On a blazing hot summer afternoon, if you want to do something in the cool shade, a walking tour of the Castillo San Felipe de Barajas is NOT the best idea. We learned that the hard way.
The 1.5 km walk from the walled city to the fortress is not tree-lined, nor shaded, and the walk at midday can get intensely hot. What’s more, the Castillo tour is almost entirely in the open, hot sun, with only a tiny walk through one of the tunnels (read: cool shaded section).
On the plus side, the Castillo is one that worked hard for its fortifications and fame, witnessed a number of critical battles over the centuries, replete with history, all of which comes together in an informative audio guided tour in multiple languages. Our greatest challenge was identifying the spots on the map to coincide with the audio information, while in pursuit of those shaded spots for a bit of relief.
One of the most significant features of the fortress is the complex network of tunnels that was used to defend the fortress, enabling soldiers and supplies to be moved out of sight of the enemy. Only a short section of the tunnel system is open to visitors to walk through and let your imagination paint a scene from the past.
The fortress has a clear line of sight over both the sea and land, essential for spotting the enemy and preparing for defence. It is built on the hill of San Lazaro, the perfect location for big brother to watch over the town.
Towards the end of the audio tour, you find yourself at the site of the old hospital building, which has been converted into a media room. When you make it this far, you have earned yourself a small prize: a few minutes of divine air-conditioning while watching the short film about the fortress on loop. The film is well made, with a bit of humour and drama, taking you through the evolution of the Castillo.
If you are curious about the history and the battles that the Castillo featured in, do read this excellent article: https://www.cartagenaexplorer.com/history-castillo-san-felipe-fortress-cartagena-colombia/
Now, if you were a proper holiday/itinerary planner, your next stop after the Castillo would be the Old Shoes Monument, which is across the street, on the side of the fortress. We were silly enough to miss it the first time, and ended up doing that entire walk-in-the-sun looking for the old shoes on our last day, with a facepalm moment when we found it.
This monument is a sculpture by Hector Lombana, in honour of the Cartagenero poet, Luis Carlos López, whose sonnet, Los Zapatos Viejos, compares his city of Cartagena to a pair of comfy old shoes.
We were lucky to be only one of the two groups of people visiting this spot that day. The other family all wanted their picture taken, one at a time, inside the shoe that mildly annoyed me, while Souvik went to read the poem inscribed on the side.
Here’s a map of what we could’ve achieved in a single walk, that we ended up doing twice, and came away enlightened:
*Cartagena, with less colour, more heat