Cartagena’s Plazas each have a unique history and vibe. Some are more fun at night, others great during the day, but they all contribute to the city’s unique charm. Especially in the evenings you can find lots of interesting music frequently reflecting the city’s Afro-Caribbean roots, but often based on local indigenous sounds or sometimes a wonderful global fusion of culture. If I had to pick only three location to relax, have a drink and enjoy a leisurely dinner, I would be sure to include Plaza Fernández Madrid, Plaza de la Trinidad, and Plaza San Diego. They are best from Thursday to Sunday from 6 in the evening until late at night.
Plaza de San Pedro Claver
This plaza is home to the Cartagena Museum of Modern Art and the delicious Sand Pedro Restaurant
and is at the back end of the Naval Museum
. If you’re here in the evening, don’t miss out on a trip down the back side of the Naval Museum which has a fantastic collection of arts, crafts, and jewelry for sale.
There is a church on the Plaza, of course, named after the Jesuit priest Pedro Claver. He spent his life serving African slaves in Cartagena during the 17th Century. The façade of the church is one of the most well known in the city and a key place to take photographs.
There is a museum on the side of the church and the gardens of Saint Pedro Claver next door which is inexpensive and well worth visiting. Upstairs in the church is the historical society where local antiquities are restored.
This plaza was originally known as the Plaza of the Cathedral. In 1610 Phillip the Third of Spain created the Holy Office of the Inquisition and it became known as the Plaza of the Inquisition. The first public execution or "auto de fe" of the Inquisition was carried out on this site in 1614. The Plaza took the name of Simon Bolivar after independence from Spain. The Palace of the Inquisition
is here, but probably isn’t worth a visit. On the other end of the plaza, the Gold Museum
is worth a visit. Be sure to stop along the side of the Palace of the Inquisition as you leave where you can see the high window where people were encouraged to turn in their neighbors for heresy.
The park has some wonderful benches around a fountain with shade making it a nice spot to stop for a rest during a hot day tour of the old city.
Plaza de Santo Domingo
The church of Santo Domingo, built in 1539, is the oldest in Cartagena and the Plaza of Santo Domingo with its famous Botero sculpture is one of the most well known locations in the city.
This plaza has been the safest and best known in the city for decades, but honestly at this point there is no food here worth chasing down. The music is nice and if you want a romantic serenade from a classical guitar or accordion, this is the place to go! The beautiful melody of the strings of a guitar harmonize with the warmth of the night.
Plaza de la Trinidad
Here the fist raised by Simon Bolivar marks the start of the revolution. This square in the Gethsemane district of the old city is the grungiest and most likely to have locals mixed in with tourists. It’s a must see. It’s also recently been surrounded by a plethora of lovely little restaurants and bars that lead up the Calle Sierpe toward Parque Centinario. Don’t miss the amazing graffiti art here which in some cases is even created by famous local artists.
In Plaza de la Trinidad, you’ll find all manner of enthusiastic street performers gathered in one place and the action really starts earlier in the day (2 pm on?). You’ll find hip-hop dancers, jugglers, and acrobats who jump and spin to the sound of breaking, locking and popping. If you’re lucky enough to catch a complete show you’ll hear all manner of local urban rhythms. Visitors who come to this cozy, fresh and pleasant place, enjoy admiring the talent of these young people.
Plaza San Diego
Plaza San Diego is named after the Convent of San Diego which now houses the School of Fine Arts (Escuela de Bellas Artes). It was originally named Plaza de Bahamón after Francisco Bahamón de Lugo who was the Governor of Cartagena in the early 1570s. The Convent of Saint Clara of Assisi built in approximately 1600 and is now the Hotel Santa Clara which houses the fabulous Restaurant 1621. The restaurant is quite expensive, but if you can afford it, put it on your list and be sure to check out their extensive wine cellar and cheese cave. The Colonial architecture in the Santa Clara is also gorgeous and worth of a photo.
The nights in San Diego are infused with cumbia, salsa and hip hop rhythms, reflecting the roots of this multicultural place. Every weekend an exotic and charismatic dancer, moves his or her hips to the sound of salsa, stealing the eyes of all the viewers who catch their taste.
This plaza also sports a number of reasonably priced and delicious restaurants with outdoor seating having surely surpassed Plaza Santo Domingo as the go to location for an outdoor, evening dinner. My personal favorite restaurant in this square is Juan Del Mar, but there are plenty of wonderful alternatives as well.
In addition, as if that were not enough reasons to visit Plaza San Diego, there is a delightful crafts market in the middle of the square where artists who actually make their wares are there to sell to you.
Plaza Fernández Madrid
This plaza is home to the Santo Toribio Church, built in 1736, and which stands as the last church build within the walls of the old city. In the center of the Plaza is a statue of Fernández Madrid, who was a statesman, physician, scientist and writer, as well as the President of the interim triumvirate of the United Provinces of New Granada in 1814.
This Plaza was restored and upgraded with outdoor seating for restaurants in 2016. There’s some nice food and bars here, though I don’t much understand or care for the KGB Bar. There is a small stage which frequently has local performers including a delightful and talented Michael Jackson impersonator. You can hear bagpipes, tambourines, and African drums while witnessing the movements of traditional dance groups, which demonstrate the Caribbeand atmosphere of the city with rhythms of cumbia, mapalé, puya, scribble, currulao and tambora. It is the perfect place to sit and enjoy a good evening to the sound of native artists, who perform in exchange for a tip. Come to the park and enjoy this experience that highlights Caribbean history through dancing.