Walking the narrow streets of Cartagena de Indias early in the morning has to be one of the best ways to capture the charm and mysterious allure of this colonial city.
In colonial times, Cartagena de Indias was a strategic port for the Spanish for exporting gold, silver and emerald wealth to Cadiz and Seville in Andalucía. The port was constantly under threat from competitive European navies and sponsored pirates, explaining the robust protective city walls that remain today, and the fortress-like construction of the town, with tightly-packed merchants’ houses, with heavy studded doors.
Yet now these impressive entrances have softened with time; the years have lent the wood a rich, welcoming patina. I couldn’t help but start photographing the doors as I passed, each had its own style and colour, each guarding a hidden, mysterious interior.
Gabriel García Márquez, Colombia’s most celebrated author, called Cartagena home for a few years when he was a young journalist on a local paper. The city’s intoxicating streets left an indelible mark on his psyche, shaping and defining the flavour and atmosphere of his fictional locations in works including, ‘Of Love and Other Demons’ and ‘Love in the Time of Cholera’.
Step out into the cobbled streets in the early morning and one captures an essence of the romantic, sensual city that inspired García Márquez. Street vendors offer a warming cup of café con leche from colourful flasks packed together on a small wheel barrow; vendors cut and prepare a sweet tropical fruit treats, or offer piping hot fritters.
Dilapidated, vintage trucks compete for space on the narrow lanes with horse drawn carriages, whilst youngsters flirt under shaded archways on their way to the university. The city compels you to photograph it, almost to excess. At every turn there is something fascinating, beautiful or surprising, moments worth capturing.
So many of these doors are decorated with antique knockers – expect to find exotic iguanas, elegant lions, mythical mermaids and or Caribbean fish. I learnt that these silent guardians were used to depict the trade or profession of the property owner. A lion indicated a teacher or a fish for a businessman.
Now there historical details add to the seductive mix of Cartagena’s old town. It defensive architecture now eroded by flowering bougainvillea and geraniums that spill out from the terraces of pastel-painted buildings; baroque towers and elaborate arches surround squares where residents sit and play cards. It’s a magical place.
Where to stay:
Impeccably restored historic mansion; fusing luxurious, Caribbean style with centuries old charm. Choose a 1,600 sq. ft. duplex Prestige suite, with colonial details and sumptuous Frette linens, robes and slippers, as well as exclusive Ortigia bath amenities.
Stunning resort housed in an ancient Franciscan convent within the walled old town. Stay in a superior suite with city views, and enjoy Hermes toiletries, butler service and a certain ‘je ne sais quoi’ luxury experience.
Welcoming guest suites, furnished with antiques and art, arranged around a central garden patio. In house library has one of the city’s most extensive collections of Gabriel García Márquez novels in more than twenty languages.