We arrived in Cartagena shortly after sunrise on Saturday, December 8th.
Even though we arrived early, we were not the first ship in port. The cruise ship, Freewinds, was moored to the dock when we arrived. The Freewinds is a very old cruise ship owned and operated by the Church of Scientology as a only place where the highest level “religious teachings” take place. For more information about the ship you can visit the official web site for the ship or a more critical view of the ship. The port at Cartagena is not just for cruise ships. This is a working port with container ships loading and unloading and barges busy dredging the bottom.
The first photo shows the Norwegian Sun and the Oceania Regatta moored in port. The MS Regatta is the Flagship of the Oceania Cruises fleet. It was built in 1998 and refitted in 2011. It is a small ship and can handle only 684 or so passengers with a crew of 400. Cruises on this ship tend to be expensive. For example, the promotional fare for a 10 day Caribbean cruise out of Miami is $2,299 for an inside cabin (brochure fare $6,598). It is about a quarter-mile from the ship to the terminal building. You can either walk or ride a shuttle bus. There is an enclosure with flamingos, monkeys, and iguanas as well as a snack bar beside the walkway into the terminal building.
Since the tourist sites in Cartagena are quite a distance from the port, our plan was to take a taxi to the old town, walk around on our own and take a taxi back. We found that for the same amount of money we could hire this taxi driver to take us on a tour of all the sites. So off we went. Our first stop was at the Castillo San Felipe de Barajas. This is a castle- fortress on the Hill of San Lázaro which dominates the approach to the city from the sea. It was constructed by the Spanish beginning in 1536. It was built in a triangular shape on top of the hill, with eight guns and a garrison of 20 soldiers and 4 gunners.
The castle was well fortified. However, in the 1697 raid on Cartagena, during the War of the Grand Alliance, the castle fell to the French privateer Baron de Pointis. The castle was repaired by José de Herrera y Sotomayor in 1739. British Admiral Edward Vernon attacked the fortress in the 1741 Battle of Cartagena de Indias, an important conflict of the War of Jenkins’ Ear. The statue near the fortress commemorates the British heroes who took Cartagena in April of 1947. Since this is a popular tourist stop, there are many vendors hawking a wide variety of trinkets and souvenirs.
The first photo is of a vendor selling Panama hats (made in Ecuador) to tourists. Our next stop was at Las Bóvedas. These are 23 dungeons built between 1792 and 1796 in the city walls, which are more than 15 meters thick here. The vaults were used by the Spaniards as storerooms for munitions and provisions, before they became jail cells. Today, Las Bovedas is a popular tourist attraction because of its shops that sell traditional Colombian merchandise and a vast array of souvenirs. The central photo shows Mary Ann looking for a swim suit in one of the shops. All she could find were bikinis so she didn’t buy one here. The final photo shows some of the traditional applique handiwork.
Our next stop was at the old city. This has been designated as a UNESCO World Heritage Site. The streets are narrow and buildings are fine examples of Spanish colonial architecture with second floor balconies extending out over the sidewalks. It was possible to take a tour of the old city in a horse-drawn carriage but we chose to walk. We noticed some fresh wax along the curbs and wondered what it was about. It seems that December 8th is the Feast of the Immaculate Conception and the wax was left over from candles burned in honor of the Virgin Mary last night.
Cartagena and Veracruz (Mexico) were the only two cities authorized by the Spanish crown to trade African slaves. This is the square where the slave auctions were conducted. The main feature of the sqare these days is a large, bronze statue of a reclining woman by Fernando Botero. Botero paintings and sculptures focused on rather obese women and men. A short walk from this square we came to the Cathedral of Cartagena.
Despite the fact that it was the Feast of the Immaculate Conception we were not allowed into the Cathedral. However, I was able to get a photo of the interior. There is a sundial On the wall of the church that faces the plaza. There was a Christmas tree in the middle of the plaza.
A short distance from the Cathedral was Bolivar square with a statue of Simon Bolivar, the liberator of much of South America from the Spanish. There was a worker trimming the trees around the statue and a fruit vendor walking along the colonnade that faces the square.
Although much of the old city has been restored and refurbished, there are areas that look rather run down. Nancy wanted me to take the center photo of a door that opened in segments. Our walk through the old city eventually took us to the Plaza of Peace.
There are many beautifully restored Spanish colonial buildings surrounding the triangular Plaza de los Coches. A statue of Pedro de Heredia, the founder of the city of Cartagena, stands in the center of the Plaza. On one side of the plaza there is the famous clock tower that marks the entrance to the old walled city.
Not far from the statue of Pedro de Heredia is a statue of India Catalina, a native Indian princess fluent in both the Spanish and Indian tongues who served as Pedro’s interpreter. A little further along is a statue honoring Christopher Columbus and his three ships who discovered the New World. As we walked through the plaza, workmen were busy erecting a stage and sound system for a concert that evening.
This is the Plaza de San Pedro Claver in front of the Church of San Pedro Claver. In the plaza are numerous modern metal sculptures of people engaged in everyday activities.
The first photo is of a metal sculpture of a game of chess. The central photo is of the Church of San Pedro Claver. Pedro Claver was a Jesuit priest who came to Cartagena in 1610 and worked tirelessly in the slave markets helping the slaves and spreading God’s word. Pedro Claver was beatified in 1850, and cannonized a Saint by Pope Leo XII in 1888. The last photo is of a new bronze statue of San Pedro helping an Angolan slave, 2m tall and sculpted by Colombian sculptor Enrique Grau. It was unveiled in September 2001. It is set not on a pedestal, but at ground level, accessible to people on the street, just as San Pedro was in real life.
We walked past the Naval Museum of the Caribbean and across a small square that contained a water source for nearby residents on our way to the city wall that faced the Caribbean. The city wall is fairly formidable and would make it difficult for bands of pirates to attack the city. This concluded our tour of the old city.
Our two hour guided tour of Cartagena was coming to an end. Our taxi driver brought us back to his taxi where we tipped the policeman who had allowed us to park in a “No Parking” zone and drove us back to the terminal. As we walked back to the ship we passed the flamingos and monkeys playing in the park.
As we walked back to our ship we again passed the Freewinds cruise ship. Before we left port the Horizon of the Pullmantur Cruises moored alongside. Pullmantur Cruises is a cruise line headquartered in Spain. It became a subsiduary of Royal Caribbean Cruises Ltd. in 2006. Many of its ships have been retired from other cruise lines. For example, the RCI ship Empress of the Seas was transferred to Pullmantur immediately after our Caribbean cruise on the ship in 2008. As we sailed out of the inner harbor we passed Statue of the Virgin Carmen, Cartagena's patron saint of navigators.
As we sailed away from Cartagena we passed the fortifications at the edge of the inner harbor and a lone fisherman well out at sea. Once we were well clear of the harbor, our harbor pilot was picked up in a small boat and taken back to Cartagena.