Our first port was Cartagena, Colombia. Colombia has coastlines on both the north Pacific Ocean and the Caribbean Sea. It has 1,993 miles of coastline. It is the 2nd most biodiverse country in the world. The main language is Spanish along with 68 ethnic languages. It achieved its independence from Spain in 1819. The population of Colombia is 50.88 million.
Our port of call was Cartagena, population 914,552. It is a major port located on the northern Caribbean coast of Colombia and has an important history linking it to the West Indies route during world exploration. It is one of the country’s oldest settlements and a UNESCO site.
We booked a Holland American excursion which included a Hop On Hop Off bus which included a guided tour of the colonial walled city Centro Amurallado (Old Town). The bus picked us up early and we immediately experienced a Cartagena traffic jam.
During the walking tour the vendors peddling their wares and the occasional beggars were relentless. No thank you or ignoring them didn’t stop their efforts to get us to buy things or give money. Our guide warned us not to have a picture with any of the colorfully dressed women with a basket of fruit on their head. They expect to be paid for their picture. I managed to sneak in a couple pictures when they weren’t looking. They try to talk you into a picture and then expect payment.
The streets are cobbled and you have to be very careful where you walk. Potholes, cracks in sidewalks and unexpected holes are waiting to trip you up. No one worries about getting sued here. You are expected to watch out for yourself. You fall and get injured, your problem, your fault.
The outside of the Palace of Inquisition Palace had a Spanish architecture depicting the country’s history of the Spanish Empire from 1492-1975.
LA Gorda “the Fat One” statue in Plaza Santo Domingo is located where there was once a slave trade market. Our guide told us it was supposed to be good luck to rub the statue, especially the backside.
As part of our tour we went to an emerald museum. Colombia supplies about 90% of the emeralds sold in the world. They had a video and exhibits on how emeralds are mined. And of course as part of the museum they had a gift shop where they hoped you would buy emeralds (we didn’t).
At this point the walking tour was over and we decided to continue on our own while the others got back on the Hop On Hop Off bus to continue the bus part of the tour. Bill’s sharp eye had seen a Hard Rock Cafe and we walked back there to get a shirt. Bill collects Hard Rock Cafe shirts and he has a nice collection from around the world.
Next we caught another Hop On Hop Off bus and rode to the Castillo de San Felipe de Barajas, a fortress built in 1536 by the Spanish. It is built in a triangular shape on top of a hill with eight batteries. In 1984 it was listed as a UNESCO world heritage site along with the walled city center.
We paid $10 each to visit the fort. It was a very long steep uphill walk to the top where we were rewarded with fantastic views of the city. This was actually the hottest day of our seventeen day cruise and the walk really wore us out. By the time we walked back down the hill we were really feeling the heat and our water was almost empty. Across the street was a very small family market. We went inside and bought some Diet Coke and a few extra cans to take back on the ship.
At this point it was getting late in the day and we were concerned whether the next Hop On Hop Off bus would get us back in time before the ship left! Knowing a ship was in port, the bus company had positioned “ambassadors” at several of the stops. The ambassador at this stop was very helpful and called for a bus headed directly back to the ship to detour and pick us up. We made it back in plenty of time. By the way, throughout the cruise in most ports, we noticed local ambassadors, extra security or police presence wherever we went. We always felt very safe. With tourism being the #1 source of income for these countries, the last thing they want is for a tourist to have a bad experience.
Back at the port before boarding the ship we had some time to visit the Cartagena Port Oasis, a 1,000 square meter garden with peacocks, toucans and macaws to name just a few. They were obviously used to being around people. Of course there were several souvenir shops to visit for last minute shopping before heading back to the ship.
At dinner we enjoyed sharing a table with three other couples, one couple from Calgary, Canada, another from San Diego and the third couple was the same couple from Denver, Colorado as on an earlier day. Always interesting to see who we will end up with when we say “we will take a shared table”. It was fun listening as everyone shared stories of our day in Cartagena, especially when we each went on excursions to different places.
Next up: Our day transiting the Panama Canal