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Get Acquainted with Cartagena, Colombia on a Free Walking Tour
Posted On 03/25/2019 17:26:34
Trip Date 02/22/2019
Destinations | Cruises | Colombia | Cartagena | Free Walking Tour in Cartagena | Beyond Colombia | DIY Shore Excursions in Cartagena | Budget Travel in Cartagen
Our Ultimate Caribbean Cruise took us to Cartagena, Colombia for the second time in less than a year. We
knew that we wanted to spend most of our day in the Old City. As we usually prefer to avoid overpriced ship tours
in favor of doing our own thing, we did a little research and found the perfect solution.
If you are a person who enjoys do-it-yourself or budget travel, take a look at this post on how to get an awesome
introduction to the Walled City of Cartagena. A tour like we did is perfect for anyone who doesn't mind walking
and has two hours to devote to learning a little history and seeing some of the most important sites. After the tour, you'll
have plenty of ideas for your remaining time in the city or for your next visit. For a recommended tip of $10.00 USD per
person plus transportation to the downtown area, it's also easy on the wallet for the budget conscious traveler.
Port of Cartagena
If this is your first time at the Port of Cartagena, you may be surprised! The walk from the disembarkation
platform to the cruise terminal is on a flat, paved surface and is not long nor difficult for most people. Even so, our most
recent cruises both offered free shuttles to get passengers to the terminal in style. No matter if you walk like we did or
ride like many others, plan to spend a little time enjoying the welcome performance outside the terminal building.
Welcome to the Port of Cartagena
There is much more to the terminal than just shopping, so plan to spend some time either sipping a drink, meandering
through the gardens or staring wide-eyed at the collection of birds and animals. It's probably best to make your way into
the city first and enjoy the port area at the end of your day so you know how much time you have before your all aboard
Transportation to The Walled City of Cartagena
We had read online that the taxi fare was about $7.00 USD in each direction, but the current fare from the port taxi stand
has increased to $20.00 USD each way. We intended to take an Uber (priced at about $4.00 USD one-way), however once
we found the pick-up point we were amazed at the number of waiting taxis also offering rides. While most drivers wanted
$5.00 per person to get to the Walled City, we negotiated a price of $5.00 total for both of us - and didn't have to
wait for an Uber.
If you have an interest in where these bargain priced taxis wait, the map below should help help you navigate to them.
Finding Bargain Priced Taxis at Port of Cartagena
Do keep in mind that there can be lots of congestion getting from the port to the Clock Tower. Be sure to leave
well in advance of the time that you want to arrive - our taxi departed at 9:10 AM and our drive (or should I say wait in
traffic) lasted nearly 30 minutes. Needless to say, we were glad that we saved our walk through the port area until the
Free Walking Tour
Beyond Colombia offers Free Walking Tours of both Cartagena and Bogota. The tour was a last minute decision for us - we had originally planned on just
seeing the city on our own. When I stumbled upon the option online the evening before our arrival, we immediately
registered as we knew we'd leave with a greater appreciation of the Unesco World Heritage site.
Meeting times for the tours are at 10:00 AM and 4:00 PM daily, with the actual tour beginning at 10 minutes after the hour.
A mix of both English and Spanish speaking tourists arrive in that ten minute period - some having pre-registered and
others not. The guides do an excellent job of splitting people into groups so everyone is ready to begin on time.
Our tour guide, Camilo, was excellent. He was knowledgeable, enthusiastic and funny ... and his ability to
communicate in English was superb. Although the sun was beating harshly upon us, Camilo did an excellent job of scoping
out shade when he paused to share some of Cartagena's history. Even after having visited the city for one day each on
two previous cruises, the two hours was time well spent.
Camellon de los Martires (Martyrs Square)
Having pre-registered for the tour, our confirmation e-mail advised us to look for the big white statue and the white
umbrellas in Camellon de los Martires. With its shaded park benches, Martyrs Square is a great meeting
point - especially on a rather hot morning like we had.
Camilo, Our Beyond Colombia Free Walking Tour Guide
The beautiful arch at the entrance to Centennial Park was erected in celebration of the 1811 centennial of Cartagena's
independence. Martyrs Square is lined with carved marble busts resembling some who fought for Cartagena's
independence. The large white statue in the square's center is inscribed with a cry of freedom, "Noli Me Tangere" ("Don't
Touch Me"). Still to this day the square located between Centennial Park and the Walled City reminds the
locals of freedom.
Cartagena's Centennial Park
Camellon de los Martires - Meeting Point for Walking Tour
After a brief introduction to the square, you'll be asked to join your guide for a picture surrounding the statue before
walking toward the Walled City.
La Torre del Reloj (Clock Tower Gate)
One of the most famous landmarks of Cartagena, La Torre del Reloj, is a part of the city walls and was the city's
ancient entrance. Standing just outside of the entrance in Plaza de la Paz, Camilo showed us some early photos of
the entrance. Construction of the gate began around 1631 and included only one of the three arches and no clock. A clock
was added in 1874 and replaced over 90 years ago with the clock still telling time today.
Clock Tower Gate in Cartagena, Colombia
Plaza de los Coches (Plaza of the Coaches)
Passing through the Clock Tower Gate brings you into the Old City. The triangular shaped Plaza de los
Coches was originally the site where slaves brought from Africa were traded. The name used today is in reference to
the late 1800s time period when horse-drawn carriages were often found lined up in the square waiting.
Cartagena's Plaza de los Coches
Towering tall in the middle of the plaza is a statue of Pedro de Heredia who first discovered the city in 1533. He is
credited with the name Cartegena de Indias which is still used in honor of Cartagena, Spain. After over 20
turbulent years in the surrounding area, he died when his ship sank on one of his return trips to Spain.
Statue of Pedro de Heredia in Plaza de los Coches
Plaza de la Aduana (Custom's Square)
Continuing your walk, you'll make your way to Custom's Square named for the import and export controls of years
gone by. Administrative offices including the House of Trade, Customs and Accounting were all housed in the city's largest
square. In addition to the buying and selling of an estimated 1.5 million slaves through the years, the square was home to
a vibrant market where consumers transacted many a purchase from local merchants. The white marble statue in the
square is none other than Christopher Columbus.
Plaza de la Aduana
Statue of Christopher Columbus in Plaza de la Aduana
During a visit to the busy plaza, you are sure to see more than one of Cartagena's famous Palenqueras. These
black women are easily spotted dressed in the most colorful of dresses with bowls of tropical fruit masterfully balanced
atop their heads. Camilo was quick to point out that these women now make most of their money posing for tips with
tourists who can't resist. He also introduced us to the only Palenquera who doesn't charge for photos!
Cartegena's Famous Palenqueras
San Pedro Claver Plaza
In addition to restaurants and local shops, you'll find San Pedro Claver Church and Monastery as well as a statue of
San Pedro Claver all in San Pedro Claver Plaza. The church and monastery are from the early 1600s after the
Jesuit missionary who fought to free slaves. He was made a saint and nicknamed the "Patron Saint of Slaves" by the
San Pedro Claver Church and Monastery
San Pedro Claver Statue in Cartagena's San Pedro Claver Plaza
Walk on the Walls of Cartagena
A total of about seven miles of stone walls completed in the late 18th century protected the city. The ramp near San
Pedro Claver Plaza takes you up to the ramparts of the Walled City of Cartagena. From the bastion, you'll
have a great view of the city from above as well as the surrounding waters.
Walk on the Walls surrounding the City of Cartagena
Office of International Film Festival of Cartagena
Similar to the Academy Awards in the United States, the Cartagena Film Festival is held each March. Awards are
presented in a variety of categories and each winner receives the India Catalina Award. A larger than life replica of
the Oscar-like award stands outside the Office of International Film Festival of Cartagena.
Replica of India Catalina Award at Office of International Film Festival
Symbolism Represented on Colonial Homes in Cartagena
Hearing about the symbolism on the colonial homes is very interesting. Did you know that the number of "buttons" on the
entry doors relates to the wealth of the owners? (The more buttons, the wealthier the owner!) Similarly, the bigger the
balcony, the more the owner was worth. Door knockers on the front doors also had meanings. For example, lions indicate
that a member of the military resides inside, horses are for those in the navy and crosses for members of the catholic
church. Additionally, the larger the door knocker, the higher the rank.
But wait, there's more! You'll see that many of the homes have two doors - a small door cut out of a larger (often double)
door. The big door was originally built for the "master" who would arrive via carriage, and the smaller doors for "servants".
Finally, did you have any idea that the reason that many homes have points on the balconies is to scare away ghosts?
Colonial Homes in Cartagena, Colombia
Simon Bolivar Park
A statue of Simon Bolivar on horseback stands in the midst of the tall trees, water fountains and seating in
Bolivar Park. You'll likely find a cart manned by locals squeezing fresh limes to make some very tasty ice cold
limeade - perfect for a hot day! (During our visit, the limeade made with filtered drinkable water was being sold for $2,000
COP or less than $0.70 USD. As we hadn't exchanged money for local currency, the vendor even willingly accepted $1.00
Statue of Simon Bolivar in Cartagena's Bolivar Park
Limeade for Sale in Bolivar Plaza
Surrounding Bolivar Park, you'll find the beautiful Santa Catalina de Alejandria Cathedral, both the Emerald
and Gold Museums as well as the Palacio de la Inquisicion. Today a history museum, torture was originally
used not as a punishment but to get confessions of those who threatened the church at the Palace of the
Cathedral of Alexandria
Cartagena's Palace of the Inquisition
Finally, don't miss the photographs embedded into the sidewalk in front of the Offices of Miss Colombia located on
Calle de la Inquisicion. Do you remember when Steve Harvey, host of the 2015 Miss Universe Pageant crowned
Miss Colombia mbia as the winner only to apologize moments later for his mistake? (The actual winner was Miss
Sidewalk on Calle de la Inquisicion in front of Miss Colombia Office
Plaza Santo Domingo
Named for Santo Domingo Church, the plaza (which was our final stop before the end of our tour) is filled with
colonial buildings currently housing a selection of restaurants. One of the most visited sites in the plaza, however, is a
piece of artwork, La Gorda Gertrudis ("Fat Gertrude"). Local lore says that if you take a photo touching Gertrude's
breasts, you'll return to Cartagena. Camilo pointed out that "she's hot!", especially on hot days!
La Gorda Gertrudis in Plaza Santo Domingo
Return Transportation to Port
If you have additional time, there are plenty of options. There's always shopping, a meal or returning to a place that you
discovered while on the tour but didn't have enough time to explore. I actually wish that we had more time just to walk
around to admire the architecture. Be sure to save time to explore the port area, too!
With people returning to the ship throughout the day, your return drive will likely be quicker. We planned to request an
Uber, but again it was easier just to take one of the many available taxis. We ended up negotiating a total fare of $10.00
USD with someone who then arranged for a driver to take us back. The one piece of advice that we would give to anyone
negotiating a fare is to ensure that you understand the fare (per person or for the car), ask the driver to confirm the rate
before leaving and don't allow the driver to try to change the rate when you arrive at your destination. Our driver tried to
tell us that the rate was a per person rate, however we stood our ground and he accepted the payment.
Exploring the Port of Cartagena
Described as a Port Oasis, visitors can have an excellent introduction to the plants and animals found in Columbia.
The grounds are very nicely landscaped, the paved pathways are easy to navigate and the assortment of animals is like a
miniature (free) open air zoo. Tall trees shade the paths that pass the Flamingos Garden, Parrot
Emporium and two Aviaries. You can have your photo taken holding a sloth and you might see a peacock
crossing in front of you. Enjoy a refreshing beverage, watch some live local entertainment or, of course, do some
Flamingos Garden at Port of Cartagena
Animal Life at Port Oasis in Cartagena, Colombia
Peacock at Cartagena's Port Oasis
The "WE Did It!" Evaluation
The Wordy Explorers have had great success with the numerous free walking tours that we have joined and
Cartagena's was no exception. As long as you dress appropriately for the weather (it was hot during our visit), are up for a
walk (it is a walking tour!) and interested in learning a little history, we highly recommend these tours for an informative
introduction to a city. Walking tours can even be enjoyable after several visits to help tie together some of the pieces.
(This was our third visit to Cartagena. Our first visit took us to the forts and our second to tourist sites throughout the
Although there were several companies offering free walking tours, we chose Beyond Colombia and couldn't have been more pleased. Our guide Camilo was fun, knowledgeable and
energetic. He did an excellent job of making sure that all could see and hear him, and best of all, he regularly found shade
on the hot and humid day of our visit.
While the tour is free, donations are accepted based on each customer's overall satisfaction. The pre-tour e-mail and
closing comments from the guide indicate that many people contribute $10.00 USD or $30,000 COP. Compared to similar
tours, we felt that the recommended donation was very fair.
A Taste of Cartagena was the most comparable tour offered by Celebrity Cruise Lines. The 4 1/2 hour tour
was priced at $44.75 USD per adult ($39.75 USD per child) and described as follows:
"Cartagena has a noticeable magic that is present in every street and every colonial house. Immerse yourself
in the Walled City of Cartagena. First you will have a short guided tour sketching its history and main sites. Then there
will be plenty of free time to stroll the Old City streets using a map with alternative walking routes, and discount coupons
for shopping and dining opportunities available as you explore."
After adding together our transportation expenses and tour donation, we spent a total of $35.00 USD for both of us. Had
we joined the ship tour, our total would have been $89.50 USD plus tip. Our meeting time for the ship tour would have
been 7:45 AM, and we would have been on a strict schedule. With our chosen tour, our timing was much more flexible -
we had time on our own both before and after the 10:00 AM walking tour (as long as we returned before our 3:30 PM all
For another option for your port day in Cartagena, take a look at our post following our previous visit. 3 Hour
Tour of Cartagena, Colombia will provide you with an overview of what you can see while having a guide drive you to
more of the city's sites that are not within walking distance of each other.
Aside from Cartagena, what other cities in Colombia are your favorites, and why? What recommendations do you have for
others traveling to your favorite Colombian cities?
Total Fitbit steps: 16,131
Weather:89F Humid and Partly Cloudy
Created On 03/16/2019 11:49:59
Updated On 04/01/2019 20:22:32
Scheduled On 03/21/2019 13:26:34
Posted On 03/25/2019 17:26:34
Last Editor Scott
Location Camellon de los Martires