Port City to the World
Cartagena, Colombia, serves the maritime needs of major shipping corporations and Sea Ray boaters alike, and holds ample charms for visitors by land or water.
Cartagena owes much of its considerable beauty to its rather uneasy past. What is today a bustling Caribbean port city began in the sixteenth century as a sort of relay station for Spain, a place where precious stones and other riches plundered from the New World awaited transshipment from South America to the mother country. Its extensive fortifications are still present, studded with cannons, and help to underscore its status as a UNESCO World Heritage Site. They also suggest that perhaps plundering wasn’t history’s safest profession.
These days, the shipping traffic is much more respectable, and the stone walls and fortresses are targeted by tourists’ cameras instead of enemies’ sights. From centuries of strife, Cartegena has emerged as a prosperous hub, with several major open ports surrounded by vast suburbs and high-rise buildings. Yet the charms of the walled old town have remained virtually unchanged, and the area’s greatest asset—the water—continues to be the focal point around which nearly all else revolves.
To a Sea Ray owner in this region, the city’s fairy-tale good looks should be enjoyed not just from within but from without. The modern skyline sparkles at midday and lights up colorfully against brilliant sunsets, best viewed from the bay. For 370 Sundancer owner Edgar Mercado, owning a boat is a no-brainer; whether hosting a group of friends or enjoying a solitary cruise, there’s no better way to engage with the natural splendor than by Sea Ray.
Even so, one can’t deny the considerable treasures on land. Behind those colonial walls lie a maze of cobbled alleys, balconies dripping with bougainvillea, and ornate churches casting welcome shade over sun-warmed plazas. Personal touches flourish—door knockers carved into sea horses, lizards, frogs or lions, for example, speak to the rich cultural heritage. That so many 500-year-old fortresses, churches and monasteries remain admirably intact is a testament to the skillful military and civil architecture of the Spanish, and fortunately, a great number of these sites are open to the public.
The old town really begins to heat up after dark, as the numerous clubs and upscale restaurants swell with crowds. Foodies will find plenty to love; seafood plays a starring role, naturally, in the form of ever-present ceviche. Colorful cocktails featuring local fruit and strong spirits help the citrus-soaked shrimp, lobster and fish go down even easier—and have a way of extending the night for otherwise-shy visitors.
Conveniently, local Sea Ray dealership Todomar Marina is located in the tourist sector of Bocagrande, just minutes from historic downtown. The full-service facility offers repair and maintenance services, boat storage and more, all manned by an attentive staff. A ship’s store onsite sells everything from sunglasses and tees to fishing poles and electronics.
Bocagrande has often been compared to Florida’s Miami Beach, in all its shiny, fashion-conscious glory. Certainly the peninsula is home to an abundance of chic restaurants, trendy cafes, art galleries and stylish residents. The row of luxury condos lining the area demonstrates the rising prosperity of late.
Until recently, an enormous statue of the Virgin Mary sat out in the middle of the harbor, serving as a counterpoint to the ubiquitous modernity. This remembrance of the Virgin of Mount Carmel, the patron saint of drivers and navigators, had stood since 1983—until it was struck by lightning this past August, shattering the sculpture and throwing all but her feet into the surrounding water. Some may have seen it as bad omen, but others took it as proof that the protecting force was doing her job: Not a single ship was impacted by the occurrence.
Safely out of the lighting’s strike path but little more than a stone’s throw from downtown, a pair of islands presents boaters with additional opportunities to explore. The beautiful Tierra Bomba Island sits at the mouth of the bay, and offers miles of shoreline, mango groves and the 250-year-old military forts of San Jose and San Fernando. Across the channel from Tierra Bomba, Baru Island offers an idyllic escape from the buzz of Cartagena, with its pristine white-sand beaches, lush vegetation and relatively affordable resorts. Best of all for Sea Ray owners, Baru and Tierra Bomba are somewhat difficult to get to—unless you happen to own a boat.
Further offshore, the San Bernardo Archipelago gives Edgar and his Sundancer a peaceful destination for weekend escapes. Cartagenans make the two-hour trip to Boquerón Island, Panda Island and others in search of the quiet beaches, crystal-clear water, extensive plant life and protected coral reefs that make up the archipelago. (Sea turtle sightings are an added perk.) Beyond, the islands of Múcura and Tintipán mark a trail out into the yawning Caribbean. And from there, the number-one destination is the horizon.
For as many charms as Cartagena holds, its biggest selling point hasn’t changed since the days of the Spanish explorers: By boat, it will always be a gateway to the world.