The narrow lanes and pleasant plazas of Cartagena's historic, walled center are dotted by stoic stone churches and colorful mansions—vestiges of the Colonial era that made Cartagena’s Old City worthy of its title as UNESCO World Heritage Site. During this three-hour Cartagena Old City Tour, we'll dive into the heart of the city with a local historian to gain an overview of the layout and history of this place—from the Spanish colonial era to today's post-civil war awakening. Together, we'll delve into how the city's identity was informed by its unique blend of indigenous, Spanish, and African roots, its use as a major port and fortification, and what life is like today in this seaside city.
Founding the "Heroic" City
We'll begin our Cartagena Old City Tour in Plaza de Los Coches, where we’ll begin by looking back to the city's founding by Pedro de Heredia in 1533. Very early on, Cartagena was chosen as the main port of South America for bringing goods to the colonies in the New World. When Spanish conquistadors arrived in Cartagena, they sought out the riches of the new world, but also to conquer the recently discovered continent—a goal made more complicated due to an indigenous settlement called Calamarí in the same location. Quickly enough, the Spanish found the riches they sought in the tombs of the Calamarí, letting them know they were not far from the mines that could make them rich.
The Dual History of Cartagena's Old City
With the discovery of gold, silver, and emeralds in their new world, the Spanish Crown grew needy for both a labor force to work the mines and protection from pirates who would be envious of the vast Spanish wealth.As we enter Plaza de Aduanas, we will discuss Cartagena’s dark past as the base for the slave trade, where, ironically the UNESCO plaque is proudly displayed, declaring the city of “oustanding universal value.” We continue this line of thought at the Santuary of San Pedro Claver, named after the priest known to be the “slave of the slaves” for his work defending the healthcare and spirituality of the newly arrived Aficans. We may then take a short walk along the old city wall, the ideal location to discuss how invasion attempts were thwarted by the city’s excellent fortifications, known today as the eminent example of military architecture in Latin America. Gazing out to sea, we'll be able to assess the city's strategic geographical importance, as well as imagine those turbulent times.
Note, we also offer an immersive experience in the Afro-Caribbean neighborhood of San Francisco on our Cartagena Barrio Tour
, which gives a contemporary twist to our discussion of African heritage in Cartagena.
From Inquisition to Independence
We now turn our attention on our Cartagena Old City Tour to the role of the church at Plaza Bolivar. We may take a brief look at the Gold Museum to understand the power plays between the indigenous, the Spanish Crown, and the Catholic Church. The discussion continues at the Inquisition Palace, a place of oppression and tourture for the accused “non faithful,” established in 1610 by the Crown and the Catholic Church as a result of their rising concerns that the African slaves and the new merchant class would start “contaminating” Catholicism in the area. After taking a look at the Cathedral, we'll bring our conversation to the topic of independence, which happened twice for the city of Cartagena. It was not until the arrival of great liberator of South America Simón Bolivar, for whom the plaza recieves its name, did Cartagena maintain its liberty alongside the majority of the Colombian territory. The traders who benefitted from independence began building lavish mansions to exhibit their wealth and business exploits, which we can admire as we venture further into the city, as our conversation turns to the life and development of Colombian society. We bring our walk to a close with stops at the Adolfo Mejía Theater, Fernandez de Madrid Park, and finally Plaza San Digeo to get a glimpse of modern daily life in Cartagena.
As we discover the city's history on our Cartagena Old City Tour, we'll also learn about its current life, culture, and traditions. We'll have an excellent grasp on the foundation, evolution, and independence of Cartagena, in addition to newfound insight into Afro-Caribbean culture in Colombia, providing a distinct lens with which to understand the city. We may stop in a museum with a small entry fee or sit for a locally brewed coffee to bring the narrative alive.
Does this walk go inside any museums or other historic sites?
Depending on your group's interests, the docent may recommend to enter the Museum of Gold or the Inquisition Palace. Pease put any specific requests in the notes section when booking.
Why does the walk start at 8:30am or 3:30 PM?
Due to the severe heat of the city in the afternoon, we have found it to be best to run this walk in early morning or late afternoon. Other times may be available if booking a private walk.