Cartagena – San Felipe Fortress, Getsemani & free city tour

On our third day in Cartagena, we decided to check out one of the main tourist attractions of the city: the Castillo San Felipe de Barajas.

This fortress was built in the 1600s (it took nearly 100 years to finish it) to protect Cartagena from pirates and other invadors interested in taking over the most important port in South America at the time.

The fortress helped protecting the city against the French but also against the English, over several big battles. The fortress played a crucial part in the history of Cartagena.

We arrived on a very hot morning and enjoyed going around this fortress, learning more about its history thanks to a 25min movie on the grounds in the old hospital building. Very informative and great introduction to the site before discovering the different areas.

After the walk around the fortress, we decided to walk towards Getsemani, an old neighbourhood between the old walled city of Cartagena and the fortress. It used to be inhabited by the poor population of the city back in the days, filling the streets with crime and prostitution.

It’s now changed to a very touristy area, filled with many historic houses, luxurious hotels, cool bars and restaurants. We really enjoyed visiting the area for its vibrant graffiti and colourful houses.

We also enjoyed a nice and cheerful typical lunch at El Buffet de la Plaza, a buffet restaurant which seemed to be a true local place as we were the only 2 tourists there. We enjoyed some great food at a great price.

The next day, Nick and I joined a free walking tour in order to learn further about the history of Cartagena. We went with Free Tour Cartagena and did the English tour (our Spanish is still not up to scratch sadly).

Our guide was lovely and very knowledgeable. He took us through some great stories about the different people living in Cartagena and their origins (Indigenous, Spanish, Africans, mixed), some fascinating stories about the colonial times, the architecture of the city, and obviously slavery.

Cartagena has its own unique history, playing a great role in the independence of Colombia. Its history wasn’t too dissimilar to that of New Orleans, but swap the French settlers with the Spanish.

The tour lasted a total of 2 hours, and though it’s free, you’re expected to provide your guide with a tip for his time and knowledge. We were very happy with the outcome of this tour and decided to book more in future.

We then browsed around the old town again, before heading back to our apartment to pack for our next destination: Medellin!



  • The free walking tours are awesome and great ways to get a cool tour at a cheap cost. What you give is up to you, but you should reward the guide fairly nonetheless. The tour we did was very good and the guide very knowledgeable.
  • Visiting the San Felipe Fortress is well worth it to learn more about the history of Cartagena and the different battles that took place in the gulf of the city. Start with watching the video before walking around as it’s a great introduction to the site – no guide needed.

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