Cartagena Excursions

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La Popa Monastery and Gold Museum/ La Popa Monastery, Gold Museum & Shopping

Gold Museum
©2007 Ealmagro under cc-by-sa 1.2 license

Tour Description

After boarding an air-conditioned mini-bus at the pier, you'll head through the Manga neighborhood, home to a number of restored Republican-era mansions. After the re-birth of Cartagena in the early 20th century, prosperous families built opulent homes in this neighborhood.

Your first destination is the La Popa Monastery, one of the most visited sites in the city. Your guided tour of the 17th century monastery features a visit to the chapel, which is dedicated to the Virgen de la Candelaria, the patron saint of Cartagena, as well as to the museum. The chapel's 22-karat gold-foil altar is quite spectacular, and the view from the monastery is one of the best in Cartagena.

Next you will drive down the hill and make a 15 minute photo stop at the exterior of the imposing San Felipe de Barajas fortress. Construction of the fortress began in the middle of the 16th century. Over the next 200 years, the Spanish crown invested millions of reales to improve its defenses until it became virtually impregnable, and is recognized today as the most important work of Spanish military engineering in South America.

Your trip continues into the Old Town section of Cartagena, which is located inside the fortified walls of the city. This area is comprised of three sections: the Centro, where most of the historic buildings are located; San Diego, erstwhile home to the city's merchant class, and the La Matuna neighborhood, which is today the commercial and financial heart of the city.

In the San Diego neighborhood, at the north end of the walled Old Town, you'll find Las Bovedas, which was actually one of the last projects built by the Spanish. Originally used as a military stores depot, then used as a barracks, and later as a jail, today's Las Bovedas is a series of 23 shops that sell Colombian handicrafts, art and folk art objects. You'll have 20 minutes to explore the shops. Restroom facilities can be found here, and you can purchase a soft drink, water or an ice cream bar from the vendors.

From Las Bovedas, you'll drive into the Centro neighborhood and park. You'll take a short stroll through the narrow cobblestone streets to the Plaza de Bolivar, once the focal point of the city, and where you'll find the Inquisition Palace, the Cathedral and the Gold Museum. This tour includes a tour of the Gold Museum.

The Gold Museum houses a collection of beautiful pre-Columbian gold artifacts from the Sinu Amerinds, an advanced culture that inhabited the region at the time of the the arrival of the Spanish.

Re-boarding the mini-bus, you'll make your last stop in the modern area of Cartagena--the Bocagrande peninsula, where you'll visit the Pierino Gallo Shopping Mall. You'll have 45 minutes to shop for emeralds, bags of Colombia coffee, Cuban cigars and original and replicas of Colombian antiques. This mall has rest rooms as well as merchants offering coffee, soft drinks and water.

Following your shopping experience, you will hop back aboard the bus and take a scenic 35-minute drive back to the pier and your ship.

Note: This tour requires that you are able to negotiate 15 steps to the Monastery and walking on cobble stones in the Old City which can be uneven. As the Gold Museum closes on Mondays, the Navy Museum will replace the Gold Museum on select Princess Cruises voyages.

Activity Level:


Excursion Length: 3½ to 4 Hours

50% This activity will take up about 50% of your time in port.

Tour Prices:

Royal Caribbean: Adults, from $49; kids, from $34
Celebrity: Adults, from $49; kids, from $34
Princess: from $49.95

What You Need to Bring:

  • Comfortable shirt and pants or shorts
  • Comfortable walking shoes
  • Sunglasses
  • Sunscreen
  • Hat
  • Money for souvenirs, drinks, shopping and incidentals
  • Bring your camera

Cruise Lines Offering This Tour:

Royal Caribbean icon Royal Caribbean Celebrity icon Celebrity Princess icon Princess
Holland America icon Holland America

What Else You Need to Know:

Transit to the site: You'll board an air-conditioned mini-bus at the pier and take a 35 minute drive to La Popa Monastery.

Who should take this tour:

  • Folks interested in seeing a variety of the most important touristic sights in Cartagena
  • Folks who'd like to learn some of the history and lore of Cartagena
  • Shoppers
  • Photographers

Additional Venue Information:

La Popa Convent. (Convento de la Popa) The La Popa Convent stands almost 500 feet above the city of Cartagena on Cerro La Popa (La Popa Hill). The Spanish word "Popa" doesn't refer to the Pope, but is translated as "stern," because of the hill's resemblance to the stern of a Galleon. The original convent, built in 1607, was commissioned by the city fathers for the church members who assisted in the clearing of the area. This convent, known as the Convento de Nuestra Senora de la Candelaria, was constructed out of wood, and was administered by Augustine fathers. The wood structure was later replaced by a stone church, and an inn was built to receive visitors and pilgrims. During the revolution that led to the expulsion of the Spanish in 1821, the church was used as a fortress and as headquarters for the insurrection. Yet after the Colombians gained their independence, the church's subsidies from the state ceased, and the facility was abandoned. Restoration of the Convent began in 1964 by the Augustinian order. Today, you will find a monastery, a chapel and a museum. The chapel contains an ornate 22 carat gold foil altar, and respite can be found in its flower-filled courtyard. The views of Cartagena, the Caribbean and the surrounding areas from the Convent are quite spectacular.

San Felipe de Barajas Fortress. (Castillo de San Felipe de Barajas) With a dominating position on the Cerro de San Lazaro (San Lazaro Hill) overlooking the city of Cartagena and Cartagena Bay, the San Felipe de Barajas Fortress has been called the utmost achievement in military fortification built by the Spanish in the New World. In 1536, the Spanish Crown commissioned the design and construction of the initial fort. Originally named the Castillo de San Lazaro, the first structure built was known as the Bonete, which is a triangular structure at the highest point of the hill. After the infamous siege and attack on the city by the French Baron de Pointis in 1697, the fort was expanded and reinforced by Spanish military engineer Juan de Herrera y Sotomayor during the period 1717 to 1730. Additional collateral batteries were added to the fort, now named the Castillo San Felipe de Barajas, by Spanish engineer Antonio de Arevalo after the 1741 siege of the city by British admiral Vernon. All of the original construction of the fortress, as well as the later additions, relied on slave labor.

Las Bovedas. Built by military engineer Antonio de Arevalo in the second half of the 18th century, Las Bovedas houses 23 vaults (fronted by 47 arches) that were once used as storerooms for tools and military provisions, and as quarters for Colonial troops. The facility sits between the forts of Santa Clara and Santa Catalina. After independence came to Colombia in 1821, Las Bovedas was used as a jail. Today, Las Bovedas is a bustling marketplace, where one can find a selection of Colombian handicrafts, artworks, antiques, clothing and other goods.

Inquisition Palace. (Palacio de la Inquisicion) On February 5, 1610, King Philip II established the Inquisition Holy Office Court in Cartagena. The purpose of the Inquisition was to ensure the religious unity of the Spanish monarchy. The jurisdiction of the court encompassed today's states of Venezuela, Colombia, Bolivia, Panama, Costa Rica and Nicaragua.

The original Inquisition Palace was located in a house on the Plaza de Bolivar at the Actuary's Portico. Construction on the current facility, with its Baroque entrance, was completed in 1770. Its facade, the grates of the first story and the balconies on the second story are characteristic of many of the Colonial houses built during the 18th century. Around the corner from the building's front entrance is a small window adorned with a cross. It was from this window that the sentences of the accused were announced to the public. Records indicate that approximately 780 people were found guilty and put to death.

One reason for the establishment of the Inquisition in Cartagena was the diversity of religious beliefs of the slaves imported to the city, which they continued to practice after their arrival in the New World. Typically, the accused were alleged to have engaged in blasphemy, sorcery or witchcraft, and had to undergo a series of "tests" to ascertain their culpability. The accused were also weighed—often to see if they weighed more than a feather—after which they were tortured and killed.

The Inquisition Office remained active in Cartagena until the revolution of 1811. It reappeared in 1815, under the stewardship of Pablo Morillo, and was once again active until 1821, when the Spanish were finally expelled from the country. Upon the departure of the Spanish, enraged citizens of Cartagena mobbed the hated Palace, removed the torture devices and burned them.

On the first floor of the Inquisition Palace you'll find replicas of a number of torture implements used during the Inquisition, including a rack and a scale used to weigh the accused. The second floor is a small museum dedicated to the history of Cartagena, with models depicting the urban evolution of the city and finely detailed dioramas of several of the city's famous sites. You'll also find a step-on map showing the routes that the Spanish Galleons took on their voyages to and from Spain.

Gold Museum. (Museo del Oro y Arqueología): Cartagena's Gold Museum is one of several museums owned and operated by the Banco de la Republica, Colombia's central bank. The museum focuses on artifacts created by the Sinu people, a pre-Columbian culture that inhabited the regions surrounding Cartagena.

The Sinu built an extensive system of waterways that was used for more than thirteen centuries to drain off the floodwaters. Farmers, fishermen, traders, goldsmiths and weavers were organized in towns that were governed by local lords who paid tribute to regional chieftains like Finzenu, who ruled over the River Sinu. Agriculture, fishing, hunting and the bartering of raw materials and manufactured products (such as ceramics, gold objects and woven baskets) formed the basis of the Sinu economy.

The museum's collection consists of 89 art objects made of gold and ceramics. It is suggested that visitors begin their visit on the second floor.

Pierino Gallo Shopping Plaza. This modern shopping mall is located at the Laguito (Little Lagoon) neighborhood on the Bocagrande peninsula, Cartagena's modern residential, shopping and tourist mecca. Pierino Gallo is the Holy Grail for people searching out high quality Colombian emeralds from the local jewelers. Other stores in the complex sell handicrafts, leather goods, pre-Colombian artworks, coffee and cigars. Food, beverages and rest rooms are available. On cruise days, the Pierino Gallo assumes a festive atmosphere; you can also take a picture (for a $4,000 peso tip) with women who dress up à la Carmen Miranda.

What you'll do


Meet guide at the Cartagena cruise ship dock

Board mini-bus, ride to La Popa Monastery (35 minutes)

Tour Monastery (25 minutes)

Re-board mini-bus, drive to the San Felipe de Barajas fortress (15 minutes)

Photo stop at the San Felipe de Barajas fortress (10 minutes)

Re-board mini-bus, drive to Las Bovedas (10 minutes)

Free time for shopping at Las Bovedas (20 minutes)

Re-board mini-bus, transfer to Gold Museum (10 minutes)

Visit Gold Museum (20 minutes)

Re-board mini-bus, drive to Bocagrande (15 minutes)

Free time for shopping at the Pierino Gallo Shopping Mall (45 minutes)

Re-board mini-bus, scenic return ride to the Cartagena cruise ship dock (35 minutes)

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