As far as tourism in Colombia goes, the huge destination is Cartagena, on the Caribbean coast. This town is the draw for Colombians, as well as for those gigantic cruise ships whose passengers are bussed from the port to the centre of the old town and to some souvenir shops.
Cartagena is one of the oldest cities in Colombia, and was fortified against attacks by French and English pirates. I just looked it up, founded in 1533 and the population is over one million.
We stayed only in the old historical centre, but I have the impression that most Colombians go to the area called Boca Grande, where there are big hotels and apartments. Like this . We did go to the beach there one morning, but there are also islands offshore where you can go on excursions.
There are two main sections within the old city walls -- el Centro and Getsemani. The latter is where many backpackers' hostels are and is probably a bit more dodgy at night, but we were told that many foreigners have bought and restored houses there and turned them into fancy hotels. We walked around the streets of el Centro at night (nightfall is at 6pm after all!), but didn't feel unsafe at any time.
Hardly a waste of time! It's Monday -- the beginning of the work week frequently seems to make for a sluggish forum.
This is a COMPLETE revelation for me, Bjd. Wow. The whole tropical razzle-dazzle transports me back to my first trip to Key West, then the one to Veracruz. But Cartagena is much prettier and seems to still belong to the locals despite all the tourism. I think I could even give up my beloved mountains and embrace heat & humidity again to live in a place like that.
I am feeling my historical ignorance though. Yes, Cartagena rang a distant memory bell of early European settlement and piracy. Looking into my beloved 100 Years, I quickly found the story of Ursula's g-g-grandmother being frightened by the cannon of Sir Francis Drake, and the finding of the galleon in the great swamp.
But what really amazes me and makes me feel ignorant are all the people of African descent in your photos. Obviously, if much of Brazil's population is descended from Africans brought there by the European colonizers, the same would apply in Colombia. Well, duh -- must find out more!
Did you enjoy yourselves, or were you put off by excess tourism? I know you say in the Bogotá thread that you're not that interested in food, but did you note a distinct difference here on the coast? I am totally charmed and drawn to the place by your pictures and description.
You are right, Bixa -- there is a much greater racial mix on the coast than in Bogota and a lot more black people. I would imagine that there are other areas of the country where there are Indian/white mixtures.
Well, excess tourism was not really a problem since we didn't really go to Boca Grande except to swim for a short while. Most of the tourists we saw were Colombian, and as I said, the tourists from the cruise ships (there were 2 in harbour when we were there) only see a very small part of the city. So, yes, we enjoyed ourselves. I had never been in a "Caribbean" sort of tropical environment before and neither had my husband, so that was interesting. And you were right about the climate being good for the skin -- right now my tan is fading fast and my skin is dry. But it was hot, although there was some breeze off the water.
What I really liked were the colours of the houses, the flowers and the fruit juices. And the water at the beach is warm. I'll post some more pictures of the other area, Getsemani.
This looks like a great place! If that's why it attracts tourists, so much the better. (After all, I live in Paris....) Since I have not yet set foot in South America, all of this is a complete revelation to me, and it is really increasing my desire to see it all for myself.
My only experiences in Latin America so far have been a very tiny bit of Mexico, the Dominican Republic and Cuba, so I have a lot to learn.
Bjd, the very marrow of my heat-seeking bones cries out to be in Cartagena! It's odd, since some of the shots could have been taken right here where I live, but your photos capture the tropical spirit and you can almost feel the sea air.
The streets look as though they've been widened in modern times, but are still very narrow. I note many people walking in the street and few cars in that older part of town. That seems like a good thing.
Gosh, I love those candy colors and the wooden trim everywhere. I yearn to have that bas-relief of the fruit in my house. Thanks so much for this -- it's a real antidote to cold days.
You should all realize that when we take tourist photos, we try to take what is either "picturesque" or "attractive". This is not photojournalism, which is something completely different. We did try to take photographs of untouristy things, but they are harder to get, simply because the poor areas of town -- and there are many areas without sidewalks and with slummy little houses that we saw on our way to the bus station -- are not places where you walk around with a camera and take pictures.
In general, the locals do not speak English. Only those working in the shops selling to tourists. Of course, some young people have picked up some American-accented English but in general, English is taught mostly in private schools, hence is inaccessible to many. So you need Spanish. I have been learning Spanish for a couple of years now on my own and have been to S America a couple of times. And in Cartagena we were with our daughter, who has just spent a year in Ecuador and has become fluent. You get much better contacts with people when you can joke with them!
But in Santa Marta (further along the coast), the taxi driver told us that those cab drivers who don't speak English lose business when non-Spanish-speaking tourists arrive in the cruise ships and look for a taxi. They will only go with drivers who can speak English, so apparently the city is trying to improve its tourism industry by offering English lessons to cab drivers.
Marvelous photos BJD! It is very reminiscent of Oaxaca and Haiti,the architecture stunning, what one conjures up when one suggests Caribbean. Also reminded me a good bit of Merida on the Yucatan and parts of Playa del Carmen before they f'd it up. Fabulous flora,saw many of the same shrubs and vines as here except ours are all dead now from the freeze.
I'm pretty sure the 1st pic is purple bignonia -- maybe this one, although if it's the one I'm thinking of, it can hardly be described as "compact". (another source says to 30 meters -- that's more like it!) The flowers in the second picture are bougainvillea.
I think there's a picture of the bignonia in "vines" in the Putting Down Roots board. I'll go look.
bjd - it has been so exciting for me to see pictures of Cartagena. As it happens, my son is there at present. One of his friends runs a business in Bogota. My son texted me that they are going to an island off Cartagena for a 3 day stay then going to drive around some of Colombia. It sounds a big worrying to me. Neither of those boys has any idea of danger. The friend runs a mine disposal business.He has recently got married.
This is a gorgeous thread...the beautiful saturated colours! The old city is fascinating. You captured the feel of the city with these great photos. I keep revisiting your thread for the colours alone, but love the photos of the chess players, the writers and the men hanging out outside the little store.
You should all realize that when we take tourist photos, we try to take what is either "picturesque" or "attractive". This is not photojournalism, which is something completely different. We did try to take photographs of untouristy things, but they are harder to get, simply because the poor areas of town -- and there are many areas without sidewalks and with slummy little houses that we saw on our way to the bus station -- are not places where you walk around with a camera and take pictures....
Well said. You have to be sensitive when you take photos of the 'untouristy' things that seem 'quaint' etc. Once in a small town in Mexico, I took a photo of a beautifully painted red door with an old, rusty bicycle leaning against the wall, very poor, obviously, but I thought it was beautiful. The owner ran out and begged me not to do this. He thought that I was making fun of his poverty.
Spindrift, I don't know if it will make you feel any better, but there are soldiers stationed along roads. And I was told repeatedly that it is possible to drive around much of Colombia now, which was not the case under the previous government. Despite opposition to Uribe's government, and his wanting to change the constitution once again to be able to run for a 3rd term, people do admit that he vastly improved the security situation in the country.
Of course, the police and soldiers are on the lookout for drug traffickers too, not just guerillas! But if your son's friend is running a mine disposal company, then his idea of danger is probably different than yours.
I am no expert on the wars in Colombia, but the FARC have been fighting the government for over 40 years. I am not sure, but I think they are the ones who lay the mines as the government forces push them from areas which they controlled.
There are also paramilitary forces that were formed to fight the FARC. Of course, this means that many people, especially in the countryside, were caught in the middle -- accused by both sides of supporting the other.
Both the FARC and paramilitaries fund themselves with drug trafficking, and hostage taking in the case of the FARC. So things are indeed better than they used to be, but Colombia's neighbour, Venezuela, is in conflict with Colombia, supposedly because the USA has signed an agreement with Colombia to be allowed to use army bases there. IN any case, while we were there, it was mentioned in the news that the FARC opened an" information office" in Caracas and Chavez's reason was that there was no room for legitimate opposition in Colombia. I don't know the exact numbers, but I believe that there are still over 700 hostages being held by the FARC, some for over 10 years. Mostly soldiers and policemen.
While in Colombia, I saw a news article saying that some of the freed politicians (who had been held by the FARC) were planning to run in the next elections. It will be interesting to see what sort of attitude they take towards the FARC.
But as I say, there is certainly a lot more information available than what I can give you.
Thanks for that, Bixa. I see the NY Times's writers stay in much fancier places than we do!
I don't quite see why they would bother making a GGM tour in Cartagena, since as they say repeatedly in the article, he spent hardly any time there. From what I understood in his biography, he lived much longer in Barranquilla, along the coast from Cartagena. I am reading Love in the Time of Cholera at the moment, and I wondered whether it was set in Cartagena. The name of the city is not mentioned as that.
Oh well, if Cartagena is becoming a hip place to be, I'm glad I went there before.