Contrasts of Central America Saga Tour: Part 3 – Colombia

STE’s Holiday Editor, Tony Taylor, reports on his experiences on a Saga Holidays tour of Central America. After travelling around Panama, and Costa Rica, the tour moved on to Colombia.

Colombia: Cartagena Centro Historico
Cartagena Centro Historico

The group taking the tour extension to Colombia left at 5 am to fly via Bogotá to Cartagena, the base for our three days in Colombia. We arrived at the Hotel Santa Catalina in the colonial district of the old walled city late in the afternoon.

This newly opened hotel was ideally situated in the old city, the Centro Historico, overlooking Plaza de Los Coches and the clock tower, Torre del Reloj. This lively plaza had horse drawn carriages passing through in the evening and a range of street performers, which could be viewed from the hotel’s pleasant restaurant.

The location enabled us to walk out and explore the local area at any time of day or night. We found it very interesting walking through the bustling, but safe, streets in the evenings.

A guided tour of the city the next morning started with a visit to Castillo de San Felipe. This massive fort (the largest built by the Spaniards in any of their colonies) is in a strategic location on San Lazaro Hill. It was interesting to explore this well designed fortress, which also provides excellent views over both new and old Cartagena.

Plaza de Los Coches
Plaza de Los Coches

We than took a guided walk through the colonial old town through narrow streets, past colonial buildings with balconies, a theatre, churches, cathedral and several plazas. After lunch we wandered through the colonial part at our own pace to the ocean side of the city wall. We then relaxed by the hotel’s rooftop pool with wonderful views over the old town.

A final full day in Cartagena started with an hour’s boat trip to the Rosario Islands. This was a lovely place with beaches, palms and hotel chalet rooms and restaurants fitting in with the natural beauty of the island.

We really appreciated this day relaxing in lovely surroundings, and chose not to undertake optional activities, which included snorkeling, swimming, diving and an aquarium visit. The return trip that afternoon was not so pleasant, as there were larger waves and consequently everyone got thoroughly soaked- despite the supplied ponchos.

Rosario Island
Rosario Island

To end our final day we took the sightseeing Cartagena open topped hop-on-hop off red bus tour. After taking us to Castillo San Felipe and the historical walled city (which we had already explored) it took us past beaches, shopping malls, shopping streets, modern hotels, high-rise blocks and the naval base. Unfortunately, we did not have time to explore any of these.

We were very pleased that we decided to take the Cartagena extension to the holiday. We really enjoyed this interesting, vibrant and safe city, and would have liked to have stayed much longer and indeed to have explored much more of Colombia.