Named a UNESCO World Heritage Site in 1984 - Cartagena de Indias - is the jewel in the crown of the country's largely untouched Caribbean coastline.

It's not difficult to see why Cartagena de Indias is the most visited town in Colombia, outside the capital, Bogotá.

An exuberant city on the northern coast of Colombia, steeped in history, soaked in Caribbean sunshine and with an abundance of cultural activities to soak up when you've had enough of sun and sand, Cartagena is the hottest destination on the planet.

A population of 892,545 makes Cartagena the fifth-largest city in Colombia but annually 6.5 million visitors fill the place with the joys of the summer holidays.

The city's colonial architecture provides the perfect backdrop to regular cultural festivals, idyllic celebrations and weddings and a laid-back atmosphere to do business.

Different cultures of indigenous peoples have inhabited the area around the privileged Bay of Cartagena since 4,000 bc but it was the arrival of the Spanish in the 16th century and the pillaging of gold throughout the Americas that really put the city on the map.

Named after the southern city of Cartagena, Spain, Cartagena de Indias served a key role in the development of the region during the Spanish conquering of South America.

As a centre for political and economic activity, its sumptuous colonial mansions housed royalty and wealthy viceroys growing rich off the slave trade and trade between Europe and the Indies.

The city played an important part in Colombia's struggle to overthrow Spanish rule with the first cries of independence coming from the Plaza de la Santisima Trinidad in Getsemani.

During the Republican period Cartagena's importance waned as Bogotá and Medellin grew in stature.

By 1984, Cartagena's colonial walled city and fortress was designated a UNESCO World Heritage Site after important lobbying by Nobel Laureate, Gabriel Garcia Marquez.

The move has attracted significant investment in its colonial heritage in the last 25 years with Cartagena's Historic Centre now some of the most expensive real estate in Latin America.

Modern-day Cartagena has become something of a millionaire's playground attracting a globe-trotting mix of flashpackers and backpackers determined to sample the local beaches, soak up the history and eat, drink and be merry.

Louis Vuitton's Marc Jacobs, Charlie Sheen, the hell-raiser with tiger blood and Nobel Laureate, Mario Vargas Llosa are all equally at home in the city's spending surroundings.

  • The 7 Best Things to Do in Cartagena

    The 7 Best Things to Do in Cartagena

    A visit to Cartagena will take you on a journey that spans the centuries. Founded in 1539, the old town brims with architectural wonders and colonial buildings in sherbet colors. When its Caribbean waters beckon, the Rosario Islands are just an hour away.
  •  Castillo San Felipe de Barajas

    Castillo San Felipe de Barajas

    This impenetrable fortress illustrates Spain's strength during its colonial reign in Colombia. Tour the network of tunnels to see how they served as a means of defense and communication.
  • Centro Amurallado

    Centro Amurallado

    Completed in 1796, the 19-mile defensive city wall envelopes the old town and its myriad of architectural gems. You'll see why so many fall in love with Cartagena.
  • Plaza Santo Domingo

    Plaza Santo Domingo

    The oldest church in the city from 1539 and a bronze statue of a corpulent, naked woman named "Gertrudis," the creation of Fernando Botero, are the focal points in this square.
  • Convento de la Popa

    Convento de la Popa

    Originally built as a small wooden church in 1607, the convent at the city's highest point houses the chapel of Cartagena's patroness: La Virgen de la Candelaria.
  • Las Bóvedas

    Las Bóvedas

    Known simply as "The Vaults," these 27 storerooms once held Spanish armament and provisions in the 18th century and later they served as jail cells.
  • Teatro Heredia

    Teatro Heredia

    Named after the city's founder, the theater with Italian design and Caribbean flair dates from 1911. The sculptor above the stage is India Catalina, who was Heredia's translator.
  •  Rosario Islands

    Rosario Islands

    It's an hour by boat from Cartagena's La Bodeguita Pier to this archipelago of 30 islands. Snorkel or dive in the coral reefs, then enjoy a copper-colored sunset on the beach.
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