Often discounted as a narco trafficking hotbed of violence and aggression due to present and past realities, let us show you a different reality. A pueblo of culture, art and talent, this is a must-see offbeat day trip destination in the Coffee Axis that visitors won’t want to miss. Come along and discover the Cartago Travel Guide. Welcome to tierra caliente, or hot earth!
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Cartago Travel Guide
We were really surprised once we began our investigation of this pueblo, or small town. In our humble opinion, this place has some incredible potential that you must see to believe. A climate that is hot, dry and not too high in altitude, you will find cool mornings, hot afternoons and comfortable evenings.
One of the oldest pueblos in Colombia, Cartago dates back to early colonization and was founded in 1540. It was once located in what is now known as Pereira. Having discovered flat, easy to work land to the west of Pereira, they decided to move it to its present location on the banks of the Rio Cauca and the Rio Vieja where it has endured to the modern day.
A popular regional saying “Grande y feo como Cartago,” or big and ugly like Cartago, gives a hat-tip to the spread out nature of the pueblo as well as a long legacy that spans more than 480 years making it one of the oldest pueblos in Colombia. It was actually founded during the Colombian Conquista.
Fun Fact: In times where banks were limited or even unavailable, families once used to store their gold and valuables in the walls of their houses. Many interesting treasures have been found in the walls of the colonial houses of Cartago. (Source: Fabian – Director @ Casa Cultura de Cartago)
Despite its turbulent past with the drug trade, it has become much safer over the years. We do recommend that visitors take the typical precautions of bringing a friend, do not “dar papaya,” or give advantage. And always use your situational awareness. If things get weird, don’t be afraid to leave or move to another place.
Prior to this investigation we met a musical group from Cartago named San Antonio Band, as we were working with Hotel Movich. A great musical group with a lot of passion and enthusiasm for what they do, they were also very professional about it too. As we began to do this investigation, we discovered that Cartago is full of amazing talented musicians and music schools and cultural centers which are focused on both regional music plus many international genres like Jazz and Samba.
Casa Virrey Museum and Music Conservatory
This was a lot purchased by the son of Spanish nobles, and a house that was ordered to be built but was never lived in by said noble. Today it is a short but fun museum tour that documents the history of Cartago and its’ inhabitants. Visitors will find artwork, old pictures of the area, antique furniture and architecture that has endured since colonization. Half of this very large house, is used as a music conservatory for mostly classical instruments like piano and guitar.
Cost: 1,500 cop. We recommend you opt for the guided tour – if you can speak Spanish. Otherwise, relax – enjoy the old style of architecture and relics of the past. Several picture displays will show you glimpses of Cartago’s past. There is also an information card-file archive with transcriptions of documents and historical evidence.
Fun Fact: There are old tunnels which once offered escape routes from most of the famous colonial houses in Cartago. Today most of them have been closed off but the network is rumored to be quite extensive. (Source: Fabian – Director @ Casa Cultura de Cartago)
Many pueblos in the Coffee Axis feature different unique crafts like sombrero weaving, knitting, basket weaving and even jewelry. Alongside the sound of guitars, pianos and salsa orchestras, visitors will also find a special type of artisan craft called “Bordado.” It’s a type of hand-stiched clothing style that is both lightweight and elegant.
La Ruta del Bordado
The art of Bordado, or embroidery actually dates back more than 3,000 years to ancient Egypt and Babylonia. In Colombia, the Vincentian and Franciscan nuns brought the craft and taught it to women who were widowed as a special craft they could use to support themselves. From 1884 and onward, Cartago became the capital of bordado, a title that has endured to the 21st century after experiencing a rebirth of interest and practice, in 1982.
There are 3 principle types that are generalized as “Bordado.”
- Bordado – which is the embroidery styles and wrapping styles which create designs in the fabric.
- Calado – where threads are removed horizontally or diagonally, then the remaining threads wrappped and tied off in a way that creates a pattern.
- Patecabra – which is like a “tatted” or “knitted” shirt that looks quite lacey and is manufactured completely by hand. No machining involved in any way.
Today you can visit the “Museo de Bordados,” or embroidery museum (Spanish only) as part of a circuit that spans several blocks and includes most of the bordado shops. This is a fun activity for visitors and you will find a variety fashions for every age group, for men, women and children. They are beautiful, exquisite and often one-of-a-kind.
Parks and Recreation
In addition to the places we mention here, Cartago has many sports complexes for local residents including a brand new indoor basketball stadium, a velodrome for roller skates, and several swimming pool resorts.
Parque de Salud
One of the recommended activities in Cartago is to visit the Eco Parque de Saman, or Parque de Salud as it is more commonly known. Featuring a large duck pond, bamboo rafts and walking trails, be sure to come here in the early morning or late afternoon for cooler temperatures and plenty of bird-watching opportunities.
Eco-Yoga Farm Mayapurita
This town made international fame only recently when a missing traveler was found via social media and word of mouth. Where was she? She was discovered safe and sound at a yoga retreat in Cartago. Mayapurita is the home of a volunteer community that centers around the practice of yoga. For more information about their classes and retreat options, reach out to them with this Facebook link:
An unconventional facility that functions as a family fun center during the day, and a gentleman’s club at night – The Pyramids, is a place that visitors might enjoy. They have pool facilities which are open to the public for a small fee daily and have swimming pools, which include a wave pool plus some big water slides.
Some of the typical foods of this pueblo include Pina-Naranja juice (pineapple/orange), or even mandarina (nectarine) juice. Salpicon is a type of juice with chunks of fruit in it. Local agriculture is focused largely on sugar cane and beef. Cartago is often associated with “fruit salads,” due to the plethora of fresh fruit grown locally.
Entre Cortes Parilla
Carrera 5 # 7 – 107 (Featured above) One of the best steaks in the Coffee Axis, this is a must if you are in Cartago. The location may look simple from the outside, but inside you will be able to sit in the shade or on the veranda of a colonial house. Featuring a large variety of beef cuts, you will have some great options PLUS a preparation style that delivers quality and flavor. Oh, and to beat the heat – be sure to ask for their Jarra de Sangria, a refreshing treat! This is a great lunch or dinner place to visit and you won’t be disappointed.
This little restaurant features an old style plaza with a fountain. What we found there was a super-tender steak, well seasoned chicken and large portions. Ask for their fresh-made lemonade, it was quite refreshing.
Mayapurita Vegetarian Restaurant
Surprisingly enough, Cartago has several health food shops and even a few vegetarian restaurants, this is one. We haven’t had the opportunity to try it.
Where to Drink Coffee
We found that Cartago had many nice outdoor seating spaces and coffee shops. A couple caught our attention in particular.
This is the cutest cafe in Cartago. Located in a Colonial house, you can find your own favorite nook for visiting with friends, reading a book over coffee or taking cute pictures. They had a great “cafe de origen” and their prices are appropriate for the quality.
Where to Stay
There are two nice hotels in Cartago. Don Gregorio is one of them. They offer free breakfast, a small swimming pool and clean rooms. They are well-placed for popular attractions, nightlife and restaurants.
Cartago is small in size, but big in opportunity with a rich and vibrant culture which has it’s own unique identity. Here’s a secret: the bordados are popular among the rich and famous of Colombia’s upper class, and in this small town visitors will discover a great shopping scene with many boutique fashion shops at cheaper prices than you will find anywhere else.
Later be sure to catch a bite at the many restaurants which specialize in steak and local food. Or, go out on the town with a night scene that is rumored to include one of the most prolific gay bars in the Coffee Axis.
We feel like this pueblo has a tremendous tourism potential, especially since no one has opened a backpacker hostel yet. As an offbeat pueblo, Cartago is well placed and easy to get to with many direct buses running from Pereira and a commute time of only 30-35 minutes one way. We will continue to explore and bring you more information on this destination over time so be sure to check back for updates to the Cartago Travel Guide!
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