Top Five Free Sights in Old Town Cartagena Colombia
The City Gate
Standing on the old city wall is a walk into history for me. From up here I can almost see pirate ships bearing down upon the harbor from the open sea. I turn landward looking over the roofs of one of the oldest European cities in the western hemisphere. The old town of Cartagena stretches out below me. Balconied houses built in the style that the moors influenced in Spain grace streets so narrow cars have no business on them. The cars are driving in the streets anyway creeping slowly through crowds of pedestrians. Domes and spires rise above church’s built in the sixteenth and seventeenth century. The city is absolutely delightful. Not only can you live on budget food and lodging for 20 US dollars a day, there are several great experiences to try for free.
Tasting the Chocolate
#5 The Chocolate Museum
For all the die-hard chocolate fans did you know that cocoa beans grow in Colombia. There are chocolate factories in Cartagena making delicious treats. The tourist’s best option is the chocolate museum. The museum features a very short presentation on the history and process of making chocolate. Going back to the Mayans and Aztecs use of the bean and its products. But then the real fun starts. There are free samples of fancy chocolate. There are free tastes of plain white, milk, and dark chocolate bars. Also, there are free samples of numerous delicacies such as coconut dipped in chocolate, Yuca cookies dipped in chocolate, and anything you can imagine. There are also drinks, hot chocolate of course but, also a tea brewed from the bean shells, A thin, spicy, chocolate corn gruel call Mazato. A strange byproduct that I knew nothing about is chocolate liquor an alcohol distilled during the bean fermentation process. You can also take chocolate making classes here for a small sum.
#4 The Emeralds
The Columbian emeralds should be next on the list. Columbia produces 70 to 90 percent of the world’s emeralds. While most of the cut and polished gems are very expensive it’s free to look at emeralds and learn about them. There are so many shops in Cartagena that there seems to a couple on every side of every block. Some shops have an interesting display about mining the emeralds and examples of them in their raw state. One kind lady who must’ve thought I was rich enough to be a potential customer gave me a rock with a small dirty smudge of emerald in it for free. You can buy a nice raw emerald for about 50 bucks. But the smallest cut and set jewels tended to run around a thousand. The big dark green perfect pieces were as high as 30000.
#3 The Churches
Visit at least three churches in the old town. I would recommend, the first stop should be the cathedral of Cartagena. The seat of one of the oldest Catholic sees in the Americas. This church was built between 1577 and 1612. Francis Drake attacked and damaged it while it was being built. The next to visit should be the church of St. Domingo. This church instead of a spire sports an impressive dome. Be sure to look at the dome from the old city wall. The last church to visit is the church of San Pedro Claver. This church house the bones of Pedro Claver who devoted his whole life to relieving the sufferings and bringing the gospel to the African American slaves. Take a close look at the stone used in the churches much of it is made from the same fossil embedded material as the walls. Enjoy the coolness radiated from the massive walls during the heat of the day. Also look up and study the wooden ceilings. But most importantly study the people in the church. Try to hit a communion service and stand respectfully in the back. Listen to the beautiful music. Watch the priest give communion. Imagine the colonists assembling in the same place long before The English-Speaking people had a thought of settling the Americas.
Walking the Walls
#2 The Walls
Cartagena was built on an isthmus connected to the mainland by a small neck. Due to a constant threat of foreign invasion a massive fort was built on the neck and a wall protecting the city was built around the entire waterfront of the isthmus. Unfortunately, the fort Saint Nicholas costs 8 dollars per international admission, so it doesn’t count in this article. But on a brighter note anyone can walk the walls for free. Sections of old wall remain across from the fort, but the more scenic views are from the ones directly across from the boat harbor and the ones looking out on the open ocean. The walls are engineering marvel in rough stone. A very unique item about these walls is that the large blocks of stone are literally encrusted with fossils. There are shells and huge chunks of coral fossilized into the stone.
Fossils in the Walls
#1 The Best Sight Is Walking The Streets
Last, please don’t take a taxi. The old town is not large walking from one part to another will not take longer then five minutes the very best free sights you can see is walking the streets. Walk the modern taxi packed pavement between the city wall and the harbor. Imagine Captain Blood’s ship Arabella lying at anchor demanding a ransom. Walk between the old residential houses on streets so narrow and crowded taxis have no business there, but they are still there going one way. Look up at the brightly painted walls and the carved stone balconies. Note the thick carved wooded doors looked with the distinctive sliding bolt locks. And don’t ignore the people. Spend a few cents on a drink from one of the iced lemonade stands and watch them squeeze the fruit right into the ice water. Talk to a few of the vendors trying out whatever Spanish you have. Walk in the park and watch the iguanas sunning themselves in the trees. Stop and watch the locals play a friendly game of soccer.