Colombia road trip: the colonial beauty that inspired a literary giant
Experience a rapture of colours beside the Caribbean
Woman carries fruit on head in front of orange wall
Picturesque squares and colossal churches, baroque palaces and neoclassical bourgeois houses in all the colours of tropical fruits, Cartagena is the charming, brightly coloured queen of South America’s colonial cities
A city on a Colombia road trip as colourful as life itselfVisiting the Colombian city of Cartagena de Indias is like stepping into a scene from the novel Love in the Time of Cholera, Gabriel García Márquez’s 20th Century masterpiece. One of literature’s great love stories, it was set in this mesmerising city on the Caribbean coast. García Marquez found his inspiration for his book in these streets, in the houses with their flower-decked balconies and in the spirit of its citizens. Today, on our Colombia road trip to the famed old town, vibrant city life plays out under the hot sun. Colourfully dressed women from distant Palenque, some 50km south east of here, sell papaya and pineapples and pose for a photo. At the confectionery stands at the Portal de los Dulces, connoisseurs of sweet treats stock up on coconut macaroons. In the squares, children dribble a football in imaginative manoeuvres, while we even spot a toucan flying through the patio of an old mansion, a building bejewelled with azalea, bougainvillea and other brightly blooming plants. The pace here is sedate, like the intoxicating rhythm of cumbia music, which soundtracks everyday life in this part of South America.
Confectionery stand in Portal de los Dulces arcaded gallery, Cartagena
The Cartagena sweet life: candy on sale in the arcaded Portal de los Dulces gallery
The city’s colonial architecture with its tiled roofs and flaking walls welcome us and transports us to the stories of Márquez’s protagonists. How intoxicating the choice of colours were available to the architects here. An antique, pink-coloured house sits beside another one the colour of papaya. Beside it is a freshly restored lobster-coloured colonial house. Some of the balconies are bottle green, some azure blue, some the deep brown of chocolate. You wonder what was life like behind the solid wooden doors with wrought-iron knockers in the shape of a lion’s head? Probably very different from life in Bocagrande, the Miami-like Cartegena suburb to which the wealthy have gradually moved from the old city over the years.
Colourful old town of Cartagena with baroque church in background
Elaborate wooden balconies line the path to the Santa Catalina de Alejandría church
The terracotta-coloured house once owned by García Marquez, who died in 2014 at the age of 87, is on the Calle del Curato de Santo Toribio, looking out over the Caribbean. It’s close to the 18th century Las Bóvedas dungeons and the walls that once provided protection against pirates and buccaneers. Behind the façade, with its wooden balconies and baroque portico, the dungeons housed torture chambers and cells. Not far from this is the Plaza de Santo Domingo with its sculpture of a larger-than-life woman in repose, La Gorda Gertrudis, by the world-renowned Colombian artist, Botero. Also nearby is the Abaco. A tiny, yellow-coloured book shop and café, it’s the perfect place to take a rest on our Colombia road trip after a sightseeing tour and get lost in one of the many other famous works by García Márquez, who won the Nobel Prize for Literature in 1982.
Cartagena is a city that they have tried to destroy for more than 400 years and, I think, it is more alive than ever
Gabriel García Márquez
From wealthy port city to hip hidden gemEvery alley, corner and magnificent colonial house tells the story of the prosperity of colonial times around here, when gold and silver from the country’s mines were exported from here to Spain by ship. Cartagena was once one of the most important commercial ports in colonial South America, after which this beautiful pearl began to lose a little of its lustre as it decayed into ruin. The affluent old families that populated García Márquez’s books moved away. Very little of the former splendour remained. The age-old grand colonial houses that gave the city its character crumbled as the economic growth that once powered the city stagnated. It was not until 1960 that the slumbering city started to wake from its deep sleep. Then, in 1984, the old walled city and fortress was named a UNESCO World Heritage Site. Cartagena metamorphosed into one of Latin America’s hippest hotspots as Colombia blossomed in a new age of tourism.
View from old city of new skyline of modern Cartagena
The Puerta de Reloj bears witness to Cartagena’s colonial past, overlooked by the modern city
In the evenings, the charm of the Cartagena sweet life is amplified. The musical rhythms of the Caribbean coast ring out from every bar while dancers in outfits the colour of parrots spin around the squares. Along the city’s ramparts, the Café del Mar is the perfect chilled location from which to enjoy the spectacle. It’s exactly the sort of spot that Florentino Ariza, the protagonist from Love in the Time of Cholera, would have frequented and thoroughly enjoyed himself in. On this particular Colombia road trip, the past and the present are constantly entwined.This story is part of the 25 Years of Porsche Travel Experience anniversary series. We take you on a virtual world tour around the globe – with a new, fascinating episode each week. Click here to read all stories.
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