There’s are many reasons why The Economist named Colombia the #1 country of 2016 and Lonely Planet the #2 country to visit in 2017. One of the main being it’s a Caribbean gem of a city, Cartagena. As Lonely Planet put it “Cartagena is the undisputed queen of the Caribbean coast, a fairy-tale city of romance, legends and superbly preserved beauty lying within an impressive 13km of centuries-old colonial stone walls. Cartagena's old town is a Unesco World Heritage site – a maze of cobbled alleys, balconies covered in bougainvillea, and massive churches that cast their shadows across plazas.” Sounds nice, doesn’t it?
So you’ve either decided to come to Cartagena for quality dental work at a lower cost or are thinking about it. Either way, good for you. Saving 70% on dental care is big deal. Dental Tourism, as we know, is a two part word. Let’s talk about the latter. You won’t be spending the whole time in a dentist’s office now, will you? There are loads of things to do in Cartagena, Colombia when you’re not being treated. Here are just a few ways you can take advantage of this incredible city.
1. Hit the Cartagena beaches
Seems like a no-brainer right? The beaches are some of the world’s best, almost out of a movie. It’s the kinda place you can pay a young man $0.10 to cut open a coconut with his machete and stick a colorful straw into it, all with a smile on his face. It’s a place where fresh mango is available at every corner and the fish you had for lunch was caught that morning.
The closest beach options are at Bocagrande, a mini Miami just a few kilometers southwest of the city center. A better choice, however, is Playa Blanca or Isla Barú, and while both are well-frequented tourist attractions, they offer crystalline waters and white sand.
2. Walk the old colorful colonial neighborhood
As one of the first colonial cities in the Americas, Cartagena has a rich history. The old colonial neighborhood called the “Cuidad Vieja” has narrow streets with vibrantly colored walls and an artistic soul. From paintings to jewelry, there are many local artists selling their work.
Step through La Puerta Del Reloj, a clock tower passageway through Las Murallas, the 400-year stone walls that surround the city, and you arrive at Cartagena’s historic heart, the Old Town. The narrow and winding streets, with their bougainvillea-strewn, pastel-painted balconies, create a glorious sense of suspended time. Grab a cooling agua de coco (coconut water) from any one of a hundred strolling vendors if the heat gets too much, and simply walk the shaded narrow streets.
3. Visit the historic Colombian sites
Cartagena is home to many historic sites worthy of visiting. Here are some of our favorites.
Castillo de San Felipe de Barajas
The castillo is the greatest fortress ever built by the Spaniards in any of their colonies. It’s truly impressive. It still dominates an entire section of Cartagena's cityscape today, and should definitely be your first choice of fortresses to visit. The original fort was commissioned in 1630 and was quite small. Construction began in 1657 on top of the 40m-high San Lázaro hill. In 1762 an extensive enlargement was undertaken, which resulted in the entire hill being covered over with this powerful bastion.
It was truly impregnable and was never taken, despite numerous attempts to storm it. A complex system of tunnels connected strategic points of the fortress to distribute provisions and to facilitate evacuation. The tunnels were constructed in such a way that any noise reverberated all the way along them, making it possible to hear the slightest sound of the approaching enemy's feet, and also making it easy for internal communication. Neat huh?
Convento de la Popa
On a 150m-high hill, the highest point in Cartagena stands this convent. A beautiful image of La Virgen de la Candelaria, the patroness of the city, is in the convent's chapel, and there's a charming flower-filled patio. There is also a chilling statue of a speared Padre Alonso García de Paredes, a priest who was murdered along with five Spanish soldiers for trying to spread the good word. The views from here are outstanding and stretch all over the city.
Iglesia de Santo Domingo
Santo Domingo is reputedly the oldest church in the city. It was originally built in 1539 in Plaza de los Coches, but the original building succumbed to fire and was rebuilt in its present location in 1552. Builders gave it a particularly wide central nave and covered it with a heavy roof, but it seems they were not too good at their calculations as the vault began to crack afterward.
Volcán de Lodo El Totumo
While just 50km northeast of Cartagena, this amusing site is a world away from the colonial city's cleanliness. A myth says that this 15m-high conical vent once erupted fire prior to it being quenched with holy water from a priest who feared it was the work of the devil. Visitors now climb some rather steep steps to the summit before plummeting into a crater bubbling with warm mud. With the consistency of thick cream, it supports prone human bodies almost atop its surface, while people who stand upright sink to just below chest level. It is a rather surreal experience, and locals are on hand to provide massages (bring small bills to tip for this). It’s a pretty wild experience.
4. Practice your Spanish
Did you talk Spanish in high school or college? It’s time to brush up on your skills amigo! You’ll be happy to know that Colombians are known to speak the “slowest” Spanish. As in we don’t speak a mile a minute like some of our South American neighbors. It’s just the way our culture is. It makes comprehension so much easier. Waiters and street vendors will gladly help you with your Spanish.
What will you do in Cartagena, Colombia?
With loads to do, how will you spend your time? You should not only take advantage of the incredible dental care savings you will be receiving thanks to you dental tourism but you should also be taking advantage of the incredible city that you’ll visit. Cartagena, Colombia is a magical place. Find out what the fuss is all about first hand.