Posted by: adventuressetravels | October 21, 2011

Cartagena: The Emerald City

On the northern coast of South America lies a magnificent walled city with the warm Caribbean lapping at its gates.  With cobblestone streets, open courtyards, and fantastic shopping, Colombia’s Cartagena de Indias harkens back to the glory days of colonial Spain.  With a little something for everyone, this cultural capital is brimming with museums, tales of pirate attacks, and dance performances.  Or if you prefer, the hot and humid weather is perfect for swimming in the azure waters of the surrounding sea.

Exploring  the Walled City

The stone walls and city center have been declared a UNESCO World Heritage site, and rightly so.  The impressive fortifications around the city were built to protect this important port from the infamous pirates of the Caribbean.

This beautifully preserved city center, with its winding streets and charming little shops, harkens back to another era.  Strolling through the narrow streets, the traveler will walk past brightly painted buildings topped with red tiled roofs and having heavy oak doors adorned with ornate knockers.  Grape vines run up the walls, while white balconies dripping with flowers will capture the imagination.   Walking into one of the many airy squares resplendent with fountains, travelers will be charmed by the Spanish influence and the old-world atmosphere.

But this city center has so much more to offer: practically all of Cartagena’s historic sites are inside the city walls.  Someone could easily spend days just visiting museums, soaking up  culture attending dance exhibitions, and fantastic street performances or taking a relaxing carriage ride.  When and if one gets tired of all of these diversions, there is world-class shopping to be found.

In the green

This fabulous city is known by many nicknames: the Capital of the Caribbean, the Door to the Americas, the walled city; but I like to think of it as the real Emerald City, not the one in the Wizard of Oz.   As the world’s largest emerald producer, Seattle’s got nothing on Cartagena, Colombia’s emerald capital.

Emerald fabricas, (factories) or jewelry stores, line the streets.  These “factories” take the raw stones and produce fantastic rings, necklaces, and bracelets that are beautiful works of art.  Some of the stores even tout themselves emerald museums, but the savvy traveler should know what they are getting into.  If a Colombian approaches one on the street asking to come in and see an emerald “museum,” it’s actually just a jewelry store.

But these jewelry stores are amazing, and the prices are unbelievably low.  Lovely emerald rings set in silver are around $30 or $40 dollars!  The stores will even resize rings for free.  Remember, darker greens and clearer gems are more valuable.  Savvy shoppers may need to do a little bargaining, but the persistent traveler is sure to come away with a small fortune in gorgeous gemstones that are certain to make their friends green with envy.

I recommend:

Lucy Jewelry

Centro, Calle Santo Domingo

#3-19 Edificio Cuesta Tel: (57 5) 664 4255

Down and Dirty

About 25 miles outside of Cartagena lies nature’s spa – a mud volcano.  Truly one of nature’s gifts, this 50-foot volcano produces a mineral-rich healing mud.  For $17 Los Pinos ecotourism agency offers a half-day trip to Totumo mud volcano and a tasty lunch on the beach.  The volcano is decadence itself.

One climbs down into the crater of creamy mud and luxuriates in the healing bath.  For just a few dollars more (or however much you wants to tip), visitors can lay back in the mud and treat themselves to a full body massage. For traveler who likes mineral-rich soaks, relaxing massages and petal-soft skin this excursion is an absolute must.

Go to the Beach!

In the hot tropical climate, what traveler wouldn’t long for a dip in the beckoning Caribbean?  If you are short on time, it’s easy to simply walk a few blocks outside of the city walls.  There you can find protected beaches and cool off in the welcoming sea water.  But if you have a day to spend, phenomenal beaches are just a short trip away.

The white sands of Playa Blanca, a short bus or taxi ride south of the city, are stunning.  With shockingly turquoise waters and brightly-colored tropical fish flitting about in the waves, no wonder this isolated beach is known as one of Colombia’s nicest stretches of sand.

For travelers who have their sea legs, just two hours away by boat are the Rosario Islands.  A national park, the pristine beaches and aquamarine water make these little islands a veritable paradise.  For the traveler who likes nature, the islands also have a large outdoor aquarium with sharks, dolphin shows, and an array of tropical fish.

When to Go

Really no matter what time of year you plan your trip, you are sure have a wonderful time.  However, the best times to go to Cartagena are July 21- early October or mid-January through late March.

The savvy traveler should try to avoid high seasons and rainy months.  Everyone in Colombia knows Cartagena is the place to be, so during holidays half the country fills the beaches around Cartagena.  Moreover, everything from food to housing is then at least double the price.  15 December to January 15, June 20- July 20 and holy (Easter) week are Colombian holidays and high season in Cartagena.  It’s also best to steer clear of rainy months: April, May, October and November.



  1. Your Grandmother Shirley’s birthstone was emerald, she loved them, & that is why our trucks color is green.
    Fun travel log!

  2. wow, I wanna go.

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