From conquistadors to Carnaval, the coastal city of Cartagena encapsulates the rich history and lively Latin culture which make Colombia so special. The blend of Caribbean and Latin influences has created a seaside melting pot unlike any other city in South America. Trace Cartagena's centuries-long journey from a Spanish colonial stronghold to the jewel of Colombia's coastline by adding our optional Cartagena land package prior to your Wonders of Colombia journey!
Caribbean Pirates and Colonial Power
The city of Cartagena was formally founded by the Spanish in 1533, though indigenous peoples inhabited the area for several centuries prior. It wasn't long before Cartagena became a central port for exporting gold and silver to Spain, making it an attractive site for treasure seekers and plundering pirates alike. After decades of fending off pirate raids – Sir Francis Drake once held the entire city for ransom – the Spanish Crown constructed imposing walls and rows of forts to defend Cartagena's innumerable treasures. The 11 kilometers of walls cordoning the city are among the best-preserved fortifications in the world, and as a UNESCO World Heritage Site, Cartagena’s walls are one of the most significant attractions available to visitors. You can visit Cartagena's Historical Center to witness the walled city at your leisure after your initial arrival in the city.
The Fortress on the Sea
As part of our optional land package, you will step into history by touring the incredible UNESCO-designated San Felipe Castle. Accompanied by a local tour guide, you will explore the hilltop fortress that defended Cartagena and its riches from naval assaults by the French and British Empires between the 17th and 19th centuries. San Felipe Castle is the crowning achievement of the Spanish Empire's defensive network in Cartagena and an imposing reminder of their longstanding dominance in the Caribbean. Today the castle offers a commanding view of Cartagena's picturesque bay, the very same view that allowed its defenders to protect their city centuries ago.
The City of Silver and Gold
Cartagena's rise to power was largely owed to the massive shipments of gold and silver exported from Colombia to Spain. On your included excursion to the Gold Museum (Museo del Oro Zenú,) you will examine firsthand the plethora of ancient gold artifacts which launched Cartagena from a modest port city to a principal seat of Spanish colonial power. These beautifully preserved trinkets showcase the incredible goldsmithing culture native to the region. Housing hundreds of priceless relics from indigenous cultures prior to European settlement, the Gold Museum displays the material wealth which the Spanish were so intent on defending in Cartagena.
Later, you will delve into the impregnable safehouse of the Spanish Empire, The Vaults of Cartagena, on a guided tour. Constructed between 1789 and 1795, The Vaults’ golden arcade of bombproof columns and arches dared challengers to penetrate the 15-meter-thick walls that protected Cartagena's core military storehouse. The Vaults were a locus of power for whomever controlled Cartagena, serving as a garrison and prison for both sides of Colombia's struggle for independence. Today, The Vaults have transformed into a bustling marketplace: its dour cells now house brightly colored artisanal shops, and its stunning view of the Caribbean Sea conveys a sense of freedom to all its visitors.
A Colorful History Come to Life
Latin America is nothing if not colorful, and the pastel-splashed city of Cartagena is no exception. After settling into your stateroom for the river cruise portion of your journey, a local tour guide will lead you through the sights and sounds of Getsemani, a breathtaking neighborhood situated just outside of the city walls. Getsemani is an egalitarian refuge for artists, musicians, and other creatives unlike any other neighborhood in the world. Its vibrantly colorful architecture and the irresistible aroma of delicious local cuisine ensure that Getsemani will become a central memory of your time in Colombia.
What’s Included in Your Optional Land Package
- 2 nights in a world-class 4- or 5-star hotel
- Convenient transfers between your hotel and river cruise ship
- Daily breakfast at the hotel
- Guided tours of the San Felipe Castle, the Gold Museum, the Caribbean Naval Museum, The Vaults, the neighborhood of Getsemani, and a sunset cruise on the shores of Cartagena
Contact your travel advisor to find out more about how you can add our Cartagena land package to your Wonders of Colombia journey.