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Colonial streets of Cartagena | © OAGREDOP / Flickr
Colonial streets of Cartagena | © OAGREDOP / Flickr
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10 Unusual Things You Didn't Know About Cartagena

Picture of Anny Wooldridge
Updated: 20 April 2017
Cartagena is a rapidly developing Caribbean tourist destination with picture perfect and brightcoloredred buildings, historic landmarks, and Caribbean beaches. Cartagena’s becoming an excellent alternative to the popular Caribbean islands, but much of the city is still unknown amongst the majority of the world.

There is a Mud Volcano

Volcán de Lodo el Totumo is a mud volcano located 30 miles outside of Cartagena. This majestic natural spa is 15 meters tall and there are steps leading up to the mud baths. The mud volcano provides a number of natural benefits, such as removing toxins and healing skin; the natural sulphites, phosphates, and magnesium properties of the mud make for a relaxing and healing experience.

Sir Francis Drake Has a House There

Sir Francis Drake was sent to Cartagena with the mission to attack Spanish colonies in a prompted war. In 1586, he arrived in Cartagena along with a small number of British ships in an attempt to take over the city. He succeeded in taking control of the city but subsequently lost control of his soldiers, who began to attack the city, setting houses on fire and damaging cathedrals. Sir Francis Drake held the city for ransom and demanded money, jewels, and gold. Two months after they first set foot in the city, Cartagena paid its ransom and Sir Francis Drake, along with his soldiers, proceeded back to England with boats full of riches. While Sir Francis was in Cartagena he took over the house of Alonso Bravo and stayed there for two months; this house has been refurbished over time but you can still see a plaque on the wall with Drake’s name on it.

There Are 27 Caribbean Islands

Located 100 kilometers (62 miles) off the coast of Cartagena are a collection of Caribbean islands named the Rosario Islands. These islands are protected and considered to be a Colombian National Park, in order to protect the coral reefs and ecosystems: the park contains over 120, 000 squared kilometres (46,332 square miles) of marine area and land. While many of the islands are uninhabited, a small number of the islands are privately owned by hotels who offer accommodation or day trip packages to the islands. There are plenty of snorkeling, diving, relaxing, and swimming opportunities in the crystal clear waters, as well as a natural aquarium that you can explore.

Colombia's Rosario Islands © Luz Adriana Villa / Flickr
Colombia’s Rosario Islands | © Luz Adriana Villa / Flickr

San Felipe Castle is One of the Best in Any Spanish Colony

The Spanish were afraid of being attacked and invaded in Cartagena, so in 1536 they built a number of forts on the oceanfront and San Felipe Castle to protect their city and country. The San Felipe Castle is located on top of a small hill in the middle of the city; this piece of marvelous architecture and engineering contributed to protecting the city and its people on a number of occasions. The castle is now open to the public and there is a video of the castle’s history, numerous tunnels to wander around, and picturesque views. The opportunity to visit this UNESCO World Heritage site, which played an important role in Cartagena’s history, is one not to be missed.

You Can Fly Directly From Major Cities Around the World

Due to Cartagena’s increase in tourism, demand has increased for flights to the city; after a recent upgrade of the airport, a large number of airline companies are considering Cartagena to be an up-and-coming tourist destination. As a result, many airline companies have started flying direct to the city from all over the world.

Avianca now flies direct to Cartagena from Miami, New York, Bogota, Medellin, and Cali (Colombia).

Copa Airlines flies direct to Cartagena from Panama City.

Delta flies straight from Atlanta to the city.

JetBlue Airways flies from Fort Lauderdale and New York to Cartagena regularly.

KLM started flying directly to the city at the end of March 2017, making them the first airline to fly direct from Europe to the Caribbean city.

LATAM flies direct from Lima to Cartagena and Spirit Airlines flies direct from Fort Lauderdale to the city.

The British Tried and Failed to Invade

In 1741, as part of the War of Jenkins’ Ear (a war between the British and Spanish between 1739 and 1748), the British Armada set out to capture and invade four Spanish ports in the Caribbean, in order to control entry to and exit from the Americas. The British descended on Cartagena with 186 ships and over 27,400 men and the Spanish only had 4,000 soldiers. The British began to destroy Cartagena’s forts and ships and they succeeded in taking control of the walled city and began to head for the San Felipe Castle. A series of errors and misfortunes for the British (mosquitos, tropical diseases, and misinterpreted information) resulted in them failing to take control of the castle and the whole city, and retreating from Cartagena. This event is significant in the history of the city and Colombia: if the English had succeed in this task, Colombia may have become a British colony and Colombians may be talking English today.

They Found Sunken Treasure

In December 2015, just off the coast of Cartagena, divers discovered a shipwreck of the Spanish ship, San Jose, which sank over 300 years ago in one of Cartagena’s battles. Located within this shipwreck were over 17 billon U.S.D. in treasure and gold. The Spanish, Americans (who found the ship), and the Colombians are still in disagreement over the rightful owners of this treasure today.

The City is Surrounded By a Wall

At the end of the 16th century, the city of Cartagena decided to build a seven-mile architectural marvel: a wall around the city to protect it from pirates and invaders. This wall complemented the existing forts and castles located in the city (at that time Cartagena was the largest and most important port in the Americas). The wall, or Las Murallas, was also used to separate the city’s rich and poor population. This remarkable feature is still intact today, providing visitors with a colonial construction that you can walk on the top of and admire the ocean or city views from. It is also considered along with other forts in the city a UNESCO World Heritage Site.

The Cartagena Film Festival is the Longest Running in Latin America

The Cartagena Film Festival, or FICCI, is Latin America’s longest running film festival. Taking place each year in March, this festival draws people from all over Latin America to the city. The festival has been running every year from 1959 and is considered to be a big event.

It’s a City of Two Contrasts

Cartagena is a unique city, as it has two very different contrasting neighbourhoods: the ultra modern high-rise hotel-filled Bocagrande and the Old Walled city. The Old City, hidden within the colonial walls, contains colorful buildings with Spanish-style architecture. There are also small boutique hotels and unique individual boutique shops, as well as plazas full of life and live music. Bocagrande is a high-rise heaven filled with hotel chains, apartment blocks, shopping malls, and restaurant chains. These two neighbourhoods are on very different sides of the spectrum, but complement each other perfectly; from the top of the Popa or at the Café del Mar you can really gain a sense of contrast between the old and new.

For more information about Cartagena hotels and restaurants check out this article.