I was first in Cartegena over thirty years ago with a boyfriend who is not now my husband. We arrived at dusk and found our pre-booked accommodation located in a very shady part of town down a small badly lit alley. After deciding the sheets on the bed had never been washed we left in a hurry, dragging suitcases through threatening, uneven streets observed by a multitude of seemingly hostile faces until a more suitable hotel could be found. 2017 saw me here again. In the last few years this city has seen its tourism trade bloom. In 2015 two million people visited, this year they expect to greet five million. Exclusive designer hotels are springing up in the old town complete with spas, gourmet restaurants, valet parking and chic bars. These establishments were previously the Spanish colonial residents, some over 400 years old, which over the course of history were allowed to decay but are now being painstakingly restored to welcome the onslaught of descerning tourists. Cartegena is most definitely open for business and with direct flights from a number of North American cities is destined to become the Prague of Central America.
Since Columbia shook off the shackles of the drug cartels the country has made tremendous efforts to encourage the tourist and Cartegena is the jewel in the countries crown. With the destinction of being the oldest city in South America the labyrinth of lanes complete with brightly painted buildings many adorned with flowering vegetation and creepers ensures just wondering is a delight.
Although the typical souvenier vendors congregate and pester in the two main squares, once the explorer moves on there is little to threaten an exploration of this walled city. Tourism police are in constant evidence making it possible to go beyond the main centre and search out the back streets. The single women feels secure.
I was more than a little apprehensive about returning, despite hearing of Cartegena’s change in fortunes. These worries were groundless: my recollection of a beautiful although somewhat threatening city was misplaced. This coastal haven should be on every travellers ‘to do’ list.