Inside Colombia’s protection against pirates

It was one of those weeks. I had more work on than I knew what to do with yet I was in an amazing city begging me to explore it.

It’s a constant conundrum for a digital nomad – you have to work but you want to explore too. But it’s par for the course in this lifestyle so I combined them as best I could with this view:

Cartagena Fort Castillo San Felipe de Barajas ColombiaThat’s the Castillo San Felipe de Barajas, Cartegena’s majestic fort built between 1536 and 1767 that guards the entrance to the city’s harbour from marauding pirates, privateers and buccaneers.

Cartagena Fort Colombia touristsAt least it used to – these days this bastion of Spanish colonial power gets invaded every day by hordes of tourists and is one of the major attractions for the city.

But I had work to do, so I sat up on the rooftop terrace of our hotel in the bohemian neighbourhood of Gethsemane and enjoyed the view. Every time I looked away from my computer screen there it was, sharpened by the morning sun, bleached by the high midday and silhouetted by the afternoon’s decline.

Cartagena Fort Colombia view

View from the Cartagena Fort

Carmen and I were like wolves, only going out a night in Cartegena to enjoy the bars and restaurants and vibrant street life. Then every day was spent doing the digital nomad thing – it’s almost like a proper job!

Cartagena Fort Colombia cannon

Carmen with a cannon at the fort

Almost. Finally I’d had enough. “We have to go to this bloody fort,” I told Carmen and she agreed. It was getting a little ridiculous and our failure to do any sightseeing in Cartagena meant we were failing to live up to the work – life split we wanted.

So we shut our laptops and headed out the door… check out our video of the adventure below:

What you need to know:

Cost: US$7.15

How to get there: You can see the fort from the Getsemani district of Cartagena, as it’s just over the river. It takes about 15 minutes to walk to from there.

When to go: The fort is open from 8am – 6pm. Avoid the middle of the day, as this is when the crowds are busiest and the sun is at its strongest. We went at sunset, and it was a great time to watch the sun go down over the sea from the top of the fort.

Cartagena Fort Castillo San Felipe de Barajas Colombia cannonVideo script:

Carmen PTC – Here we are in Getsemani, which is a district just outside of the old town of Cartagena, Colombia, it’s known as the Bohemian area and it’s easy to see why with its colourful walls and loud music pounding from the outsides of all the homes, lets go check it out.

Carmen VO – We met some locals who told us that a few years back Getsemani was a no-go area for tourists – full of crime and sordid characters. But the government moved in and cleared lots of people out, almost taming this wild section of Cartagena where the sense of community is strong, the colours bright and the afternoon siesta is religiously observed.

Carmen PTC – Getsemani might be outside the old city walls, but it’s still got its own fortification even if they are slightly more modern. Now, we’re going to head to the biggest fort of them all, the old Spanish castle.

Carmen VO – Cartagena was a rich place when the colonial Spanish still ruled Colombia – but it had one big problem – pirates, most of them English who marauded up and down the coast looking for ships laden with gold to attack.

So to protect the city the Spanish built the Castillo San Felipe de Barajas and fort he 17ths century right up until today it has stood guard over the port and the city and the land surrounding it all.

These days it gets invaded from sun up to sun down by tourists and it’s a great pace to wander around, soaking up Colombia’s colonial past while enjoying magnificent views over Cartagena.

There are scores of tunnels and under ground passageways to explore and you never know where you might emerge!

The big guns are all still there and if you look closely you can even see the maker’s marks.

Colombians are proud of their past and their present – and a visit to the Castillo San Felipe de Barajas and the Getsemani district in Cartagena will give you a mix of old and new to fire your imagination.

Cartagena Fort Colombia sunset view



About the author

Carmen and Dave are the pair behind Double-Barrelled Travel. They've been travel buddies since 2008 and were married in 2012. They chose Double-Barrelled Travel as the name for their blog because when they tied the knot they each took one another's name. In Australia, this is called a Double-Barrelled name.

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