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Time to Go to Cartagena

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A spectacularly rich history that’s instantly recognizable by its colonial wall and fortress stronghold, both visible when approaching by sea, is just one reason to put Cartagena, Colombia, on your ‘must-visit’ destination bucket list. Other enticing reasons include location, below the hurricane belt and close to the Panama Canal; weather, tropical in nature averaging 82°F year-round; sights, ranging from city museums to offshore islands; and nautical facilities, complete with modern full-service marinas. In fact, Cartagena, nicknamed ‘The Magic City’ is the only port in Colombia that offers complete maintenance and repair services for boats of all sizes and types. What this means is that whether you’re a sailor, cruiser or a megayacht owner, Cartagena has something special to offer.

“The nautical market in Cartagena is growing very fast,” explains Jorge Arroyave Ayola, in international sales with Eduardoño, a Colombian manufacturer of over 50 models of boats, ranging from 12- to 45ft., and for everything from artisanal fishing to pleasure cruising. “This is because the city is becoming a popular destination where you can cruise to islands with nice beaches, fish, spend a relaxing day or night sightseeing through the bay, dive or snorkel through the coral reefs, walk through or ride through the old city at night in coaches, taste local cuisine and more. Plus, the city offers a wide range of hotels and restaurants for all types of budgets and preferences. For these reasons, I would say that Cartagena is becoming a very popular destination for nautical and non-nautical visitors alike.”

Club de Pesca de Cartagena. Photo courtesy of Club de Pesca de Cartagena
Club de Pesca de Cartagena. Photo courtesy of Club de Pesca de Cartagena

Land & Sea Sights
There was definitely a nautical birth to this city set on the Caribbean Sea. Founded in 1533 by Spanish commander, Pedro de Heredia, the town was built on the site of a former native village and named for the port city of Cartagena in Spain, where most of Heredia’s crew resided. Within a decade, the city was such an important port for the export of Peruvian silver to Spain, that Cartagena suffered pillage and plunder by French, English and Dutch pirates and privateers. These assaults led to the construction of 6.8-miles of massive stone walls and a series of fortresses including the formidable Castillo San Felipe de Barajas, surrounding and protecting the bay. The Castillo and Cartagena’s historic city center are a UNESCO world heritage site.

“Cartagena’s best beaches are found on the islands of Rosario, Barú, Rosario and San Bernardo,” says Jairo Andres Aguilera, nautical tourism and cruise advisor with ProColombia, a governmental agency that promotes the South American country in areas such as international tourism.

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The Rosario islands, located 22 nautical miles southwest of Cartagena, are a coral reef archipelago where swimming, scuba and snorkeling are among the favorite pastimes. Isla de Baru, part of the Rosario islands, is close enough to reach by small boat in about 15 minutes and known for natural attractions such as submarine gardens, mangrove forests and white sand beaches. San Bernardo, very laidback since it’s off the beaten track at 47 nautical miles from the city, boasts a rich diversity of sealife from fish to turtles.

Those who didn’t BYOB (bring your own boat) or don’t want to take the public ferries to these offshore islands can purchase one of Eduardoño’s two latest pleasure boats to make the trip. Both the Marlin 420, a 42ft Center Console with a Carolina-style hull, and Bravo 300, a 30-footer with a deep V hull, were launched this spring and can be configured either for fishing, tournaments, cruising or social family boating.

Colombia Nautica International Boat Show. Photo courtesy of Colombia Nautica
Colombia Nautica International Boat Show. Photo courtesy of Colombia Nautica

Marine Events
Sailing regattas, sports fishing tournaments and a boat show are just some of the marine events happening in Cartagena, which are all open to international visitors. For example, dinghy sailors aboard sunfish and snipes race Saturday afternoons in Cartagena Bay between Bocagrande and Tierra Bomba. The city has also hosted larger sailing competitions such as the Central American & Caribbean Games and Sunfish World Championships.

“The International Fishing Tournament has been an annual tradition at our club for more than 30 years,” says Joan Mac Master Gonzalez, manager of Club de Pesca de Cartagena, a group founded in 1939 by a few young fishermen and located at Fort San Sebastian del Pastelillo, in the bay of Cartagena de Indias. “The best fishermen from Colombia and world meet for three days of fishing each fall to determine the winner. Everyone tries to beat the Colombian record for marlin of 539lb set in 2002.”

The internationally-attended Colombia International Boat Show happens each spring.

“We gather the entire recreational boating industry in Colombia in one place,” explains Miguel Angel Franco, director of ColombiaNautica, an organization established by the National Marine Manufacturers Association, Grupo Heroica and AsoNautica Colombia to build the country’s recreational boating industry. “We had companies from the U.S.A, Panama and Spain this year as well as Colombia, which included boat builders, brokers and dealers, marina operators and developers, and sellers of spare parts, accessories, clothing and sport fishing equipment. We also provided a complete offering to our visitors with entertainment like flyboard shows, music, food and a kid’s zone.”

Photo: Jorge Barva / Tourism Board of Cartagena
Photo: Jorge Barva / Tourism Board of Cartagena

Beyond Cartagena
Cartagena isn’t the only great destination for boaters in Colombia, according to Eduardono’s Jorge Arroyave Ayola. “Colombia has a coastline of some 1,020 miles along the Caribbean Sea and 1,243 miles facing the Pacific. There is more or less 11,000-miles of navigable inland waterways and approximately 1800 lagoons and reservoirs.”


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Carol M. Bareuther, RD, is a St. Thomas, U.S. Virgin Islands based marine writer and registered dietitian.

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