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Port Spotlight: Cartagena, Colombia

Cartagena, Colombia, is a big, bustling modern city. Within this metropolis of more than a million people is the walled Old Town that dates back hundreds of years. On a Panama Canal cruise on ms Veendam from Ft. Lauderdale to San Diego, Cartagena was the last port of call before we entered the Canal, and a tour to see Old Town on the Medieval Cartagena By Horse Carriage tour was the shore excursion my daughter and I chose.

Before leaving home, we checked out possible shore excursions on the Holland America Line website. I had previously visited some of the ports we would be visiting, but Cartagena was new to me. We wanted to take a tour there that would show us something about the history and culture of the area.

Several different excursions to Old Town seemed to fill this need. We could book a tour to stroll through Old Town, but I anticipated (correctly) that it would be too hot and humid to walk the area comfortably. Another choice was to tour in an air conditioned bus. That seemed too antiseptic and too removed from the reality of the area. I settled on the horse carriage tour.

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We spent about 45 minutes snaking our way through the narrow, crowded streets of Old Town. Police blocked intersections to let the parade of horses pass. We had an up-close view of colorful shops, street vendors, old buildings, parks, flower-draped balconies, ancient city walls and people hustling through their daily routines.

Colorful flowers decorate balconies in Old Town.

Colorful flowers decorate balconies in Old Town.

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Photo courtesy of Zuiderdam's Human Resources Manager Jaime de Castro-van der Loo.

Photo courtesy of Zuiderdam’s Human Resources Manager Jaime de Castro-van der Loo.

As we boarded our bus for the ride to Old Town, our guide had passed out small radios with head phones. That made it easier to hear his talk as we drove. Unfortunately, he explained, the radios have limited range and the signal is blocked by the thick walls of buildings in Old Town. So the actual ride in the carriage was without narration, but it really wasn’t needed.

Two things to consider on this tour. It’s hot and it’s humid, no matter the time of year. The carriages have plastic seats, so a small towel to sit on would have made the ride a bit more comfortable. The bright sun makes it impossible to see anything on a camera screen, so we just pointed our cameras and pressed the button. We got some passable shots using that method.

The author in front of The Castillo San Felipe de Barajas, built in the 17th and 18th centuries to protect Cartagena. It’s the last stop (by bus) on the horse-drawn carriage tour.

The author in front of The Castillo San Felipe de Barajas, built in the 17th and 18th centuries to protect Cartagena. It’s the last stop (by bus) on the horse-drawn carriage tour.

I was glad I booked the tour before leaving home because there was more information on line than what I found in the shore excursion brochure on the ship. I also knew what to expect after reading the reviews and I knew I would be able to take the tour that I wanted.

But maybe greatest benefit of booking from home is that I could enjoy a cold drink by the pool after boarding the ship instead of trying to decide on tours.

2 Comments
  • Luh McDevitt Madera

    Thanks for your post. All sound advice and I am really glad to read this. My husband and I have been considering doing a Panama Canal cruise and Cartagena is must if we do it. He loves Colombia and visits. Glad to know there is plenty to see in Cartagena for a day.

  • Marjorie Shenkir

    Were you hustled by street vendors from the horse carriage?

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