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Cartagena,

silversea caribbean cruise balconies leading to the stunning cathedral in cartagena colombiaWhen it was founded in 1533 by Spanish conquistador Pedro de Heredia, Cartagena was the only port on the South American mainland. Gold and silver looted from indigenous peoples passed through here en route to Spain, making Cartagena an obvious target for pirates. The most destructive of these was Sir Francis Drake, who in 1586 torched 200 buildings, including the cathedral, and made off for England with more than 100,000 gold ducats. Cartagena's magnificent city walls and countless fortresses were erected to protect its riches, as well as to safeguard the most important African slave market in the New World. The Ciudad Amurallada attracts many to Cartagena, but it actually comprises a small section of this city of half a million. Most of Cartagena's hotels and restaurants are in the Bocagrande district, an elongated peninsula where high-rise hotels overlook a long, gray-sand beach.

Dining

Café San Pedro


Although it serves Colombian fare, this restaurant's eclectic menu also includes dishes from Thailand, Italy, and Japan. You can also drop by to have a drink and to watch the activity on the plaza from one of the outdoor tables.

Paco's

Heavy beams, rough terra-cotta walls, wooden benches, and tunes from an aging Cuban band are the hallmarks of this downtown eatery. Drop by for a drink and some tapas, or try the more substantial langostinos a la sifú (lobsters fried in batter). You can sit in the dining room or outside on the Plaza Santo Domingo.

Sights

Castillo de San Felipe de Barajas


Designed by Antonio de Arévalo in 1639, the Fort of St. Philip's steep-angled brick and concrete battlements were arranged so that if part of the castle were conquered the rest could still be defended. A maze of tunnels, minimally lit today to allow for spooky exploration, still connects vital points of the fort. Notice the near-perfect acoustics in the tunnels here: Occupants could hear the footsteps of the approaching enemy. The climb is strenuous, but you'll be rewarded with some of the best views in Cartagena.

Palacio de la Inquisición


Arguably Cartagena's most visited tourist site documents the darkest period in the city's history. A baroque limestone doorway marks the entrance to the 1770 Palace of the Inquisition, the headquarters of the repressive arbiters of political and spiritual orthodoxy who once exercised jurisdiction over Colombia, Ecuador, and Venezuela. Although the museum displays benign colonial and pre-Columbian artifacts, everyone congregates on the ground floor to "Eeewww!" over the implements of torture—racks and thumbscrews, to name but two.

Catedral Metropolitana


Any Latin American city centers on its cathedral and main square. Plaza de Bolívar—a statue of South American liberator Simón Bolívar stands watch over the square—is a shady place from which to admire Cartagena's 16th-century cathedral. (It's officially the "Catedral Basílica Metropolitana de Santa Catalina de Alejandria.") Construction lasted from 1577–1612. British pirates attacked and pillaged the site about halfway through the process, a fate that befell many buildings in Cartagena in those early days. The colorful bell tower and dome date from the early 20th-century. Inside is a massive gilded altar.

Museo del Oro y Arqueología

The Gold and Archaeological Museum, an institution funded and operated by Colombia's Central Bank, displays an assortment of artifacts culled from the Sinús, an indigenous group that lived in this region 2,000 years ago.

Cerro de la Popa

For spectacular views of Cartagena, ascend this hill around sunset. Because of its strategic location, the 17th-century monastery here intermittently served as a fortress during the colonial era. It now houses a museum and a chapel dedicated to the Virgen de la Candelaria, Cartagena's patron saint. Taxis charge around 10,000 pesos one way to bring you here—have them wait—and the sight can be included on one of Cartagena's popular chiva (horsedrawn carriage) tours. Under no circumstances should you walk between the city center and the hill; occasional muggings of tourists have been reported along the route.

Las Murallas


Cartagena survived only because of its walls, and its murallas remain today the city's most distinctive feature. Repeated sacking by pirates and foreign invaders convinced the Spaniards of the need to enlcose the region's most important port. Construction began in 1600 and finished in 1796. The Puerta del Reloj is the principal gate to the innermost sector of the walled city. Its four-sided clock tower was a relatively late addition (1888), and has become the symbol of the city. Walking along the thick walls is still today one of Cartagena's time honored pastimes, especially late in the afternoon when you can watch the setting sun redden the Caribbean.
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Cartagena,