The Most Beautiful Buildings in Cartagena, Colombia

The old city center of Cartagena is quite spectacular, with the modern equivalent on the waterfront beyond
The old city center of Cartagena is quite spectacular, with the modern equivalent on the waterfront beyond | © Roman Diachkin / Alamy Stock Photo
Chris Bell

As an important Spanish colonial port city, Cartagena is home to an impressive array of historical architecture. From striking palaces once used by the Inquisition, through to imposing stone castles overlooking the sparkling Caribbean Sea, here are the most beautiful buildings in the ‘Jewel of the Indies’.

Did you know – Culture Trip now does bookable, small-group trips? Pick from authentic, immersive Epic Trips, compact and action-packed Mini Trips and sparkling, expansive Sailing Trips.

Torre del Reloj

The Torre del Reloj clock tower in Cartagena is an unmissable landmark

Cartagena’s beautiful clock tower stands at the entrance to the old walled city and is perhaps the most famous landmark in a city of famous landmarks. The gate beneath the tower once connected the Old City to neighbouring Getsemani by means of a drawbridge over a moat.

St. Catherine of Alexandria Cathedral

Located in the historical center of Cartagena, this magnificent cathedral was first constructed in 1577 and, in spite of being severely damaged in an attack by Francis Drake, was completed in 1612. The iconic tower, seen in so many photographs of Cartagena, was designed by a French architect named Gastón Lelarge in the early twentieth century. The cathedral houses an impressive 18th-century gilded altar and a Carrara marble pulpit.

Convent of Santa Cruz de la Popa

This 17th-century religious complex is perched on the highest point in Cartagena – a 150 metre (492 feet)-high hill known as La Popa – and offers commanding views across much of the city, including the Caribbean Sea, the Walled City, and Tierrabomba Island. In spite of extensive damaged sustained during several attacks on Cartagena, the convent, chapel and cloister still stand today, albeit following extensive restorations over the years. Although the views alone are stunning, the convent is a beautiful building: the flower-filled patio of the cloister is a particular highlight.

Las Bóvedas

The 47 porticos and 23 domes of Las Bóvedas, built in the late 18th-century by Antonio de Arebalo, were the last important colonial structure built within the walls of the Old City. Meaning ‘the vaults’ in English, Las Bóvedas was originally constructed as a munitions storehouse and wound up being used as a dungeon in the Wars of Independence; its proximity to the Caribbean Sea meant that, supposedly, the unfortunate prisoners would be standing in sea water at high tide! A popular tourist attraction these days due to the artisan craft market that now occupies the former cells, Las Bóvedas is a beautiful example of Cartagena’s colourful, historical architecture.

Church of San Pedro Claver

H7GN33 Church of St Peter Claver in Cartagena, Colombia

Construction on this imposing church which houses the bones of its namesake, Saint Peter Claver, was begun in 1580 and completed in 1654. Claver, the patron saint of slaves and Colombia’s first saint, is interred beneath the altar of the church, which has undergone many architectural changes in its nearly 500-year history. Built in the ‘Jesuitic’ style of architecture, in 1921 the present dome – also a work of Gastón Lelarge – was constructed, and is another landmark of Cartagena architecture, appearing in perhaps as many tourist photos as Lelarge’s cathedral tower.

The Palace of the Inquisition

This imposing Spanish colonial and Baroque structure dates back to 1770 and was constructed on the decree of Philip III of Spain. Cartagena’s role as a port city and transit point between Spanish and Caribbean settlements meant that the city was the third in the Spanish Empire to have its own Inquisition tribunal, and it was in this magnificent building that the Inquisition of Cartagena carried out their gruesome tasks, including the execution of some 800 suspected heretics. It is currently a museum of the history of the city – it once housed an excellent museum of torture equipment, but those machines were removed prior to the visit of Pope Francis in 2015 – but the grandiose building alone is a testament to the sometimes dark history of Cartagena.

San Felipe Castle

The Castillo San Felipe de Barajas is another one of Cartagena’s most visited landmarks: located on San Lázaro hill, strategically positioned overlooking both land and sea approaches to the city, the castle was constructed gradually over a period of 120 years beginning in the 16th century. Named after Philip IV of Spain, the castle is particularly architecturally striking due to its complex series of tunnels and its impressive entrance. It is now listed as a UNESCO World Heritage Site and is open for visitors to explore its tunnels and parapets and enjoy an impressive view of the city below.

Convento de Santo Domingo

Originally built as a Dominican convent in the 16th century, the Santo Domingo convent is one of Cartagena’s most important tourist attractions, overlooking the Santo Domingo square, with its humming nightlife and popular bars and restaurants. The building probably appears in most photos as a backdrop to the iconic Gorda Gertrudis statue by Fernando Botero, but is a striking structure in its own right, with a lovely yellow façade, rounded dome roof, and quadrangular bell tower. The building was recently restored and has regained much of its former grandeur, having descended into disrepair for much of the previous century.

landscape with balloons floating in the air


Connect with like-minded people on our premium trips curated by local insiders and with care for the world

Since you are here, we would like to share our vision for the future of travel - and the direction Culture Trip is moving in.

Culture Trip launched in 2011 with a simple yet passionate mission: to inspire people to go beyond their boundaries and experience what makes a place, its people and its culture special and meaningful — and this is still in our DNA today. We are proud that, for more than a decade, millions like you have trusted our award-winning recommendations by people who deeply understand what makes certain places and communities so special.

Increasingly we believe the world needs more meaningful, real-life connections between curious travellers keen to explore the world in a more responsible way. That is why we have intensively curated a collection of premium small-group trips as an invitation to meet and connect with new, like-minded people for once-in-a-lifetime experiences in three categories: Culture Trips, Rail Trips and Private Trips. Our Trips are suitable for both solo travelers, couples and friends who want to explore the world together.

Culture Trips are deeply immersive 5 to 16 days itineraries, that combine authentic local experiences, exciting activities and 4-5* accommodation to look forward to at the end of each day. Our Rail Trips are our most planet-friendly itineraries that invite you to take the scenic route, relax whilst getting under the skin of a destination. Our Private Trips are fully tailored itineraries, curated by our Travel Experts specifically for you, your friends or your family.

We know that many of you worry about the environmental impact of travel and are looking for ways of expanding horizons in ways that do minimal harm - and may even bring benefits. We are committed to go as far as possible in curating our trips with care for the planet. That is why all of our trips are flightless in destination, fully carbon offset - and we have ambitious plans to be net zero in the very near future.

Winter Sale Offers on Our Trips

Incredible Savings

Edit article