Cartagena, Colombia CNN  — 

Cartagena, perched on Colombia’s Caribbean coast, is quickly becoming a must-visit, especially for Americans and Canadians enjoying new, convenient flight routes.

Once primarily associated with gangs and drugs, the word is out that Colombia is now a massive tourist destination. Tourism has more than tripled from 1 million foreign visitors per year in 2006 to 3.1 million in 2018, according to data from the official national tourism board.

While Cartagena may not be the capital (that’s Bogota) or the title of a Madonna song (Medellin,hello), its mix of casual beachside charm and urban vitality make it a fun and fascinating place to explore. The city center and its fortifications are also a UNESCO World Heritage Site, so you’ll be able to soak up the history as well as the sun.

The basics

Cartagena, like so many places in Latin America, is named for a city in Spain. Therefore, Cartagena, Colombia is often called by its full name, “Cartagena de Indias,” or Cartagena of the Indies. Locals are known as Cartageneros (or Cartageneras in the feminine plural).

The historic center of Cartagena is within the old city walls built by the Spanish between the 16th and 18th centuries. It’s called the Ciudad Amurallada – Walled City – and it’s where the majority of hotels and restaurants are located, in addition to being extremely walkable.

If you only have a few days, you’re best off staying here. And if you’re planning a longer trip, spend the first few days in the walled city getting your bearings before venturing further afield.

The famous Clock Tower is often used to demarcate the boundary of the walled city, as it’s above the main Old City Gate. Once you are south of here, you find yourself in the colorful working-class neighborhood of Getsemaní.

Getsemaní is the place to go for street art, less expensive restaurants and vibrant community life.

The narrow spit