The Cartagena cruise port is situated near a fascinating cruise terminal building. Well, it’s not just a building but more like a port oasis, and it’s really fascinating and unexpected. Cruise passengers find themselves in a zoological forest that houses some of Colombia’s best-known exotic species, including howler monkeys, parrots and flamingos!
Cartagena Cruise Port & Walled City
We visited Cartagena on a Princess world cruise. This article explains where the cruise ships dock and what to do at Cartagena Cruise Port. It also discusses how to dress and what to wear for a day in Cartagena, and uncovers some of the things you might discover in the walled city. We also share some information from our personal travel journal, link to some interesting shore excursions, offer 13 top tips for visiting Cartagena, and finish the post with a list of frequently asked questions.
Cruise Ships and Cartegena
Cartagena itself, is a fabulous cruise destination and passengers on cruise ships are assured of some magical shore excursions. It’s a very colorful city, and a popular destination with cruise lines especially those that incorporate a Panama Canal cruise as the next part of their voyage.
Starting at the port of Cartagena cruise passengers can either catch a taxi into the old walled city, hop onto a tour bus, or catch a water taxi tour from the passenger terminal.
History of Cartagena de Indias
Cartagena, known since the Colonial era as Cartagena de Indias, is a beautiful and historic city located on the Caribbean coast of Colombia. It’s the fifth-largest city in Colombia, and was founded in 1533.
In 1984 it was designated as one of the UNESCO World Heritage Sites.
Colorful City of Cartagena
Cartagena was once a heavily fortified Spanish town which was the key strongpoint of the Spanish Empire on the north coast of South America or The Spanish Main as it was then known.
Ringed by its thick stone walls, that required almost 100 years to complete, the walled city is full of tourist attractions, and artefacts to buy!
Spanish colonial heritage, with plazas, churches, narrow streets, balconied houses and well preserved monuments all now part of a UNESCO World Heritage Site.
With its vibrant culture, lively street life, and stunning beaches, Cartagena has become one of the top tourist destinations in Colombia and not without reason.
For cruise visitors with only one day in the city, there are plenty of must-see attractions. The city center is lined with cobblestone streets, well-preserved colonial architecture and historic fortifications.
The best way to get around the old city is really just to put on comfy shoes and walk.
The Old City, or Ciudad Amurallada, is a great place to start. This walled area is home to many historic landmarks and beautiful plazas, such as Plaza Santo Domingo and Plaza Bolivar. The Castillo San Felipe de Barajas is another must-visit destination. This 16th-century fortress was built by the Spanish to protect the city from pirates and other invaders.
If you have time, take a stroll through and a close look at the Getsemani neighborhood.
Getsemani is a vibrant and bohemian neighborhood located in the heart of Cartagena.
This colorful area is known for its stunning street art, lively nightlife, and excellent restaurants. It’s a great place to explore during the day, with its beautiful colonial buildings and bustling marketplaces.
But it really comes to life at night, when the bars and restaurants fill up and the music starts pumping.
For travelers looking to experience Cartagena’s rich culture and history, a visit to Getsemani is a must. It’s a great place to soak up the local vibe and get a taste of the city’s unique flavor.
Beaches near Cartagena Port
For beach lovers, a visit to Playa Blanca is a must. Cartagena has some beautiful beaches and this beautiful white-sand beach is just a short boat ride from the city and offers crystal-clear waters perfect for swimming and snorkeling.
With its rich history, stunning architecture, and vibrant culture, Cartagena is a truly unforgettable destination.
My World Cruise Voyage with Princess Cruises
This is an excerpt about Cartagena from my travel journal on a world cruise.
We waved farewell to Bermuda and Sea Princess sailed away between the navigational markers that mark the safe passage between the reefs surrounding the island.
I watched the island recede and marvelled at the crystal clear sea which appeared in so many shades of blue from the inky navy of the deeper passages to the milky turquoise of the shallows.
Our Captain had now set a southerly course heading towards The Caribbean and our next port of call would be Cartagena in Colombia. There was just time for a cocktail at the pool bar before getting dressed for dinner 🙂
Our course took us through the Mona Passage that runs between the Dominican Republic and Puerto Rico. This can be a treacherous part of the ocean with strong currents but once safely through the passage we left the Atlantic Ocean and headed into the Caribbean Sea.
During this time Sea Princess was followed by a flock of gannets which provided us with a dazzling display of diving and fishing. The gannets would fly alongside the ship and then suddenly drop like a stone, in a dead dive, plunging into the ocean and pursuing their catch under the surface.
Dave did a bit of research and found out that Gannets dive from heights of up to 30 metres and can reach speeds of up to 100kms per hour!
After 3 days at sea we arrived in Cartagena Bay as the sun was rising, and Dave and I hurried on deck to watch the coast come into view.
We were immediately hit by a thick dense blanket of humidity that steamed up our glasses and it was 15 minutes before our cameras had de-misted sufficiently to take clear photos.
We knew very little of Cartagena and had no real expectations about what we would see, so the colourful, vibrant and entertaining city came as a complete but very pleasant surprise.
Port of Cartagena
Sea Princess berthed a little way out of Cartagena’s old colonial city almost opposite the ocean view towers of the modern city and Boca Grande, and for a short first visit we were glad to find that the heart of the city is close to the port and cruise ship terminal – only about 3.5 kilometres (2 miles) away.
The cruise terminal building was delightful with a small bird park full of various types of bird species including splendidly coloured Macaws, and electric pink flamingos. There were also some entertaining Howler Monkeys in the trees. For a cruise traveler, Cartagena cruise port is a delightful terminal to spend a little time in before exploring the city.
Our first idea was to catch a taxi (from the taxi rank a 10-minute cab ride) into the old city and go on a shore tour from there, but then we found tourist guides on the boardwalks near the bird park selling a catamaran ‘sail of the bay and walking tour of the old city’, so we decided to do that instead.
Our morning tour set off from the bird park close to where Sea Princess docked at the port.
Historical buildings of Cartagena
The first stop on our walking tour was at the Plaza de los Coches, once the site of the slave auctions and we carried on to the main square of Cartagena, the Plaza de Bolivar which is flanked by the Palace of the Inquisition where terrible tortures were once a daily event.
We walked on through the walled old town where our next stop was the Plaza San Pedro Claver which gets its name from the church and monastery where St Peter Claver, a Jesuit Priest, dedicated his life to the salvation of the African slaves passing through Cartagena. The church is originally from 1580.
The streets of Cartagena were so picturesque with buildings in lemon and ochre and white, many with wooden balconies from which cascaded bougainvillea and other colourful tropical plants.
“Each year there’s a competition for who has the best display of natural flowers on their balconies, and the winner doesn’t have to pay house tax for 12 months,” our local guide Jose explained to us.
In the streets we saw colourfully dressed women in beautiful costumes with the national colours of red, blue, and yellow.street; sassy street vendors of sorts selling tropical fruits out of large baskets, attracting customers with their gorgeous robes.
We had a delightful two hour guided tour of the old city taking in amazing sights and learning about Cartagena’s history.
We also had the opportunity to buy some of the inexpensive but very alluring gifts and souvenirs which street hawkers were selling.
It wasn’t long before I’d acquired T-shirts, leather hand bags and tote bags! All gifts of course 😉
Unfortunately we weren’t able to stay longer exploring the city as Sea Princess was scheduled to depart for the Panama Canal shortly after lunch, but it’s certainly a city we would love to come back to and have time to explore, not only the city itself but also around Colombia and the coast as a whole.
With complimentary and very much needed bottles of water we hopped back on the Catamaran. Our breezy open air boat trip back to the cruise terminal was a wonderful relief from the heat and humidity of the city and we watched frigate birds circling overhead, and pelicans in the bay.
All too soon we were back at the bird park where we had a cool drink and tried an Empanada con Huevo, before taking one more walk around under the shady trees before heading back to the ship for a swim.
Cartagena Shore Excursions
Here are some interesting shore excursions from, and around Cartagena.
- Cartagena Historic Center and Getsemaní Shared Walking Tour
- Rosario Islands Sailing Catamaran Excursion
- Cartagena Hop On Hop Off Bus Tour
- Cartagena Bay Sunset Yacht Tour
What Should I wear To Cartagena?
Dress appropriately: Cartagena is a conservative city, so it’s important to dress appropriately, especially when visiting churches or other religious sites.
Cartagena has a tropical climate with very hot weather. It’s likely to be sticky and humid all year round, so dress in something that is cool and comfortable. Consider loose clothing, lightweight pants, baggy T-shirts, floaty dresses, maxi skirts and crop tops, shorts and sandals.
I always like to protect my skin and take a light button down shirt with long sleeves and a collar that I can slip over a T shirt if the UV is extreme – or take a lightweight scarf to drape over my shoulders if I’m wearing a sleeveless top.
Bring sunscreen and a hat: Cartagena’s tropical climate means that the sun can be intense, so be sure to protect your skin and stay hydrated.
13 Tips for Cartagena Cruise Port
- It’s a hot 25 – 40 minute walk from the terminal to the Old City, and not recommended unless you are fit, it’s best to take a taxi ride – there are port authorised independent taxis located near the cruise terminal.
- Colombia is known for its emeralds and there are plenty of places in the Walled City to buy them.
- The weather is generally 25 – 32C. The day we were there (end July) was very very hot and humid.
- Gifts to buy include interesting handcrafts, coffee, emeralds, emerald jewellery, clothes and accessories, leather and hand rolled cigars.
- Typical local food of Cartagena – we tried the Empanada con Huevo – fried cornmeal shell fileld with ground beef into which a whole egg is broken and the whole thing is refried again #Yum!
- The Old City is the heart of Cartagena’s charm and offers the best access to the city’s most popular attractions.
- Try the local cuisine: Cartagena has a vibrant food scene, so be sure to try some of the local specialties like ceviche, arepas, and empanadas.
- Take a guided tour: A guided tour is a great way to learn about the city’s rich history and culture, and to discover hidden gems you might otherwise miss.
- Use caution when using taxis: While taxis are generally safe in Cartagena, it’s a good idea to use reputable taxi companies or ride-sharing services like Uber.
- Watch your belongings: As with any tourist destination, it’s important to keep an eye on your belongings and be aware of pickpockets.
- Learn some basic Spanish: While many people in Cartagena speak English, knowing some basic Spanish can go a long way in making connections with locals and navigating the city.
- Take a break from the heat: Cartagena can be hot and humid, so be sure to take breaks in air-conditioned spaces and stay hydrated.
- Plan your visit during the dry season: Cartagena’s dry season runs from December to March, which is the best time to visit if you want to avoid the heat and humidity.
FAQs – Frequently Asked Questions
Can you walk from Cartagena Cruise Port?
From the cruise dock you will see a path that will take you to the Cartagena cruise terminal. This is only a few minutes walk away, but if you prefer there should be a small shuttle bus that will take you from the cruise dock to the Cartagena cruise terminal.
How far is the old city from the Port of Cartagena?
The port isn’t far from the city. It’s about 3.5kms (2 miles) from the actual entrance of the Old Walled Town. A taxi ride will should probably be about 15 minutes.
Is Cartagena a Walkable City?
Yes the old walled city is very walkable. There’s lots to see and lots to buy!
What is the nearest beach to Cartagena Port?
Cala Cortina – a naturally secluded cove.
What should I be careful of in Cartagena?
As a tourist you might stand out. So be careful of the following …
- Bag snatching.
Just dress down, don’t wear expensive jewellery, keep valuable out of sight or held tight, and make sure you keep your bag with money and credit cards held tightly against your body or under your shirt. While we didn’t experience any problems when we visited it’s important to be aware that you could be a target.
Is it ok to wear shorts in Cartagena?
Yes, many people in Cartagena wear shorts. Just bear in mind that very short, tight shorts might not be appropriate wear in some religious sites. You can keep cool and wear shorts with baggy T’s, flip flops or sandals for sightseeing in the hot summer months.
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