The best way to enjoy Cartagena’s historic center is simply to get lost. Wander the narrow streets that flow past gaily colored edifices and into small, leafy parks or sprawling plazas. Stroll the city ramparts, the walls built starting in the 16th century to protect the city from foreign enemies and marauding pirates. Between the churches and gardens, you’ll find everything from emerald emporiums to local design boutiques to street vendors. The city’s dark history provides some stark contrast to the candy-hued and lively present, and should not be entirely ignored: Cartagena’s bloody past is revealed at the Palace of Inquisition museum and at some of the memorials at sites where locals sold African captives into slavery. Knowing a bit of what came before gives texture and context to a town that may otherwise seem like a touristy set piece.
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