighttime is approaching, there aren’t any glowing lights or flickering television screens glaring from windows; these homes have no windows – just doors opened wide enough for a cool breeze to pass through to the shadowy darkness inside. Residents sit on porches chatting, neighbors come and go about their evening routines, and I look through my bus window imagining what my life would be like if I lived here.

Our bus whizzes past, but the unmistakable expressions of hopelessness imprinted on the faces of these swamp-dwelling locals (who look like me) don’t escape me; they’ve etched an indelible impression in my memory.

But we’re not here to see them; perhaps that’s why the bus drives so quickly past. This is the Cartagena no one writes about in guide books or glossy travel magazines. This kind of poverty doesn’t attract tourists’ dollars.

We drive deeper into the city, stopping to drop riders off at their rented vacation penthouses in Bocagrande’s towering condo complexes; a stark contrast from the communities we’ve just left behind.

As traffic slows, I wonder if our driver will drop us off in front of our hotel located inside the walled city. I soon get my answer when our driver drops us off outside of one of many of the wall’s entrances and points towards the direction we need to walk to get to our hotel.

I’m not mesmerized like I thought I’d be as we enter into this colonial slice of Cartagena that’s earned it a UNESCO World Heritage Site designation. The sky darkens as we try to navigate our way through the narrow roads, stopping at random convenience stores and shops in hopes that someone will be able to point us in the right direction of our hotel and that we’ll be able to communicate in light of our broken Spanish and excessive gesturing. Eventually, we find our way.

After getting settled, we venture out for dinner and are delighted to get an amuse-bouche of that certain something that lures so many visitors here. During our post-dinner stroll, horse-drawn carriages clickety-clack past us, salsa music drifts up the road from an unknown source, people are still coming and going. I’m smitten.

But I don’t really fall in love until the next morning during our tour inside the walls. Admittedly, I don’t hear much of what our guide is saying; my senses are on overdrive as I find myself reminiscing about places like Old San Juan, New Orleans, and even Paraty. But Cartagena is different. Behind its walls, the city oozes charm, character and color, and there’s not a picture around that can adequately convey the feel of this place. Still, I try; I can’t put my camera down…

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Home of the Cartagena International Film Festival

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Iglesia de San Pedro Claver is named after a Spanish-born priest who, after moving to Cartagena, became an advocate for the humane treatment of African slaves there. In his journal, he referred to himself as “Pedro Claver, slave of the slaves forever.”

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Plaza de los Coches (Square of the Carriages)
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A view from behind the Clock Tower Gate in Plaza de los Coches
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A statue of Pope John Paul II which was erected to commemorate the pope’s visit to Cartagena in the mid-1980s.

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Exploring the inside of the Cathedral of Cartagena, the episcopal see of the Archbishop of Cartagena de Indias, one of the oldest in the Americas.

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Balconies for days…

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The Museo Histórico Cartagena de Indias features exhibits highlighting the Spanish Inquisition

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Beautiful doors
Tickled...
Tickled…

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PINNABLE

 

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Have you explored the walled city of Cartagena? Is it on your list?

  • Christine St.Vil

    Beautiful photos! We’ve never visited but we have some friends that recently moved to Columbia (can’t remember city) and we’re planning to visit them next year.

    • Thanks, Christine. Be sure to add Cartagena to your itinerary next year…it’s a hard place not to fall in love with!

  • I’ve never been but this place is absolutely gorgeous!

    • Cartagena is stunning. I hope you find your way there soon!

  • Kirstin

    I love the brightly colored buildings, they remind me a little of Curacao and Miami’s brightly colored hotels. Gorgeous pictures, makes me want to visit. The jewelry vendor would have gotten a lot of my money. lol

    • I have yet to visit Curacao, but I’m always intrigued by the colorful buildings I see in pictures. And yes, it was hard to resist the urge to to go nuts at the jewelry vendor. But at this point during our trip, we still had a good two weeks left of travel so I was trying to go easy on our budget. Otherwise… lol! 😉

  • Tia @ financiallyfitandfab

    I’ve never been to Cartegena; however your posts makes me want to find a flight deal! The buildings remind me of Panama City.

    • Thanks, Tia! Yes, the buildings are somewhat reminiscent of Casco Viejo in Panama City. But I think Cartagena takes the cake; it’s truly special. I hope you’ll find your way there soon!

  • Great recap of Columbia. You know they actually had a glitch deal that I slept on last week for $151 and I blinked and it was gone…still salty about it.

    • Thanks, Kiwi! Don’t worry, your next glitch deal is right around the corner, so get ready!

  • Amazing! You pics are beautiful!! You are an awesome story teller and I just kept scrolling back through a couple of times to look at your pics again and again!!

    • Thanks so much, Ty! I’m always working on becoming a better storyteller, so I’m glad you liked this one.

  • Kalilah Wright

    Wow wow wow! What a hidden gem! This city is beautiful and your blog post captured every intricate detail of tour voyage! I’m in love. That’s for a great read and making me feel like I was in Beaitiful Spanish country for the night! ❤️

    • Thanks so much for coming along for the journey, Kalilah! 🙂

  • Kemkem

    Absolutely stunning images Dana. The colors just pop, especially the fruit stand one. I hope to visit at some point as l think like you, a great place for photography. The old center looks like it could be in Europe even. Love it! Glad you guys ended up going, even if your parents decided not to 🙂

    • Thanks, Kemkem. Cartagena is a photographer’s dream. Literally, everything is so picture perfect. I tried to put my camera down, but I just couldn’t. I was snapping photos impulsively – lol. Too bad my parents missed out!

  • You captured this trip so beautifully! Ah-mazing photos!

  • MJ

    Your pics are amazing. I see lots of images that remind me of Jamaica. I want to learn more about the black Colombians.

    • Thanks, MJ! I’m definitely interested in learning more about black Colombian culture as well. There are so many layers to Colombian culture that I hope to explore on a return trip.

  • Shari Neal Williams

    Your pics reminded me a lot of Old San Juan & New Orleans, also. Love your writing and beautiful photos!

    • Thanks so much, Shari! I’m always working on my writing (and photography), so I appreciate your compliment!

  • Nadeen

    Definitely on my list! The colors and the architecture of course remind me of Cuba and Puerto Rico. I love the history, character and quaintness of cities like this. Great photos!!

    • I agree – Cartagena is full of character! Thanks, Nadeen. 😉

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