Cruising the Panama Canal – Cartagena, Columbia

Today, we arrived in our final port on this journey. We’d looked forward to Cartagena from the start. Cartagena was an area Vanda had visited years before with her father and had predicted we would not be disappointed. She would be right, especially for those that love to take pictures. This city was beautiful!  The shipped pulled into port around 8 am. An active port, you could see vessels, crates and cranes all over the dock area.  As we sailed into the port you could see the modern city of Cartagena with its skyscrapers and buildings which back dropped beaches along the ocean front. As you turned to look around to the other side, you are hit by the colours of the old city off in the distance and just to right of this view, you then get a vision of Coastal Cartagena and its abundance of trees and beaches. Before we even beagn to prepare for the day, it was obvious this city had much to offer.

We had nothing really planned for this day. We wanted to simply see the sights, you know walk around the old city and enjoy as much as we could. Our plan was to meet up with Craig and Vicki around 8:30 am just off the gangway. The weather today was extremely hot, it was overcast and very humid. Rain was in the forecast but our fingers were crossed and hopefully we would be able to escape any downpours.  As you leave the ship, you have the option to walk quite a distance or to take the shuttle bus that is provided. Cartagena has a very long pier…we opted for the shuttle bus. As you disembark the shuttle bus you arrive at a number of shops and waiting taxis. We had been told by some fellow cruise passengers that when looking for a taxi there will be two types. Drivers that wear Blue shirts and those that wear white shirts. The recommendation was to stay away from the blue shirts as they seldom spoke English and well we would eventually find this to be true. As we came out of the shops we found a white shirt driver who would take us around for the day …$20 per person. We then embarked our taxi and headed for the Old Fortress.

The actual title of the fortress is “Castillo San Felipe de Barajas” and construction on the fortress began in 1536 but was not fully completed until 1657. There were later additions made to the fortress dating as late as 1763. The stone blocks used to build the castle were said to be splattered with the blood of slaves. Cartagena was a port of the black slave trade. The guns of the castle commanded the whole bay, so that any suspicious vessel attempting to dock could be attacked.The castle is well preserved. In 1984 the castle became a World Heritage Site. The castle is striking for its grand entrance and its complex maze of tunnels. We spent well over an hour at this location exploring the tunnels and and climbing to the highest levels of the this fortress.

The climb up to the fortress:

As we made our way through the fortress we came upon the section that led us to the underground tunnels. The tunnels were built to allow movement from one battery to another, within the fortress and also to allow for supply’s to be delivered and evacuation from the fortress.

 You can see the height of the tunnel was very low. Vanda is about 5’5″.

We then  made our way out of the fortress:

We thoroughly enjoyed our time at the fortress. I also enjoyed the fact that we could take our time as we walked through the tunnels and fortress and were not rushed in anyway. When we were ready to move on we made our way back down to the bottom of the hill and met up with our cab driver. In case you were wondering, I think we paid about 10 dollars each to go through the fortress. I will also mention that there are are number of vendors at the bottom of the fortress trying to sell you their products. Some were more pushy then others but the key was to simply say no and move on.  When we met up with our cab driver we did get a bit of a surprise. The cab driver (who was a white shirt if you recall) was now standing with a blue shirt cabby. The guy in the blue shirt he claimed was his brother in law, and he was now passing us off to him. This was a bit unexpected to say the least and sure enough our new cabby spoke zero English. However, as the day went on, we did manage to communicate very well with him and he actually was a very good guide and with the use of a map we saw everything we wanted as you shall see…. He also stuck right with us and tried his best to explain different sites we were seeing.  It is amazing how easy it does become to communicate with the use of your hands….

After we had switched up taxi drivers we then made our way back to the car and began the journey from the fortress to the walled city. Cartagena is a city filled with history. The city is connected by a number of bridges and by walls which were built in the 17th century. These walls have come to be known as the “Historic old city”.  The old walled city has changed very little over the years. It features many winding streets filled with colorfully painted buildings that in my opinion are simply delightful. Our first stop in the walled city would be the Dungeons.  Alongside the ramparts, this long building consists of 23 deep rooms, or dungeons, which originally served as military barracks. Built toward the end of the 18th century, these barracks were the last major structure to be built within the walled city during the Colonial era.

 As we walked through the Dungeons which are now a number of shops, the views were spectacular. Here are some fellow passengers on a carriage ride through the old city.

After a walk around the shops and the area around the dungeons we then made our way back to the car and proceeded to our next major spot where we would leave the car for the remainder of the day. Our Taxi driver would accompany us as a personal guide on a walking tour of the city from this point on.  One of the first stops we made on this walk about was the Heredia Theatre. The theatre was originally built as a church in 1625 but was converted to its present use in 1911 when it was restored. This was a beautiful structure:

 This is the customs house where all merchants entering and leaving the city would pay their taxes:

Plaza San Pedro Claver is a small square dominated by the Sanctuary, Museum and Church of Saint Peter Claver. From the square our journey within the walls would begin. After a brief look around the square we proceeded into the Church of Saint Peter Claver.

Pedro Claver was the first South American Saint – a Jesuit, he fought for the rights of slaves, working in the slave markets in Cartagena. His church isn’t just a church it’s also a museum. It welcomes people in to sit in the shade of the cloister court yard, where Saint Pedro baptized thousands of slaves, or into the art lined halls of the museum commemorating his life and times to learn about the history of the human rights movement. Pedro’s remains are kept in a glass coffin in the high altar where they’re attended to by followers who visit from all over the world. There was a $3 fee to walk around the church and museum.

These pictures are from the museum area of the church where Pedro Claver had lived:

This is the Cloister area of the Museum where Saint Pedro baptized the slaves:

We then moved into the Sanctuary of the Church.  This was a very large church as you can see from the pictures.  At the front of the church, you will find the body (remains) of Saint Pedro Claver entombed in a glass coffin and draped in robes that appeared to be gold in colour. I always have found these types of tombs to be very unique.  Many I have seen in the past usually have some covering over the head or face of the remains. This did not.

View of the church from the balcony:

After we left the church, we then made our way around the winding streets. As we walked along there were many shops to step into including some small café’s and restaurants. We did not stop to eat as we were just going to wait until we arrived back at the ship.

 Hard Rock Café:

Coach Square: Hundreds of thousands of black slaves, hunted down, and brought here from Africa were sold and branded in this Plaza. Many were then shipped to the new colonies. Veracruz, Mexico and Cartagena were the only two official ports designated by the King of Spain, to trade slaves. The Spanish crown had forbidden the enslavement of the native Amerindians. The name “Coach Square”, dates to the past century, and applies today as well, as this is a designated boarding area to tour the city in a horse drawn coach.

From the square we then proceeded toward the Palace of Inquisition. Along the way, the beauty of the buildings and abundance of colours on the walls were fabulous and made for a perfect picture taking extravaganza.

Bolívar Park – Located in the heart of the city, this park is a local and tourist favorite. Named after General Simon Bolivar, who liberated the country in 1811. On the base of the Bolivar Statue are these words:

“Cartagenians: If Caracas gave me life, Cartagena gave me glory…”. Simón Bolívar

Inquisition Palace: The large and detailed entrance portal alone, is worth a visit. During the colonial era , this house served as a tribunal “court” and tried anyone the Church viewed as a heretic. The palace contains instruments of torture, along with documents, paintings and explanations about the Inquisition. Outside, fronting Calle de la Inquisition, is the small, barred window from which the sentences handed down by the tribunal were announced to the public. There was an entrance fee of $6 to walk through the Palace. For a few dollars more you could get a guide to take you through. We opted to view on our own.

Do not try this at home:

After about 45 minutes in the Palace we then proceeded out side and started to walk the streets again until we made a brief stop at Cathedral. Construction on the Cathedral began in 1575, with a planned completion for 1585. In 1586, when only the tower remained unfinished, the pirate Francis Drake attacked the city, partially destroying what had been completed. In 1598, work on the Cathedral was resumed. Currently, the church interior is currently being restored. We only stayed briefly as there was a service going on when we arrived.

We then began to walk toward the San Francisco Defense Wall. The journey along these streets offered more photo opportunities but we were starting to become a bit fatigued as the heat and humidity was on the rise as the day ticked away.

As we made our way to the Defensive wall, located in front of the Naval Museum we were coming to the end of our walking tour in the old city. We had spent close to 6 hours with our cab driver and were now ready to return to the ship and have a bite to eat. The city was beautiful and I was pleasantly surprised at how clean it was. The people of Cartagena take great care of their beloved city. After spending the day here, I can certainly see why.  On our way back to the ship, we quickly realized that the tour gods had been with us on this day as just as we were returning the sky opened up and the rain began to fall and it was coming down in buckets.  After grabbing some lunch (well mid afternoon lunch) the rain was still falling so we decided to head to the Cova Café for an Aspen Coffee and some relaxation and air conditioning. After this we went back to our rooms for a little bit of a rest and then get ready for the sail away.  By the time we were ready to sail out of Port the rains had stopped and the weather was once again perfectly hot and humid. I am ok with that.  Back up on Deck 11 we then decided to have a drink or two…or three…

I noticed a smaller ship had also pulled into Port later in the day although I could not make out who it was.

We were scheduled to sail out of Port at 5 pm however we did not actually get away until after 5:30 pm. I had heard that not all passengers were back on-board and so the Captain had given the ok to wait. I am not sure if it was a ship excursion that was late or what exactly happened.


Vanda and Vicki wait for the sail away party to start!




The sunsets on Cartagena:




After sail away we went off to prepare for the night. We started with the 7 pm show which featured a combination of Comedian Scott Wyler and Singer Paul Tanner, both of whom I spoke of earlier. Tonight again, I was very pleased with the entertainment and both did a great job.  We then went for our customary pre-dinner drinks in the Rendezvous Lounge and then made our way to dinner. I had the Chicken Kiev and it was sensational. I would highly recommend this.  After dinner it was back up to Deck 11 and the Constellation Lounge for the Celebrity 20th Anniversary party. The party was started with some free Champagne, toasts to Celebrity and some cake (although I passed on the cake just coming from dinner). Once again, the Constellation was packed. I again, was very surprised to see so many people up so late. The crowd on-board the ship, I would say, tended to be on the older side (retired, etc. I will just leave it at that) but these folks sure knew how to party. When we sailed Holland America (again older crowd) the night clubs were dead (so to speak). Kudos`s to all those party goers, you helped to make this cruise all that much more fun!


Tomorrow, we would be having our 6th sea day of the cruise. In fact, the next two days would be sea days. We had planned a pub crawl for the next day……


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