Cartagena’s Old City Walls

“Once you have traveled, the voyage never ends but is played out over and over again in the quietest chambers. The mind can never break off from the journey.”

Pat Conroy

Centuries ago, Cartagena was a very important city for the Spanish Empire, as it had gold, gems, unique crops and slaves which were all worth a lot of money. The city was a good target for pirates, French and English, people like Sir Francis Drake. In 1586, construction started on a wall that encased the old city and the building didn’t finish until 200 years later. The old wall is 11 km long and it is also a few meters thick in some areas.

The walls were built to keep out the attacks on the city and is one of the best preserved walls in South America. The city was invaded by French Huguenot nobleman Jean-Francis Roberval, Robert Baal, Sir Francis Drake in 1586, Sir John Hawkins in 1578 and in Jean-Bernard Desjeans and Jean Ducasse in 1697.

The wall is quite magnificent, my brother, Max and I, along with my best friend Siobhan had a few pictures taken on the wall when we went to Cartagena, the wall was well preserved even though it was hundreds of years old.

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Kids sitting in a crenel/embrasure in the old city wall.

It takes about 2 hours to walk the old city walls.  Its particularly popular with locals to walk the walls at sunset.

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Tourists and locals lingering on the walls.

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The bastions were used by soldiers to defend the city by enabling defensive fire in different directions.

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The old city walls still have a lot of the cannons in place, that were used to defend the city.

The old city walls that surround Cartagena, vary in both thickness and height.  The walls were adapted to allow for roads and so a footbridge became necessary, so you can walk the old walls.

Written and researched by Ava, photos and captions by mum

Cartagena’s Plazas and Streets

Plaza Santo Domingo

This plaza is positioned in the core of the Old City. It is one of the most popular places in Cartagena. In the plaza you are able to see the Botero Statue (the legend is that touching the breasts of the sculpture ‘Gertrudis’ will bring long love relationships) and the oldest and most stunning church in Cartagena which is what the plaza was named after. Plaza Santo Domingo is a great place to escape the sun and heat, if you are there for Sunset you will see shops openings up and local musicians playing. There are also salsa clubs around the plaza. I thought it was a very interesting and beautiful plaza.

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Researched and written by Max

Pizza La Plaza

After a long bus trip from Santa Marta, no lunch and a 2 hour walking tour, everyone was tired and hungry.  So we walked to the closest place from where our tour ended for dinner, the Plaza Santo Domingo and decided that one of the restaurants would do for dinner.  Outdoor eating and relaxing with a cold drink sounded good and the kids liked the idea of pizza, so Pizza La Plaza it was.

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While waiting for our food, we were entertained by local musicians who seemed to know all the hits and happily played Andrew’s request of the Gypsy King’s Bolero and others.  There was a bit of a stream of vendors selling jewellery and other trinkets.  The kids enjoyed different juices and the parents cold wine and beer.

Our six large pizzas arrived and we did just get through it. I have to say they weren’t the best pizzas, they were bland and had very little sauce on them. But, we were in a very central, atmospheric location with music.  Price wise also a bit on the expensive side, but again you are paying for location.  There are plenty of cheaper restaurants around if you are not too tired to look.

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Written by Karen

Botero Sculpture

Fernando Botero, a Colombian artist, was born in Medellin, Colombia in 1932 and is famously known for his voluptuous people, animals and objects that he paints and creates sculptures of.

Although Botero comes from Colombia he moved to New York in the 1960s and later relocated to Florence, Italy in the 1980s, where he now does his sculptures.

In the Plaza Santo Domingo, opposite Iglesia Santo Domingo, is Botero’s bronze statue called, ‘La Gordita’, shipped from Florence, Italy in 2000 as a gift to the city. As you walk around Cartagena there are lots of street vendors selling imitation Botero works.  I thought his work was interesting especially his one of the Mona Lisa.

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Interesting Fact: Botero’s daughter who manages his work, rents her Cartagena home out for $3, 500 US a night, including a personal chef.

Written by Ava and Mum, Photos by mum

Iglesia de Santa Domingo

Click here to read about the blog on the Santa Domingo Church

Plaza de la Aduana

Plaza de la Aduana also called Customs House Plaza, is both the oldest and largest plaza in the whole of Cartagena. The plaza contains many beautiful colonial buildings with red rooves and elaborate wooden balconies.  A statue of Columbus can also be seen in this plaza, although he never set foot in Cartagena, Colombia was named after him. The statue was donated by an Italian immigrant who worked and lived in Cartagena and it is a replica of a statue in Genoa, Italy, where Colombus was born. It is quite an interesting and beautiful plazas.

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Researched and written by Max

Saint Pedro Claver Church (near the plaza)

Click here to read the blog on the church

Plaza de La Coches

The first name that the plaza had was Plaza Del Juez because where a banking corporation is today, a lawyer who went by the name of Francisco de Santa Cruz, stayed as judge to those who came to the city with the sole purpose to swear in the new governor, Don Juan de Badillio replaced Don Pedro de Heredia who was the founder of this great city. Don Juan de Badillio changed the name of the square to one that suited the new function of it, which was to sell African blacks who would be then sold as slaves, he named it The Slave’s Place. In 1585 he renamed the plaza The Square of Merchants because many merchants established in it. Later it was renamed The Plaza de la Yerba and then finally The Plaza de los Coches, named because of a law that allowed cars to park in front of the candy portal. In the candy portal many sweets are sold. It is a very interesting plaza with a big history.

 

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In the triangular plaza is a statue of the cities founder, Pedro de Heredia

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On one side of the plaza is an arched walkway with overhanging timber balconies.

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The women from San Basilio de Palenque selling their fruit in the plaza.

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Each arch in El Portal de los Dulces is an independently owned sweet stand.  The stands contain glass jars filled with a variety of sweets from different flavours of brittle, cocadas, coconut cookies, chocolate balls to other fruit flavoured treats.

Researched and written by Max

Torre del Reloj (Clock Tower)

click here to go to blog on the clock tower.

Plaza de la Bolivar

Originally called Plaza de Inquisition because of the placement of the Palace of Inquisition in the Plaza, it was renamed after Simon Bolivar after he helped them get rid of the Spanish rule. The plaza has many attractive colonial buildings that have very nice balconies. In the centre of the plaza is a statue of Simon Bolivar, as said before he was one of the significant people who helped the local South Americans to be free of the Spanish law. This plaza is quite a good plaza with interesting history and magnificent houses. – Max

 

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Late afternoon sees the local men gathering to play chess in the shade of the overhanging trees in Bolivar Plaza

Written and researched by Max

Palace of Inquisition

Click here to read the blog about the palace of Inquisition

Metropolitan Cathedral Basilica (Cathedral de Cartagena)

Click here to read the blog about the Metropolitan Cathedral Basilica

Plaza de la Proclamation or Proclamation Square

The plaza was originally called the square of the cathedral. It was later named Plaza del Cabildo. After that it was named Plaza del Palacioo only to be later renamed Plaza de la Proclamation on the important day when the town was gathered for people to sign the independence arc. The importance of the independence arc is this, at the end of the first decade in the 19th century people of Cartagena were divided between two groups the Toledistas and the Piñeristas groups. The Toledistas group was led by José María García de Toledo and the Piñeristas group was led by two brothers, Germán and Gabriel Gutierrez de Piñeres. These two groups fought over the presidency of the supreme government board, which was made to guide the fate of the Cartagena de Indias. The position for president was won by José María García de Toledo. The brother, in infuriation decided they would create a campaign to earn the peoples’ supports, their aim was the complete independence from Spain.

The brothers decided to gather people pressure the declaration of complete independence. On November the 11th of 1811 the supreme government board met at the government palace and discussed themes, the declaration of complete independence was proposed by Germán Gutierrez de Piñeres who was a member of the supreme government board. The mob that was waiting outside the Government palace entered it and managed to get those gathered to sign the Act of Absolute Independence from Spain

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One of the brightly coloured buildings in Proclamation Plaza.

San Basilio de Palenque

The Afro-Colombian woman dressed in many different colours, you will see them on the streets of Cartagena selling fruit in the main squares. These women are incredibly significant, they will be on the covers of guide books, magazines and will pose with tourists as souvenir pictures. They are however from a village which is known as the first free slave town in the Americas, the town is San Basilio de Palenque. This village is in the foothills of a small mountain range, Montes de Maria, south of Cartagena. Most people do not go there as it may not be in the guidebooks or that they don’t bother taking the time, this village however is one of the most historical places in the Americas. The village was founded in the 16th century by Benkos Biohó, who was a former African king, he was sold as a slave but escaped in 1599 from the port of Cartagena. He ran to the swamps south of Cartagena and then he made an army of other escaped slave and together they dominated the area around the small mountain range. Biohó enabled more escapes from Cartagena, in 1605 Biohó was proposed a peace treaty by the governor of Cartagena, the treaty was finalised in 1612 only to be violated by the Spanish in 1619. The Spanish captured Biohó and he was hanged in 1621. He now has a statue in the main square of Palenque that has him reaching with his right arm towards Africa, he has broken chains on his wrists. The village grew slowly with its small group but in 1691 the Spanish Crown issued a Royal Decree that freed the Africans in San Basilio de Palenque from slavery. This made San Basilio de Palenque the first free slave town. The village now has about 4,000 inhabitants.

The language the Afro-Colombian people speak in the village is the only creole lange in Latin America with a lexical Spanish basis and grammatical characteristics of Bantu languages. According to the traditions of the village, music plays very important role in culture. The Palenquera music is joyful and is expressed with dances, there are many dances in the culture.

The women from San Basilio de Palenque are happy to pose for a photo, just expect to pay a tip for the privilege. 

Written and researched by Max

The Streets of Cartagena

Cartagena’s streets are not only filled with a vibrant palette of coloured buildings but many have balconies draped with bougainvillea in hues of pink, red, white and purple.  The streets lined with two story houses once belonged to noble and wealthy merchant families.  Families that lived in Cartagena in both one and two story homes were relatively wealthy, those who couldn’t afford to live there, lived in Getsemani and other areas and could only enter the city to work via a drawbridge. (which was open at night to stop entrance) The buildings reflect Spanish, particularly Andalusian architecture.  Colonist used adobe, stone and wood to create terraced roofs, arches, balconies, inner courtyards and facades, reminiscent of Europe. A lot of the homes have now been converted to boutique hotels, upmarket shops and rentals.

 

Lolly hued homes.  The aldaba on the door and number of brass buttons indicated a families status in Cartagena.

 

 

Balconies enveloped in greenery

 

Bougainvillea laden houses

Cartagena’s narrow cobbled streets is also home to an eclectic array of vendors selling traditional foods, limonada, juices and tinto (sweet coffee) from their carts and San Basilio de Palenque women selling their fruits.  You can also find replica Botera artwork outside the Cathedrals and along the streets and well as makeshift stands selling jewellery and other trinkets in the plazas and sidewalks. 

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It is very easy to spend hours wandering the streets and yet feeling as though there is still so much more left to explore.

Written by Karen

Historic Cartagena Buildings

Torre del Reloj (Clock Tower)

You can easily see Torre del Reloj, the clock tower, from many points in Cartagena. Torre del Reloj, also called the Boca del Puente which mean ‘the mouth of the bridge ‘ and it linked Getsamani with the old city by a draw bridge.  The draw bridge was lowered to allow the poor into the city to work during the day and opened at night to keep them out. The clock tower had two rooms either side of the main entrance, which were a chapel and a gun room, but now they are entrance arches. 

In 1874, the clock was switched with a clock from the USA and then replaced again 63 years later with a Swiss clock. The clock tower, or Torre del Reloj is a beautiful clock tower, at night it is lit up.  We were there just after Christmas, so the arches were also decorated with Christmas lights.  I think the clock tower is probably one of the most beautiful buildings in Cartagena.

Researched and written by Ava

Theater Adolfo Mejia

On the ruins of Church of La Merced a theater was built (Theater Adolfo Mejia) in 1905. The church was closed for renovations in 1988 but 10 years later it was re-opened and is still used for other cultural events. The theater is meant to be styled like a European opera house. The theater was built like a horseshoe but of course there are balconies and boxes. There are also sculptures and stairs inside made of Italian marble.

The theater was established in 1911 to celebrate the 100th year of independence in Cartagena. Some of the materials to make the theater consist of Portuguese wood, Italian marble and the roof’s inside was painted and decorated beautifully by Enrique Grau. We didn’t go in the theater but we stopped and sat outside it when we were enjoying the end of our walking tour. 

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Researched and written by Ava

Las Bovedas

We visited Las Bovedas, which originally was built between 1792 and 1796 and used as dungeons in the city.  The Spanish later used them to store provisions and munitions before using them again as a jail.  Today they are used for shops filled with artistic bracelets and paintings. I quite enjoyed looking around the shops, at the bracelets, necklaces, hats, paintings and many other beautiful souvenirs.

Researched and written by Ava

Castillo San Felipe de Barajas – 12/1/2018

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Castillo san Felipe de Barajas, (I’m just going to write it as “the fort” or else my fingers will cramp up) was built in 1536 to defend the city, after several raids on the undefended gold-hotspot led to death and loss of wealth. Guards were posted 24 hours to defend the city, with cannons atop as both a display of power and for deadly attacks.

Views from the top show that it overlooks the city and the sea, to defend from pirate and naval attacks. Our guide spoke very accented English, so I couldn’t tell you much of his story, but I can give you the gist.

The tunnels winding through the fort were short, and narrow. Many led up at a carefully measured angle, so that soldiers defending the tunnels from above could shoot down and hit attackers’ chests, but attackers at the bottom would only be able to shoot the defenders’ feet, if that. This reminded me a bit of the European castle stairway trick, where attackers couldn’t attack with their sword arm because of the spiral staircase’s direction.   Interspersed in the walls of the tunnels, every meter or two, were little nooks where soldiers were posted, to ambush would-be-invaders with a well-placed bayonet stab or shot.  As you can see in the photos, the tunnels were very cramped and claustrophobic, and I had to tilt my head a bit to fit. The light at the end of the tunnel never looked so inviting.

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The Fort was set in tiers, kind of like a Mexican pyramid and as can be seen, the walls to each level were steep and the fort was very high off the ground.

A more defensive and imposing fort would be hard to find in South America.

Finally, having reached the top of the fort, we stopped for a stupendous view of the city and the cannons placed to defend the city. Various guard spots adorned the walls. Many, many, many photos were taken.

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Now days, though the fort is not used, it is valued for its insight into the Cartagenian history, as well as it’s stunning juxtaposition with the evolving city around it.

Written and researched by Tristan

Naval del Caribe (Navy Museum of the Caribbean) – 12/1/2018

The Naval Museum, located in Santa Teresa Plaza, holds much of Cartagena’s marine history. The museum opened in 1988 to celebrate the 500th anniversary of the arrival of Colombus to the new world. The museum is housed in what was once a Jesuit college.  The signs were all in Spanish, so we had a tour-guide take us around the museum, speaking in heavily-accented English. Displays and diagrams showed various attacks of pirate fleets and invading privateers, a recurring theme in Cartagena’s history, due to the vast amounts of gold found shipped from Cartagena back to Spain.

Hidden tunnels, disguised forts and tall walls all showed the evolution of Cartagena to protect against these threats from the sea and as we walked through the museum, we saw the changing naval systems of Cartagena. On the top floor, we entered a submarine simulation, during which alarms, jolts and lights all traumatised and convinced me of what not to do as a career later in life. A coast guard simulation seemed much more my speed, mainly because there were no loud noises involved. We learned about Cartagena’s involvement in the Korean war, modern naval training and simply wandered around to soak up as much information as we could, while we had the time. It was an interesting tour and very educational.

Tourist information:

Opening Hours: 9 am – 5 pm, every day

Costs: Adults – $16 000, Children – under 12 – $2000 (this may change, though; our tickets were $16000 for adults, $5000 for anyone under 18)

Official Website: http://www.museonavaldelcaribe.com/

Researched and written by Tristan

Palace of Inquisition – 13/1/2018

Our last morning in Cartagena was spent at the Palace of Inquisition Museum. The museum was really on the different ways that people were tortured in Colombia, of the 800 inquisitions held in what is now the museum, none of the people were found innocent. 

 The palace is an 18th century building and very beautiful. On our guided walking tour, the previous day, we were shown the palace door and told that the more buttons (brass adornments) on the door, the more wealthy the family.  Also the Aldaba (door knocker) indicated the families background, if its a lion, like on the palace door, then it shows a military background.  If the aldaba was a fish, mermaid, seahorse it was a merchant family home or a lizard the family is from royalty.  Although the building is beautiful it conceals a dark past, it was the Court of the Holy Office and is where the Spanish Inquisition carried out their torture until Colombia became independent from Spain in 1812.

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The first building was called the secret prison and it is where heretics waited their judgement.  Torture was used to get confessions from the heretics rather than punishment.  A notice on the wall has a list of questions that the inquisitors asked the accused like What words do you pronounce when you fly? Once the confession was signed they were sentenced to death in the outside courtyard. In the outside courtyard opposite the banos, (bathrooms) in a peaceful location is the Inquisitor’s guillotine, the cause of many deaths.

The purpose of the inquisition was to get rid of threats of witchcraft, blasphemy and heresy to the Catholic Church.  Torture was carried out through the strappado, here victims had their arms tied behind their backs and suspended in the air, while weights were added.  Another method of torture used was the rack.  Other torture mechanisms housed include thumb screws, the head crusher and iron collars with spikes. 

The last person sentenced to death was in 1834, but the inquisitor’s organisation, as part of the Catholic church still exists today.

Although the museum was housed in a beautiful building and some parts of the museum were interesting, I don’t think it was particularly worth going to if you can’t read Spanish as all the signs are in Spanish.  Also there were not that many torture devices shown in the museum.

Unfortunately mum was not feeling too well and waited in the shade in the park, with the camera, so no photos from inside.

Tourist Information on Palace of Inquisition:

Opening Hours: Monday – Saturday – open 9 am – 6 pm, Sunday – open 10 am – 4 pm

Cost:  Adults – $19 000, children – $16 000

Official Website:  http://www.muhca.gov.co/

Researched and written by Max

Cartagena’s Churches

Saint Pedro Claver Church

Saint Pedro Claver Church is a beautiful church named after monk, Pedro Claver, who grew up in Spain but moved to Cartagena.  The locals refer to Pedro as ‘the slave of slaves’ as he spent most of his life caring for the slaves through growing medical herbs to help wounded, sick and dying slaves while also helping them with food and water. Pedro Claver is well known in both Cartagena and Colombia for his life work.

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The day we were in Cartagena, the church was closed as they were setting up for the last night of a classical musical festival held outside the church.   There is an adjoining church that houses in a bronze and glass case Pedro Claver’s bones.  There is a museum where you can visit the cell where Claver lived and died.  The museum signage is all in Spanish, but apparently there are local English speaking guides available at a reasonable price.

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There is also a statue just near the church of Pedro and a slave he bought.  He actually bought the slave, because Pedro couldn’t communicate with the African slaves, so his slave translated for him.  Pedro didn’t treat him like a slave.

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Unfortunately Pedro was also inflicted during an epidemic and suffered paralysis and a long, slow death after four years of decline.  He had an ex-slave tend to him, that abused and neglected him, but apparently Claver did not complain as he felt it was punishment for his sins.  A horrible death for a man who helped so many, regardless of whether they suffered leprosy or any other disease, he willingly helped.

Tourist Information on Saint Pedro Claver Church

Opening Hours: Monday to Friday – 8 am – 6 pm, Saturday and Sunday – 8 am – 6 pm

Cost: The museum is Adults – $12 000, Children – $8 000

A guide should cost about $35 000 in English for up to 7 people

Official Website: http://sanpedroclaver.co/home/

A website with a very detailed biography on Pedro can be found here: http://catholicism.org/slave-of-slaves.html

Researched and written by Ava

Iglesia de Santo Domingo

We visited the exterior of Iglesia de Santo Domingo.  It is the oldest church in Cartagena.  It was built in 1533 of straw but fire burned it down. It was rebuilt but then attacked by Sir Francis Drake in 1586 but repaired in 1588.

Inside the church is an image of Jesus on a cross and the Virgin Mary with a crown with gold and emeralds.  I think the church was quite interesting and beautiful.

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Tourist Information on Iglesia de Santo Domingo

Opening Hours: 12 pm – 8 pm

Cost: Adult – $12 000, Child – 8 000

Researched and written by Ava

Metropolitan Cathedral Basilica (Cathedral de Cartagena)

The construction of the Cathedral de Cartagena began in 1575, but was damaged before completion by cannons, when Francis Drake attacked in 1586.  The cathedral was finally completed in 1612.  it is now being renovation and will be able to open in 2019. The cathedral is beautifully lit up at night too, the cathedral was also made for the Holy Virgin Mary.

Emile Charles Carre designed the cathedral and made it a Romanesque style. The amount of bricks that were used even after it had been damaged was 1 120 000 bricks. The Metropolitan Cathedral Basilica also has a little museum of religious arts and crafts. Even though we didn’t get to go into the cathedral we could look at it from outside.

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Researched and written by Ava

 

Chiva City Tour

Prior to our trip to Cartagena we all, meaning the adults of our group, got excited about doing a chive tour.  A chiva tour you may ask.  The name ‘chiva,’ means goat,  maybe its called that because its hardy like a goat and good in tough mountainous conditions. A chiva is also called bus de escalera, meaning a bus with steps referencing the ladder to allow people to pack goods on and off the roof of the bus. But basically a chiva is a bus.  The chiva was the traditional transport through Colombia and Ecuador, carrying both people and goods through the mountainous, winding roads and in the cities, since the early 20th century.  Today chivas are still found in mountainous areas and have been given a second life as tourist buses in major cities, whether it be to see the sites or as a party bus.

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While we saw many chivas in and around Cartagena, they all have certain features in common; no windows, no doors, long wooden bench seats with an entrances at each end, a ladder to the roof and it is brightly coloured, all over.  Most chivas found in the cities will also be accompanied by music or a tour operator’s voice over the loud speaker.

As we were travelling with children we opted to do the chiva tourist tour that went to Castella di san Felipe, the Monastery of La Popa, Giant boots and some of the mansions in Grand El Cabrero.  I will start with the positives of the tour, the bus is a very cool and colourful and the kids enjoyed this component.  The guide was friendly.  Our group was a diverse mix of nationalities and ages.

Unfortunately I feel the tour fell far below our expectations.  We spent the first 45 minutes going around in circles picking up guests from hotels and at times returning to the same hotel twice.  Central meeting point would be so much more convenient and not waste precious time in Cartagena.  As our tour got underway we were told that we weren’t going to the Monastery La Popa.  One of the reasons we chose the tour was because its not safe to walk to the Monastery La Popa and on the website it advertises,

“considering the entry price to La Popa and the San Felipe fort is about 25,000 pesos alone, and the minimum cost of getting a taxi to La Popa is 20,000 pesos.. then you’ll appreciate the 55,000 peso ticket price is very good value”

Perhaps the website needs a little updating.  While the English guide did speak some English, the English portions were very small, the speakers were barely audible, so we didn’t really hear most of what he was saying.  The tour visited the Old City, which we had already done on a walking tour the previous day, it was the first stop at an Emerald Store to give a brief explanation of Colombian emeralds that we decided we would continue on our own.  We weren’t really there for a sales pitch.

So whilst the tour itself was disappointing, the Castello and bus ride in a traditional chiva was great.  Perhaps shop around for a better tour.

Chiva Tour Information

Cost: 55 000 cop per person

Tour Time: starts at 1.30 if meeting at the Subway in the Laguito neighborhood and lasts about 4 hours. 

To book via this email address: info@cartagenaconnections.com

Free Tour Cartagena

Our tour was at 4 pm and we only just arrived in Plaza Santa Teresa in time, after delays leaving Santa Marta, taxi issues etc (a long story)  The company members are dressed in bright yellow polo shirts and carry a yellow umbrella, so easily recognisable.  Our guide Manwell de Banco (hopefully the surname is spelled correctly) was very welcoming, great English and an experienced guide.  There was another tour at the same time in Spanish.

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The tour is a 2 hour walking tour, covering the history and major sites in Cartagena including the Santa Pedro Claver Church, Iglesia de Santo Domingo,  Torre del Reloj or the Clock Tower,  Museo Naval del Caribe (Caribbean Naval Museum), the Palace of Inquisitions, Plaza de la Bolivar, Plaza de la Aduana, Plaza de los Coches and many more.  Whilst it does not go into any of the churches or museums it gives you information on them and helps you get a sense of direction of where everything is located, so you can go back and explore at your own leisure.  All tours start at the Plaza Santa Teresa and ours ended at the Theater Adolfo Mejia.

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I would highly recommend the tour to give you an understanding of the history and the sites for you to come back and see.  They also offer a free Getsemani Walking Tour.

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Image: taken by Free Cartagena Tours https://www.facebook.com/freetourcartagena/photos/pcb.1543285585749129/1543285215749166/?type=3&theater

Tour Information for the Free Tour Cartagena

Tour Times: Monday to Sunday: 10 am or 4 pm in Spanish and English.  You do need to pre-book, we did it 24 hours prior.

Cost – Tour is free but tipping the guide at the end is recommended

Contact Information: 

 

Minca – La Candelaria Coffee Farm

We decided to do a day trip to Minca to visit a coffee plantation with our friends from another boat, Totem.  Its a 30 minute walk (taxi is 5000 COP) from the marina at Santa Marta to the office of the company, Cootraminca to purchase our van ticket.  The vans wait outside the office and when they are full they leave.  Our group was 10 people, so we waited about 10 minutes for an empty van big enough to hold all of us.  The trip is quite windy and takes about 45 minutes to get there.

After our arrival in Minca we decided on doing the hike to La Candelaria Coffee Farm. as they offered both coffee and cacao tours. From the van drop off point you have a short walk back up the hill before, before taking the first street on your right and walking for about 15 minutes on a relative flat road, passing restaurants, hostels, horse riding ranches and a few farms.  Before reaching the turn off for Candelaria Coffee Farm we had a dog join our group and stayed with us for most of the way up, thrilling the kids. Although the signs say that from the turn off its a 45 minute walk, it took us well over an hour to make it up the steep road.  The kids managed the hike no problems, their mother was not too happy and about 1/2 the way up I told my husband to pick me up on the way down.  I did make it up, but I’m sure I will be sore tomorrow.  An alternative to the walk is to get someone to take you up by motorcycle from the town, I wish I had known that.

After finally making it up to the farm and entering the main building we were greeted by the resident toucan, Tuki.  The kids took turns holding out their arm for Tuki to flutter on.  Tuki had a bit of a fascination with Tristan’s wristbands and kept pecking at them, which he enjoyed.  

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By the time we had recovered from our walk, looked at Tuki and enjoyed the view from the farmhouse, we were all starving. Unfortunately La Candelaria does not do lunch, unless you are staying their overnight and have pre-booked it.  So lunch had to wait.

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The farm has been in the family for nearly a 100 years and was first started by Eugenio’s (current owner) grandfather.  Eugenio conducted out coffee tour in English, first taking us to the old coffee arabica bushes.  Arabica beans are the chosen coffee plant in this area as they like to be between 1200 – 1800 m above sea level.  The coffee farms in this area have suffered in the last few years due to a roya fungus which is killing the plants, the borer worm which destroys the beans and Hurricane Matthew in 2016 which nearly wiped out the years coffee beans.  As the farms in this area are organic, the farmers have had to come up with unique, non-pesticide ways to solve the problems of the fungus and worm.  The farms are small and so they belong to the Federation der Cafeteros or the FNC, which although corrupt, does offer the farmers a way to get finance from the banks and both research facilities and scientists who have helped to solve the problem of the fungus.  Currently the scientists have found that they can crossbreed the coffee bushes from Indonesia with the Colombian ones and have a coffee bush resistant to the fungus.  The only problem is that it requires the removal of the old bushes and replacing with the new variety, which is not only expensive, but also takes time for the bushes to mature and produce the beans.  Canderalia is slowly replacing all of its bushes, so far 50% have been replaced.  Canderlaria also buys in wasp colonies which kills the worms before they can destroy all the beans.  So although coffee bean production has been very low for the farm over the last few years, they have opened up a B and B and are hopeful that production will pick up in the future.

After the coffee beans have been picked they are soaked in water for 24 hours, followed by drying, they have an oven like machine that they use in the wet season and in the dry season they are dried in the sun for a week or so.  The skins are then removed, the beans roasted and either sold as beans or ground coffee.  Most of the farm’s coffee is sold to tourists or internally in Colombia, they do hope when production increases again to be able to export their beans.  An interesting fact: Finnish are the world’s biggest coffee drinkers.  Another interesting fact: The average Colombian drinks Tinto, a sugary, watered down coffee with cheaper coffee beans.

The tour finished back in the farm house where Eugenio, ground some coffee beans and using a french press brewed some coffee, which everyone tried.  Tristan liked it so much he bough 500 gram bag and everyone else thought that although the brew was strong, it was also very smooth.  I actually don’t like the taste or smell of coffee and while I still don’t like the taste, this coffee has a delicious hint of chocolate in the smell.

Our hike down took about 45 minutes and the kids were pleased to catch up with the dog who had escorted us up, waiting at the bottom.  It was about 4 pm when we got down so we grabbed a snack of empanadas and papas rellenas (my favourite) before our return van trip home.

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We enjoyed our day trip but it was a fairly long, exhausting day and rushed, but there are plenty of options with hostels to stay a night or a few and do hiking trips to the lost city and other farms.  Minca has a bit of a hippie feel and there are plenty of young backpackers who head there for hiking, as well as older people looking for the relaxing experience.

Tourist Information for El Paraiso de Tuki or in English The Paradise of Tuki (Candelaria Coffee Farm)

Tours:

  • Coffee tour costs 20 000 COP pp and you need a minimum of 2 people. Tour lasts one hour and you will do a tour of the process of making the organic coffee from the bush through to grinding coffee and tasting a cup.
  • Cacao tour costs 20 000 COP pp and you need a minimum of 2 people. Tour lasts 1 hours includes an explanation of the Cacao plant, making chocolate and sampling a hot chocolate.

HILO (Candelaria Farm Coffee) products:

  • 250 g of HILO coffee – 15 000 COP
  • 500 g of HILO coffee – 20 000 COP
  • Honey – 15 000 COP
  • 250 g of HILO Cacao – 15 000 COP

Transport to Minca:  We went Cootraminca, located on the streets Calle 12 and Carrera 9.  There is a small ticket office, tickets cost 8 000 COP per person.  The vans leave when they are full.  The drivers have a white shirt with the company logo on it and there is usually an empty or partially filled van waiting for more passengers.

Official Website: https://www.elparaisodetukibnb.com/