Today as I peered out my cabin window onboard Fred. Olsen Cruise Lines Balmoral, I could see right over to the beautiful city of Cartagena, Spain located in the province of Murcia. I was excited to visit all of the ports of call on this cruise, but I had several reasons why I wanted to visit Cartagena, Spain.
Reason #1: Cartagena, Spain and Cartagena Colombia
I’ve been lucky enough to travel to Colombia and I’ve stayed in a few cities there including Bogotá and Cartagena. When I saw that I would visit Cartagena, Spain on this cruise, I was curious how the two would compare. Would these cities have similarities or not?
TSG Tip: How do you pronounce Cartagena? Easy. So to say the name, say Car-ta-hey-na and like that — you’re now speaking Spanish.
My friend, Danielle, and I made our way off the ship and decided to walk into Cartagena as it wasn’t far to the city. Cartagena has a population of 216,451 residents (as of 2014) in an area of about 215 square miles. Compare that to the other Cartagena, a city in Colombia that was founded in 1533 with a population of 1.1 million and an area of 221 square miles and named after Cartagena, Spain. While both cities are coastal cities and share a name, they are two distinct and different cities.
Reason #2: The Weather
Located in southeastern Spain in the Mediterranean, the climate in Cartagena is one that anyone would enjoy year round. We’re talking an annual average temp of around 69 °F and an annual precipitation of no more than 15 inches. Hear that Boston? Yeah – I definitely could find myself living here.
Balmoral looked gigantic docked amongst all the tinier boats and yachts in the harbor.
From the ship we walked less than five minutes before crossing the street and finding ourselves right in Cartagena. While most visitors head into Cartagena to see the major sites of interest, we were winging it for the day.
TSG Tip: Some of the major attractions include District of the Roman Forum, Punic Wall, Museum of the Roman Theatre, House of Fortune, Conception Castle Fort of Christmas.
Reason #3: Shopping
We were just in time for Cartagena’s fall fairs with merchants offering a variety of items like clothing, jewelry, handmade goods, and more. But beyond the booths here, there are tons of shops, both big name brands like Zara and Desigual, as well as small stores and everything in between.
Reason #4: Architecture
As you first walk into Cartagena, it will be impossible to miss this building, the Palacio Consistorial de Cartagena (Cartagena City Hall). Designed by Tomás Rico Valarino, construction began in 1900 and finished in 1907.
The building was refurbished about ten years ago to its current spectacular grandeur. 45 minute tours are available in English (€1) and should be booked in advance.
Whether you have time for a tour or not, take the time to admire this striking piece of architecture and many others as you walk along the streets of Cartagena.
Palacio Consistorial de Cartagena
Plaza Ayuntamiento, 1, 30202 Cartagena, Murcia, Spain
Reason #5: Pedestrian Zone
I was happy we didn’t have any plans or tours on this day as I was fine with finding things on my own this day. The pedestrian zone spans from Ayuntamiento to Plaza de España with shops, cafés, restaurants, and pretty much anything you need. The streets here are slate or granite, something so shiny and beautiful you’d think you were inside, not outside.While the sky was real, it looked so picture perfect that it almost didn't look real, if that makes sense. Click To Tweet
In fact, looking up at this building and down at the street, it almost felt like I was inside the Forum Shops at Caesars Palace in Las Vegas. You know, where the ceiling is made to look like the sky? While the sky was real, it looked so picture perfect that it almost didn’t look real, if that makes sense.
As a result, I did spend some time taking random pics of churches and doors because well, that’s what I do.
While I was hoping to get one or two items specific to Cartagena, instead I found a great store called Inside Shops that carried all sorts of clothing, shoes, and accessories, many with a British theme. At first I was like, “No way am I buying this in Spain,” but I couldn’t resist the prices. I ended up with a top, a scarf, and a little coin purse for all of €14. That’s way less than I would’ve spent in London so that’s a major score in my book.
TSG Tip: Holy Week, which is the final week of Lent, begins on Palm Sunday, the week before Easter. In Cartagena, Semana Santa or Holy Week is a big deal with a procession, special lamps or “cartelas,” drums, prayers, and the members of the Brotherhood. The members wear robes and a hood (capirote) to shield their face, a throwback to medieval times where the wearer was demonstrating their penance.But then you'll probably also see a sign underneath that reads, 'Holy Week in Cartagena. Not K.K.K.' If that doesn't get your attention, nothing will.Click To Tweet
I mention this because no matter what time of year you visit, you’ll see the little figures in cloaks or robes of the Brotherhood sold as souvenirs. But then you’ll probably also see a sign underneath that reads, “Holy Week in Cartagena. Not K.K.K.” Therefore, if that doesn’t get your attention, nothing will.
As we walked along, I spotted a rather large sculpture that looked like sails and then just beyond that, one of the most visited sites in Cartagena, the Arsenal. Once Cartagena was named the capital of the Spanish Navy, construction on the neoclassical or baroque and gigantic Arsenal began in 1731. If you’re into military history, this is the place to visit. The gate here is the only original one left in walls of the city that gave access to the Arsenal.
Calle Real, 26, 30201 Cartagena, Murcia, Spain
Palacio Consistorial de Cartagena
After browsing, shopping, and walking for a while, we found ourselves back where we started and decided it was probably time to head back. On the way, I couldn’t resist snapping more pics of the Palacio Consistorial de Cartagena.
Reason #6: Monuments, Sailors, and Cervantes
As I looked to the right, I saw this rather large monument that I hadn’t seen while walking into Cartagena. Titled, “Monument to the Heroes of Cavite and Santiago de Cuba,” this memorial is dedicated to all those that died during the Spanish-American War of 1898. What I found impressive was that the monument is surrounded by flowers and trees, making this a relaxing and tranquil place to stop and collect your things before heading back to the ship.
Looking over to the left, I noticed two more things I missed on the way in. First was this life sized bronze sailor statue, obviously a tribute to the fact that Cartagena is an important military hub in Spain. The second item, located near the famous city mosaics, was a plaque on the wall behind the sailor statue that was dedicated to Miguel de Cervantes on the four hundredth anniversary of his death. You should definitely stop to have a pic taken with the sailor and then admire those mosaics afterwards.
TSG Tip: What’s the connection Cervantes had with Cartagena? He was said to have visited at least twice (1568 and 1581) and even attempted to gain employment there as an accountant, although unsuccessfully.
Reason #7: The Yacht Club
While the next stop for us could’ve been straight back to the ship, we weren’t quite ready for that. Since the ship docks in what is known as the yacht club, there’s a few bars and even a Burger King for those absolutely in need of a fast food burger.
As for us? We were content to sit in the sun after a few days of non-stop rain and enjoy the view. Out of the restaurants/bars that are right in this area, the Coyote (Coyote Ugly?) is definitely the most popular and so that’s where we sat.
Over the period of a couple of hours, I devoured a café con leche, a grilled cheese. Seems like it’d be a no brainer that I couldn’t possibly leave Spain without an order of Patatas Bravas as well.
But I don’t think this place was about the food. Nope, they were about drinks. As a result, I had this massive Margarita and didn’t care that they had ripped the name off from the original Coyote Ugly Saloon. Because it’s so not my place to discuss copyright infringement when I only want to enjoy a drink with my friend, know what I mean?
Seems like with this view it was hard to get up and return to the ship. Especially in the nearly 80° weather, but what can you do? I knew I’d eventually have to board the ship.
Paseo Muelle Alfonso XII, Cartagena, Spain
Leaving the Yacht Club
As I walked back to the ship I took in my last few images of the water, the yacht club, and wished I could stay. While both Cartagena, Colombia and Cartagena, Spain share a name and rich histories, they couldn’t have been more different. Cartagena, Spain was a sleepy little city with a Mediterranean feel. Yet I found Cartagena, Colombia so different as it’s definitely a far larger metropolitan city.
While I would’ve enjoyed staying longer in Cartagena, I had to get back onboard. There was still so much cruise left with more ports and adventures ahead.
Once onboard, we did as you’d expect that we’d do and we went straight up to the Lido Bar on deck 8 for our 4pm sailaway party. Because, in the end, that’s one of the reasons why cruising is such great fun.
Reason #8: Lighthouses
During the sailaway I was glued to the railing for pictures and video. I wasn’t about to miss a shot of this candy cane striped lighthouse called Cartagena Dique de Navidad (Navidad Light).
Although I only imagined the reasons I wanted to visit Cartagena, Spain, I left with a new appreciation for this quaint Spanish city even though I only saw a small section of it. As we sailed out of Cartagena and admired the landscape we were leaving behind, we were already dreaming of our next port of call on Balmoral: Gibraltar.
Have you ever visited Cartagena, Spain? Don’t forget to check out the rest of the Travel Shop Girl website for more great travel and destination information.