Trip Date 05/13/2018
Posted On 06/22/2018 21:41:36
Destinations | Cruise | Port of Cartagena Tourism | Colombia | Norwegian Bliss | Walking Tour | Convent | Fort | Vault | Old Town
The Holland America Amsterdam and our ship, the Norwegian Bliss, were both docked at the Port of Cartegena on this Sunday morning. As we had booked our cruise at the last minute and only started making plans for our days in port a few days before embarking, we planned to take a taxi to Old Town.
If your cruise ship will be docking in Cartagena, check out this post for an overview of the three hours that we spent seeing a bit of Cartegena's Old Town plus a few of the city's other major tourist attractions at a cost of only $20.00 per person (plus tips).
Cartagena de Indias' Cruise Ship TerminalAfter disembarking, we stopped to enjoy the port side welcome performance before we hopped on a shuttle bus that took us the very short distance to the Cruise Ship Terminal. After exiting the shuttle, we walked along the impressive beautifully landscaped and paved walking paths toward the Taxi Station. We paused to admire the Flamingo Garden and glanced around as we quickly walked through the Colombian Shopping Village - we saved our shopping until we knew how much port time remained after our sightseeing. We stopped one final time at the Parrot Emporium located just outside of the shop before walking through the covered walkway where we were approached by Cony who offered to take us on a three hour city tour for $20.00 per person. We declined and continued to the taxi station where we learned that taxis to Old Town were $20.00 each way.
We had read online that the taxi fare would be $15,000 COP which equated to about $7.50 US at the time the article was posted. (Had I done a little more research, I would have realized that my information was dated as the current exchange rate for $15,000 COP was closer to $5.00 US.) Based on the quote that we received (which was confirmed by posted signage), round trip taxi service would cost the same as the three hour tour for both of us. We contemplated sharing a taxi with another couple, however decided to go back to learn more about the tour. In the end, we agreed to the tour as it would provide us the opportunity to see a little more of Cartagena and still get us back with plenty of time to spare before our 1:30 PM all aboard deadline. After waiting a short while as Cony gathered six others for a tour group, we all walked to a passenger van where we met Roberto who would be our guide for the next few hours.
El Convento de La PopaAs we began the drive in the comfortable air-conditioned van to our first photo stop, Roberto shared some information about Cartagena including:
- the current population of the city is about 1.2 million;
- the busy cruise season runs from October through May; and
- today was our lucky day as it was a Sunday (therefore the traffic was light) and although it was rainy season, the skies were clear!
Getting to El Convento de La Popa required an uphill drive along a road with several switchbacks. As we approached the convent, which sits at the highest point in the city, we passed several crosses lining the roadside. Near the top we saw a cross with the number 13 and realized that the crosses represented the Stations of the Cross. The largest of the crosses (number 14), along with the monastery and of course a number of vendors, were all standing on the top of the hill.
Our ten minute stop gave us enough time to enjoy the beautiful views of the city plus take a peek at the entrance to El Convento de La Popa.
San Felipe de Barajas CastleWhile enroute to our second photo stop we were offered the opportunity to stop and see the "old shoes", however no one in our group seemed interested so I kept my mouth shut. Even if just for a quick photo, I wish that we did stop to see the bronze sculpture that the artist created based on a local poet's comparison of his love for Cartagena to that of a comfortable pair of old shoes. Oh well, maybe next time!
Once we arrived at the fort, San Felipe de Barajas Castle, we realized that we had toured this and one other fort during our last visit to Cartagena nearly ten years ago. I didn't remember that it was considered one of the "seven wonders of Cartagena" - I wonder what the other six are?
Although the salespeople were in full force near the fort, I most enjoyed seeing the "fruit basket women" balancing, walking and selling.
Shopping at The VaultsOne more stop before we made our way to Old Town - this one was at Las Bovedas, better known as The Vaults. Originally built for the military, the "bombproof cells" were later used as a jail. Today, the 47 arches and 23 domes are home to a series of souvenir shops, art galleries and other businesses. Our guide led us to Stall # 10, which must have been the one place where he would receive a kick-back for any sales!
Old TownOur final stop, and the one that we were most interested in, was at Cartegena's Old Town. Due to the difficulty of driving the large van on the very narrow one lane streets, Roberto parked the vehicle not too far from the Cathedral of St. Catherine of Alexandria. As the cathedral was closed, he led us past Teatro Heredia and to the Museo del Oro (Cartagena Gold Museum). The two story museum, at which we spent less than 10 minutes due to our time limitations, was free to enter.
Scott and I met Roberto back outside of the museum and learned that we were the last two to leave. He explained that we had about 15 minutes to walk around Old Town on our own and after that we would all meet in the Plaza de Bolivar in front of the museum. With such a short amount of time remaining, we realized that we couldn't even make a dent into our originally planned three hour Walking Tour of Old Town Cartegena. We did the best that we could, but all that we really had the time to see before our meeting time were the Iglesia de San Pedro Claver, the walls and some bronze and metal sculptures along our way there and back.
Walking from the plaza back to the van we again passed the cathedral. As the services had concluded for the morning, we were able to take a quick peek inside of the building which was completed in the early 17th century.
Return to the Cartagena de Indias' Cruise Ship TerminalWith just over two miles to get back to the port, our tour was coming full circle and we still had time to spare. After perusing through the hats, bags, jewelry, souvenirs and other handicrafts at the shopping village, we walked back to the ship (rather than riding the shuttle) so that we could get a closer look at the hull. After all, the Norwegian Bliss was only on its second sailing carrying paying passengers!
Overall we were happy with our decision to take the tour rather than spend all of our time in Old Town. Our tour was a good value and was very similar to the 3 1/2 hour Colonial Cartagena tour offered by Norwegian Cruise Line at $59.00 per person. The only difference was that our smaller private tour made one additional stop to enjoy the views from El Convento de La Popa.
Tips for Port Days in Cartagena, ColombiaIf you decide to spend your few hours while docked in Cartagena touring on your own, here's a few tips for your day:
- Plan to spend a little time either at the beginning or end of your day wandering through the Cartagena de Indias' Cruise Ship Terminal. The grounds are very nicely landscaped, the paths are easy to navigate and the assortment of animals is like a miniature (free) zoo - and we even missed seeing the two enclosed exotic bird aviaries.
- All taxi drivers, independent tour operators and vendors that we encountered happily accepted US dollars. If you plan to make any purchases, however, make sure to bring along some small bills so that you have exact change for all purchases. One of the people in our group paid $10.00 for a soft drink - the vendor supposedly left to "get change", but never returned.
- If you don't want to make any purchases, be prepared to say "no thank you" or better yet "no gracias" as you will surely be offered various souvenirs many times at every stop that you make during the day!
- If you can gather a group of 8 (or possibly 6) before leaving the port, you will likely have an opportunity to customize your tour. I would have loved to make a quick stop at the "old shoes" sculpture, would have been happy with less time at The Vaults, and wish we spent a little more time in Old Town, however we were at the mercy of our group and the guide's recommendations.
- If you want to see the "old shoes", you can actually walk to the sculpture from San Felipe de Barajas Castle. Located just behind the fort, I wish that I had realized how close they were to our stopping point.
- If you decide to take a taxi directly to Old Town, take at look at this Walking Tour of Old Town Cartegena. It has some great suggestions including possible lunch locations.
Cruising through the Panama CanalIf your ship will be transiting through the Panama Canal, take a peek at our post titled The Inaugural Norwegian Bliss Panama Canal Crossing. We were pretty excited during our history making event - the first mega cruise ship to cross through the new canal.
Five Hours in CartagenaIf you were to make a recommendation to someone who had a maximum of five or six hours to spend while docked at Cartagena de Indias' Cruise Ship Terminal, how would you recommend that they spend their day?
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