CARTAGENA, Columbia_After over two days at sea and almost 1,300 nautical miles from Tampa, we have arrived at our first port — the historic Columbian city of Cartagena.
Located on the Caribbean Sea, this is a city that is both steeped in history and a modern-day metropolis, which the locals call “Miami Two.” That’s in reference to the towering condominiums and office buildings that ring the harbor. But its most famous attraction is the 17th century walled city built by the Spanish to ward off pirates and other would-be attackers.
It has become a popular stop for cruise ships. One of our guides told us they welcome more than 200 ships a year. Besides history, Cartagena offers visitors the world’s finest emeralds, as well as some of the best coffee.
Since we are first-timers to this port, and Carnival Miracle is overnighting here, we have booked two shore excursions. The first is “Cartagena by Night;” the second is “Sea Rumba and Old City Tour.”
For the night tour, we boarded a double-decker bus, ready for a taste of that famous Cartagena nightlife. Barely 15 minutes into the tour, the skies opened up and a torrential rain hit. Luckily, the tour guides had a supply of plastic parkas to hand out, which helped keep parts of us dry.
But hey, the show must go on. So we ended up taking the sightseeing portion of the tour first, and waited for the rain to subside to walk the historic walled city. We were fortunate that the rain stopped for most of the hour we spent visiting the famous plazas, cathedrals and Spanish fortifications.
One word of advice: Be prepared for the non-stop vendors hawking their wares. They aren’t unpleasant, but they are very persistent.
The next day we were glad to see the rains gone as we boarded a boat for the “Sea Rumba and City Tour” — a combination harbor cruise and walking tour of Old Town. It was interesting to see the same attractions by day that we had visited the night before, minus the big puddles, of course. Be prepared to drink plenty of liquids; it’s hot, even by Florida standards.
But the real highlight for us was the dance party on the boat during the harbor cruise. They broke out the rum punch and cranked up the music as an onboard Latin band and two dancers in colorful attire had us on our feet and doing our best version of the Salsa. It was a complete blast — highly recommended if you visit here.
As Cartagena fades into the distance, we are on our way to the main event for this cruise: The Panama Canal. We can’t wait.