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Cartagena de Indias and the Rosario Islands

Old & modern buildings meet in Bogotá

Whilst this short holiday to Colombia is all about coastlines and islands, conservation of a historic Caribbean city replaces our usual focus on wildlife and wilderness. This trip to the city of Cartagena is one of South America’s most important cultural and architectural highlights, sitting like a crown on the Caribbean coast close to the beautiful islands of Los Rosarios.

Cartagena de India, or ‘Queen of the Indies’, as she was known, was founded in 1533 by Spaniard Don Pedro de Heredia, of Spain. The city flourished and grew in beauty and wealth with palaces, gardens and churches all nestled behind 11 km of ramparts and high city walls (las murallas) a lot of which still stands today.

The great wealth of the city was founded on the back of Spain’s trade in precious metals; gold and silver. These came from the mines in New Granada and Peru and were loaded on the galleons bound for Spain via Havana in Cartagena. The precious cargo needed defending from pirates and buccaneers (including England’s Sir Francis Drake) and this defence took time and a lot of money. The legend tells that when reviewing the cost of this city’s defenses Charles III of Spain took up his spyglass as he stood on mainland Spain and commented:

           “This is outrageous! For this price those castles should be seen from here!” 

Between 1751 and 1810, the city received the sum of 20,912,677 Spanish pounds, the equivalent of some 2 trillion pounds today. These fortifications are the most extensive in South America and were declared a UNESCO World Heritage Site in 1984.

Many African slaves were brought in to serve the invasions of Colombia and beyond into the Amazon and Andes of South America. While most of the precious materials these slaves extracted have ended up in Europe, there is a fine Gold Museum in Bogota, a visit to which we recommend incorporating into this trip.

The mix in cultures brought to Cartagena over the years is in strong evidence today. There are colourful artisans on sale and fresh seafood which is often served with coconut rice and plantain. Street dancers are often seen in the city plazas giving performances and the Cumbia is mixed with local folk music, Cuban and Jamaican influences all with energy, flair and a sense of fun. Colombians are a warm and generous people only too willing to prove wrong the misconceptions the world has of their country.

Geographically, Cartagena stands on a peninsular which combine with the nearby islands to form an impressive harbour. Further offshore lies the archipelago de San Bernardo, Isla de Tierrabomba, Isla de Barú and the Islas Del Rosario. These combine to form Colombia’s only Marine National Park. The park covers 120,000ha within which we incorporate into this trip a two night stay at one of its tropical gems with white sand beaches set amid waters that range from aquamarine to deep blue.

Many of the other islands in the park are privately owned. Treasure Island remains off limits as a no-touch conservation area both for marine wildlife protection and to protect the gold yet to be salvaged from its waters! For those who are interested to see this area beneath the water, we can arrange a day trip within the marine park.

For an itinerary please click HERE

Price (based on two people sharing) 8 days from

Single supplement
from £390

Flight price guide UK - Colombia
from £650 inclusive of taxes

Our prices include
Domestic flights Bogota- Cartagena Rtn
All accommodation
Meals as indicated in itinerary

Our prices exclude
International flights
Travel holiday insurance
Alcoholic beverages
Services not listed

Optional extras
Full day trip to the Salt Mines, Zipaquirá, from Bogotá


Photographs kindly provided by  Doug Gueldner , Laercio Horta & Andrés Obregón

Vacacion -  Culture - Cultural - Holiday - Small gGoup - Conquistadores - Gold - Silver - Emeralds - San Bernardo - Caribbean


Dried ants for sale, as a snack - Bogotá

Salt Cathedral of Zipaquirá