Facades of Cartagena – a photo story

Cartagena architecture

The girls and I recently sailed through the Panama Canal and stopped – all too briefly – in the beautiful, beautiful Colombian city of Cartagena.

Cartagena architecture

house fronts

Strolling through the lively old city, I was struck by the vibrant colours of the colonial architecture. Seemed to go well with the sultry heat, too.


UNESCO’s World Heritage Committee has included the city on its list of cultural heritage with outstanding universal value. For very good reason, I think.


Cartagena and pirates

Cartagena – such a fabulous name, isn’t it? It evokes thoughts of mystery, romance, and … well, Jack Sparrow.


This busy, lively Caribbean city was once one of the three most important ports in the West Indies (along with Havana, Cuba and San Juan, Puerto Rico) and very attractive to pirates. (Shouldn’t be surprised if a few of them ended up at Execution Dock in London).

Cartagena, Colombia

Sir Francis Drake did his best to wreak havoc on Cartagena – a hero home in England but a brutal pirate in the eyes of the Spanish. Interesting how nothing really changes… one country’s hero is another country’s terrorist.

Colourful house fronts and balconies in UNESCO World Heritage-listed Cartagena

House fronts and balconies in UNESCO World Heritage-listed Cartagena

Colourful hotel near the seafront

I fell completely in love with this city and immediately put it near the very top of my list of places I want to explore further. Think I might like to stay in this hotel (above), for the gorgeous, deep orange colour alone. Sadly, I can’t remember the name. Are you familiar with Cartagena? Perhaps you know the name? Do let me know, please.

Colourful house fronts and balconies in UNESCO World Heritage-listed Cartagena

What’s your favourite city and what do you adore about it?

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The Port, Fortresses and Group of Monuments, Cartagena is a UNESCO World Heritage site.
Here are more UNESCO World Heritage sites around the world.

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  1. Tina 2 November 2011 at 1403 - Reply

    Love these pictures. Cartagena looks so gorgeous and exciting. I’d really love to visit. The name reminds me of a funny 80s action adventure movie about kidnapping and a huge emerald. Don’t remember the name, but Kathleen Turner played in it.

    • Anne-Sophie Redisch 2 November 2011 at 1430 - Reply

      @Tina – I remember that film. Romancing the Stone, it was called.

  2. ItalianNotes 2 November 2011 at 1457 - Reply

    Don’t think I have a favourite city, but I love the look of those balconies. Must go there some time.

  3. jenjenk 2 November 2011 at 1623 - Reply

    That’s another place I would love to go to!! I had an opportunity to go there but there was no guarantee that I’d have a ticket to get back home…joys of free flights! 🙂

  4. Muza-chan 3 November 2011 at 0801 - Reply

    Very beautiful city, so colorful 🙂

  5. Denise 3 November 2011 at 0816 - Reply

    Panama has been on my list for such a long time!!! Tried to visit a few years ago and only managed to get stuck in London….long, embarrassing story there…

  6. Nomadic Samuel 3 November 2011 at 1236 - Reply

    It looks like such a gorgeous city for just strolling around and snapping photos 🙂

  7. Michael 3 November 2011 at 1350 - Reply

    I love balconies, especially anywhere it’s warm and sunny most of the year, where one can soak in the sun or even have meals on. You’ve got a great collection here.

  8. InsideJourneys 3 November 2011 at 1400 - Reply

    I could live here. Very beautiful!
    Thanks for showing us Cartagena!

  9. wandering educators 3 November 2011 at 1548 - Reply

    so beautiful and colorful! what an escape on this grey, dreary michigan day!

  10. Anne-Sophie Redisch 3 November 2011 at 1907 - Reply

    @Mette – You really must 🙂
    @Jen – I’m sure you’ll get a new opportunity.
    @MuzaChan Thanks.
    @Denise – I’ve been quite intrigued by Panama, too – ever since seeing The Tailor of Panama – it looked such an interesting, slightly eerie place. Didn’t see near enough of that country either, so will definitely return for a closer look at Panama, too.
    @Samuel – It really was.
    @Michael – Thanks. It was nice and toasty, around 33 degrees year-round, we were told.
    @InsideJourneys – There was a park in the middle of the old city. Nice respite from the heat – and as we sat on a bench next to rustling fountains, life just came to us. People wanting to sell newspapers, ice cream or trinkets, or just stopping to chat… not at all bothersome, just nice and easy. I remember thinking I could stay there for ages.
    @wandering educators – Yes, this is definitely a good time to remember the bright, hot days of summer.

  11. Cathy Sweeney 3 November 2011 at 1930 - Reply

    Beautiful photos, Sophie. My sister-in-law is from Colombia — I’ll have to ask if she knows of that hotel. Would love to visit there, too — picturesque with so much interesting history.

    • Anne-Sophie Redisch 3 November 2011 at 2115 - Reply

      @Cathy. Thanks! And yes, please do ask your sister-in-law? Is she from Cartagena?

  12. Marie 3 November 2011 at 2202 - Reply

    Wow, Cartagena looks so gorgeous and colorful. I have to admit I would be worried about visiting Colombia, though. Maybe I shouldn’t be?

    • Anne-Sophie Redisch 3 November 2011 at 2215 - Reply

      @Marie – Well, it’s certainly not as safe as most European countries, but it’s not the hotbed of crime it once was. Of course, it does require a large dose of common sense: keeping away from demonstrations or large gatherings (especially around election times), not walking alone at night, staying well away from the jungle and the troubled border areas. That said, I’d go back in a heartbeat. We never felt unsafe or threatened in any way.

  13. Leigh 3 November 2011 at 2219 - Reply

    Love collecting a group of shots like that from one trip; the colours are terrific.

    Fav city – probably Paris internationally, Boulder, Colorado in North America

  14. Nancie 4 November 2011 at 0049 - Reply

    What a beautiful little city. I’d love to sip coffee sitting on one of those balconies.

  15. Eileen Ludwig 4 November 2011 at 0220 - Reply

    I love colors to enhance any photo

  16. Anne-Sophie Redisch 4 November 2011 at 0335 - Reply

    @Leigh – Oh yes, Paris is a given. And I have actually been in Boulder, years and years ago, but I remember it was very pretty.
    @Nancie – Mmm… sitting on a balcony, sipping coffee and watching life below would be wonderful.
    @Eileen – I’ll have a look at your photo 🙂

  17. Jenna 4 November 2011 at 0412 - Reply

    Beautiful collection of photos, Sophie. I loce the details of the balconies and bright colors. To answer your question, i think my favorite city is Prague, partly for sentimental reasons, but also because the architecture is so stunning.

    • Anne-Sophie Redisch 4 November 2011 at 1034 - Reply

      @Jenna – Prague is pretty, isn’t it? Especially in winter, I think. It’s very cold, but I get such a great sense of walking through an ancient fairy-tale then.

  18. Laurel 4 November 2011 at 1440 - Reply

    I love the colors! My favorite city is Antigua in Guatemala. Lots of bright colors and volcanoes.

  19. Anne-Sophie Redisch 4 November 2011 at 1452 - Reply

    @Laurel – We really enjoyed Antigua as well. We visited quite a few cities on this trip, some we liked, others less so. Antigua and Cartagena were our favourites and the ones we’re very likely to return to. In Antigua, we saw the volcano (Volcan de Fuego, I think it was called) erupt.

  20. Andrea 4 November 2011 at 1457 - Reply

    While Cartagena was the least favourite place we visited in Colombia, it is very pretty and atmospheric to walk around in as you’ve shown in your great photos here.

    • Anne-Sophie Redisch 4 November 2011 at 1900 - Reply

      @Andrea – I seem to remember you guys writing about that. Must mean the rest of Colombia is even better, eh? I hear lots of nice things about Medellin especially. Were you in Cartagena before or after the rest of the country?

  21. James Cook 4 November 2011 at 1934 - Reply

    I sailed through the Panama canal when I used to work in the Merchant Navy. I did not get to see this cool little town though 🙁

  22. Sonja 5 November 2011 at 0210 - Reply

    I always look forward to your posts because you go to such unusual and interesting places. This town’s right up my alley though – colorful architecture and greenery. Gorgeous.

  23. Lisa 5 November 2011 at 0214 - Reply

    I had no idea that Cartagena had such lovely architecture. Thank you for the introduction to a city that I would not have considered visiting otherwise.

  24. Jessica 5 November 2011 at 0405 - Reply

    Sailing through the Panama Canal is on my travel list. Beautiful city!

  25. Anne-Sophie Redisch 5 November 2011 at 1954 - Reply

    James, Sonja, Lisa, Jessica – thanks so much for reading 🙂

  26. Andrea 5 November 2011 at 2154 - Reply

    @Sophie – we went to Cartagena last

  27. I love this little photo essay, Cartagena is definitely on my ‘list’ and this is a really great insight into its charms.

  28. Tobias 9 November 2011 at 1427 - Reply

    Wow, some amazing pictures in this post. Cartagena looks stunningly beautiful.

  29. Laarni 10 November 2011 at 1724 - Reply

    I do love these pictures. Cartagena looks so beautiful and peaceful. I’d really can’t to visit this place.

  30. Anne-Sophie Redisch 10 November 2011 at 1946 - Reply

    Natasha, Tobias, Laarni – thank you 🙂

  31. Sherry 10 November 2011 at 2121 - Reply

    I’ve heard conflicting opinions about Cartagena from various people. On the one hand its beautiful and romantic and on the other its expensive and crowded with tourist. But for me, having not been there yet, I am still lured, mostly by my love for old places and colorful things – which this place has both.

  32. Anne-Sophie Redisch 11 November 2011 at 1154 - Reply

    Sherry – I suppose everywhere is subject to varying opinions. Cartagena is probably the most visited city in Colombia, so people who have been travelling around in the lesser-known parts of the country will likely find Cartagena touristy in comparison.

    On the other hand, Colombia has been seen as being off-limits for so many years because of the violence and kidnappings associated with the drug business. I think Cartagena is a nice and easy introduction to Colombia. It certainly made me want to see more of the country.

  33. Stephen 15 November 2011 at 1929 - Reply

    The building facades of Cartagena make great photographs. I found myself spending a whole day just walking around photographing them.

  34. isabella 15 November 2011 at 1929 - Reply

    Look at all those great houses.. Everything seems to be really old and yet so elegant still.. Great work taking these pictures!

  35. Barbara 17 November 2011 at 2231 - Reply

    I think this is the right place to unwind.

  36. Anne-Sophie Redisch 17 November 2011 at 2355 - Reply

    @Stephen – Isn’t it, though? A photographer’s dream, Cartagena is.

    @Isabella – Thank you!

    @Barbara – It is. Especially in the lovely, little park in the centre.

  37. Ryan 23 November 2011 at 0330 - Reply

    I believe the hotel in your photo is the Hotel Charleston Santa Teresa – we stayed right around the corner from there, and enjoyed many cheap beers from vendors on the nearby Old Wall, overlooking this hotel and its swanky plaza restaurant/bar. Very nice!

    My wife and I visited Colombia last July, and loved every city/town we visited. Cartagena is especially interesting, beautiful, and mysterious, although it was by far the most expensive and touristy place we visited in the country. (Although, as you note, these concepts are all relative – Colombia as a whole is very affordable and non-touristy). We also LOVED Medellin… highly recommended to anyone interested in urban design/planning, architecture, public art, etc.

  38. Anne-Sophie Redisch 23 November 2011 at 2323 - Reply

    @Ryan – It is!! Thanks heaps! I’ve been googling hotels in Cartagena and not found it. Beautiful, isn’t it? And next to the Old Wall, as you say. Very cool. Next time in Cartagena, for sure…

    Thanks for your thoughts on Medellin as well. The city gets such rave reviews, I’m very curious to see it.

  39. Jen Laceda 29 November 2011 at 0427 - Reply

    I love Havana, Cuba! It’s very similar to Cartagena, based on your photos! Of course, Cartagena is a dream destination for me. I hope I can visit the land of Gabriel Garcia Marquez one day. LOL!

  40. Anne-Sophie Redisch 29 November 2011 at 2324 - Reply

    @Jen – I really like Cuba, too – though I’ve not been in Havana. But I imagine it would be very similar: Caribbean, colourful, energetic, yet relaxed at the same time.

  41. Sofia - As We Travel 6 December 2011 at 0740 - Reply

    Looks like a beautiful city, I would love to sail around a couple of countries too some time.

  42. Ethel 15 December 2011 at 1100 - Reply

    great collection of colonial architecture, it shows that you truly love the place.

  43. Annie - FootTracker 8 February 2012 at 2316 - Reply

    I like how the buildings all have balconies ^^ very colorful photos ~

  44. Runaway Brit 18 March 2012 at 1919 - Reply

    I absolutely adored Cartagena, it was easily my favourite city in the whole of South America, I just wish I could have spent longer there.

    • Anne-Sophie Redisch 22 March 2012 at 0013 - Reply

      I know what you mean; I could easily hang out in Cartagena for weeks. So much colour and energy.

  45. Anne-Sophie Redisch 22 March 2012 at 0014 - Reply

    Sofia, Ethel and Annie – very belated thanks for stopping by 🙂

  46. Adam @ travels of adam 28 April 2012 at 1258 - Reply

    I find the architecture in Latin America to be some of the most beautiful architecture in the world! So simple but ornate—and always colorful!

  47. Anne-Sophie Redisch 29 April 2012 at 2251 - Reply

    Adam – from the Latin American cities I’ve seen so far, I definitely agree.

  48. jan 15 September 2012 at 0144 - Reply

    I love these old buildings. I am intrigued by “we sailed through the Panama Canal”. How did that come about?

  49. Turkey's For Life 15 September 2012 at 0745 - Reply

    I’m not surprised this has made the UNESCO listings. Really pretty buildings and, like you said, perfect colours for the sun. My favourite city is Istanbul but we loved Vilnius, too, when we were there.

  50. Ashley of Ashley Abroad 1 October 2012 at 1434 - Reply

    Ever since I read “Love in the Time of Cholera” I have wanted to go there. You are so lucky, what a beautiful city!

    • Anne-Sophie Redisch 3 October 2012 at 1539 - Reply

      It really was a gorgeous city, and an easy place to be.

  51. Trish Mendoza 20 March 2015 at 0948 - Reply

    All I can say is the architectural designs are amazing and beautiful. The classic looks of the building is adorable, I am encourage to visit this place and take a closer look to the details. I love details especially in an architectural designs.

    • Anne-Sophie Redisch 22 March 2015 at 0009 - Reply

      You’ll definitely love Cartagena then 🙂

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