Posts Tagged With: Colombia

Cartagena, Colombia

The last port of call on our 14 day Panama Canal cruise was Cartagena, Colombia. The U.S. State Department maintains a travel warning for Colombia, but tourist areas are considered safe. Tourists are warned not to venture into rural areas, however, where drug trafficking and kidnapping still occur on occasion.

This was our second visit to Cartagena. Our previous visit occurred in February, 2013 and we were charmed by the old colonial city with its Spanish architecture and colorful tropical flowers, especially the Bougainvillea.  We walked the 12 foot high ramparts surrounding the old town while drinking in breathtaking views of the Caribbean. Then on our cab ride back to the port, we spotted a fortress high on a hill and we knew immediately we’d missed a key sight. It was Castillo San Felipe de Barajas, and this time we were intent on touring it so we made it our first stop. This UNESCO World Heritage Site is remarkably intact and fascinating.

Approach to Castillo San Felipe de Barajas in Cartagena

Approach to Castillo San Felipe de Barajas in Cartagena

Built  in the 1600’s to ward off repeated attacks by pirates, including the likes of Sir Francis Drake searching for booty of gold and silver, it is the largest fortification constructed by the Spanish in the new world.

Castillo San Felipe de Barajas, Cartagena

Castillo San Felipe de Barajas, Cartagena

The fascinating part is an extensive system of tunnels built under the fortress for storage, communication, and escape. The acoustic design resulted in amplification of sound so that intruders would be detected if they somehow gained access to the tunnels. A generous portion of the tunnels is open to the public and although they are low and narrow with a number of steps up and down, I explored every accessible bit. After the hot, steamy climb up to the fortress with little shade, it was a relief to get out of the sun.

Tunnels in Castillo San Felipe de Barajas

Tunnels in Castillo San Felipe de Barajas

City View from Castillo San Felipe de Barajas

City View from Castillo San Felipe de Barajas

View from Castillo San Felipe de Barajas

View from Castillo San Felipe de Barajas

Castillo San Felipe de Barajas

Castillo San Felipe de Barajas

After spending sufficient time and energy in the steamy heat exploring the fortress, we ventured onward to the old town which is also part of the designated World Heritage Site.

The clock tower is a famous Cartagena landmark and the easiest starting place for a self guided tour and a good place to meet your pre-arranged transportation at the end of your visit. It was once the main and only gate into the walled city.

Clock tower, Cartagena, Colombia

Clock Tower, Cartagena, Colombia

Immediately inside the Clock Tower Gate is Coach Square, so-called because it is where the horse-drawn carriages line up to provide tours. Notice the balconies on the buildings. You’ll see them everywhere, designed to catch the sea breeze in a sultry climate along with the covered walkways to provide shade. Historically, this square was originally named Plaza del Esclavo, the scene of slave trading in the 17th century.

Coach Square, Cartagena

Coach Square, Cartagena

San Pedro Claver, the first person canonized in the New World, was a Jesuit priest who befriended and served the African slaves who were traded in Cartagena. In addition to the square and church named for him, there is a sculpture of him located here.

Iglesia de San Pedro Claver

Iglesia (Church) de San Pedro Claver in Claver Plaza

San Pedro Claver

Sculpture of San Pedro Claver

Other sculptures around this square are scrap metal depictions of modern everyday life in Cartagena. Created by Eduardo Carmona, this street folk art adds another charming dimension to the old city.


Metal Sculpture in Claver Plaza

Metal Sculpture

Metal Sculpture in Claver Plaza

Nearby, we found a staircase to the ramparts so we ascended to take in the views from above.

Ramparts of Cartagena

View of the Caribbean from las murallas (walls) of Cartagena

View of the old city from las murallas

View of the old city from las murallas

It is admittedly more uncomfortably hot walking the ramparts with no shade for relief so this time we soon escaped back to the streets with shade. Nearby, the Plaza Bolivar, named for Simon Bolivar who liberated Colombia from Spanish rule in 1811 and became the first president, offers a welcome shady respite.


Fruit vendors in colorful costumes

Bougainvillea adorning the balconies

Bougainvillea adorning the balconies

Cartagena was every bit as charming the second time around. If I happen to take another Caribbean cruise that includes this port, I’ll happily return. La ciudad es preciosa y tiene mucho gran historia. That’s Spanish for, “The city is very lovely and it has a lot of great history.”

Categories: cruise, History, Travel, Uncategorized | Tags: , , | 7 Comments

Cruising from the Port of Los Angeles

We always arrive a day early for a cruise departure, just to ensure that we have extra time in case of travel delays. This was our first departure from the Port of Los Angeles and we wanted a hotel near the cruise port with a shuttle to deliver us to the port. If you need a hotel, I suggest you book it when you book your cruise. I waited for several months after booking our cruise and the hotel I wanted was full so I settled on the Hilton Doubletree in San Pedro, as my second choice. I also arranged a deal with a breakfast buffet so we wouldn’t arrive hungry (don’t ask me why!) to our cruise ship, the Norwegian Star, for our 14 day cruise through the Panama Canal.

With an early flight out of Des Moines, Iowa, and a two-hour time change to the earlier, we arrived by 9 AM in California at LAX. The taxi ride early on a Sunday morning to San Pedro took only about 40 minutes with little traffic. Our hotel rooms weren’t available yet so we left our bags there and took the hotel shuttle to downtown San Pedro. Not a lot was going so early but we stopped by the visitor’s center which was open, surprisingly, and with advice from a helpful staff person, quickly decided that a foursome from Iowa should check out the Battleship Iowa at the LA Waterfront.

Jim and I toured this ship in Norfolk, Virginia, back in the 80’s before it was decommissioned but we were game to see it again. We were delighted to discover that Iowa residents can now tour the ship for free because the State of Iowa contributed funds for its refurbishment and preservation.

Iowa Battleship

Iowa Battleship, San Pedro, CA

Iowa Battleship

Iowa Battleship Admission Prices

Recognition Plaque

Plaque Recognizing Contribution of the State of Iowa

The Big Stick (the Iowa’s nickname) was launched in 1942 as the lead ship of four ships in the Iowa class of battleships. The others are the Wisconsin, the Missouri, and the New Jersey. If Jim had a blog, he would tell you all about the 16 inch guns on the ship and other details that you may find fascinating about battle ships in general and the Iowa class specifically.

!6 inch guns on Iowa Battleship

Rick, Lori, and Jim in front of the 16 inch guns on the Battleship Iowa

I, however, prefer social history over military history. To me, the most interesting part of the ship was a tour of the rooms used by President Franklin Delano Roosevelt while in transit to Tehran for the conference with Churchill and Stalin to plan the D-Day invasion of WWII. Doors had to be widened to accommodate FDR’s wheelchair; a kitchen was installed for his personal meal preparation; and the only bathtub on any ship in the fleet was installed for the President’s daily soak.

FDR's Rooms on the Iowa

Rooms Used by President FD Roosevelt While Aboard the Iowa

Volunteer aboard the Iowa Battleship

Volunteer Telling about President Roosevelt’s Journey to Africa on the Iowa

Another interesting tidbit involved the ship’s mascot, a dog called Vicky, short for Victory. The captain’s dog occasionally went AWOL from the ship but always seemed to turn up in time to set sail. One time she went missing in Long Beach, CA, and a call went out in the newspaper to help find her. Apparently it worked because a later report indicated she was back on board.

Mascot Vicky

Ship Mascot, Victory, during WW2

The walk along the waterfront in San Pedro is pleasant with a shopping area and locally significant sculptures to experience.

Jacob's Ladder

Statue of 2 Merchant Marines climbing a Jacob’s Ladder after a rescue at sea

Harry Bridges

Statue of Harry Bridges in San Pedro, CA, founder of International Longshore and Warehouse Union

Fishing Industry Memorial, San Pedro, CA

Fishing Industry Memorial, San Pedro, CA

Before heading back to the hotel, we ducked into The Whale and Ale, a local pub also recommended at the tourist information, for a late lunch. The owner was authentically British judging by his accent and the quality of the food was definitely above typical pub fare. We were all satisfied and ready to return to the hotel.

Local Pub, The Whale and Ale

Local Pub, The Whale and Ale, in San Pedro, CA

The Doubletree by Hilton is in a great location for cruising from the Port of Los Angeles. Overlooking the marina, the hotel is attractive and comfortable with a great breakfast. Our room was upgraded unbeknownst to us and we had a patio with a view of the marina. Some of the staff were a little wanting but most were topnotch. The carpet in the halls and stairways begs for replacement but overall, I would give this hotel high marks. The area is attractive with a long pedestrian walkway along the marina and my friend, Lori, and I felt quite safe walking without the men.

Hilton Doubletree, San Pedro, CA

View from our room to our patio at the Hilton Doubletree, San Pedro, CA

Hilton Doubletree, San Pedro, CA

Hilton Doubletree Pool and Hot Tub

Hilton Doubletree, San Pedro, CA

Pedestrian Walkway in front of the Hilton Doubletree

San Pedro, CA

Vestiges of Halloween at the Marina, San Pedro, CA


The following day we were delivered promptly to the cruise port to begin our adventure through the Panama Canal with stops in Cabo San Lucas, Puerto Vallarta, Huatulco, and Puerto Chiapas, Mexico; Costa Rica; and Columbia; ending in Miami.


Categories: History, Travel, Uncategorized | Tags: , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

%d bloggers like this: