Cartagena, with more than 3,000 years of history, has been the scene of some of the most outstanding passages throughout time. This Punic, Roman, military and art nouveau city offers nowadays so many things to see and do that it has become one of the most appealing destinations in the Mediterranean area.
On the top of one of the five hills of the city, in the Concepción Castle, is a good -possibly the best- starting point to visit this millenary city: the Interpretation Centre of Cartagena's History. Three thousand years of knowledge and history, together with the heritage from the most relevant civilisations from the past, in an hour's visit.
The Roman Theatre Museum is the city's undeniable symbol. It is a wonderful architectural ensemble, designed by Rafael Moneo, where every space is even more amazing than the previous one. It integrates Pascual Riquelme Palace, Santa María la Vieja Cathedral and, after the last corridor, the Roman Theatre, which is the most impressive part. An interesting detail: Carthago Nova Theatre, built in the 1st century BC by Emperor Augustus, was not discovered until 1990.
FEEL LIKE A ROMAN CITIZEN
If you enjoy reliving history and stepping over the floor on which some important events took place in the past, you will feel like a child in the old Carthago Nova's Roman Forum district. It is a real privilege to visit this site, hidden underground for more than 20 centuries, where the thermal complex and the atrium building stand out. If you come with your family, we recommend dramatised visits.
The Underwater Archaeology National Museum houses the famous 'treasure of Nuestra Sra. de Las Mercedes frigate', a booty including 570,000 gold and silver coins from the 18th and 19th centuries. The visit also includes many other elements which are maybe not as well-known but quite as valuable. We suggest you discover them step by step and then 'digest' the whole experience at the museum's restaurant, at a restaurant at the port, or at Santa Lucía fishing district. If you keep wanting more, the Naval Museum is another interesting visit; its most outstanding parts are the exhibitions on navigation and shipbuilding and Isaac Peral Hall, where you will see the famous submarine which has been the symbol of this port city for more than 80 years.
This boat ride will take you to the most haunting spots in the inner harbour, bordering the bay's fortifications. By admiring this wonderful view, you will be able to feel like general Scipio Africanus and imagine what he saw before the landing which made him conquer the old Qart Hadast. The itinerary includes a visit to the Centre of Interpretation of Cartagena's Defensive Architecture, where you will learn about history and legends of both the trade and military role played by this Mediterranean junction for more than 2,000 years of history.
A CHARMING BEACH
Cala Cortina is Cartagena's urban beach. To get to it you just need to go through a tunnel and there you go! A wonderful Mediterranean cove will appear in front of you, with children's play area, seafront promenade, restaurant, loungers and sunshades. Besides having a refreshing swim, you can dive and enjoy the area's underwater life.
HIKING OR DIVING?
If you're keen on hiking, the PR-1 route will take you from Cala Reona to Calblanque: an easy walk at the end of which you should definitely have a swim in the crystal clear waters of this nature park's beaches. You will need a cap, a pair of binoculars and a camera. Essential stops are Playa del Portús and Cabo Tiñoso, since the beauty and diversity of its seabeds have turned this area into one of divers' favourite destinations. You will like it so much that you won't feel like rising to the surface, but... Don't worry. When you do, you will be able to admire the magnificence of one of the Southeast's most important ecological landscapes.
FESTIVITIES AND FESTIVALS
Among Cartagena's many different treasures, one of them is irresistible: its Holy Week. The Passion Week in Cartagena has been declared to be of International Tourist Interest. Its processions are hypnotic due to the rhythmic movement of thousands of hoods and the polychromy created by flower ornaments and small lamps, an effect that is even more impressive in the small hours. If you arrive in summer, we have a special suggestion for you: spend the day at Calblanque idyllic beach, and the evening at La Mar de Músicas festival in Cartagena, where you will enjoy art and musics of the world. And remember: the scenes are placed at strategic spots by the Mediterranean seaside with amazing views.
UNDER THE LIGHTHOUSE
On Sundays, the street market takes place in Cabo de Palos, a picturesque fishing village next to La Manga del Mar Menor and less than 30 minutes away from Cartagena by car. Walking about the stalls, finding some bargains, enjoying the sea atmosphere and tasting a typical, delicious caldero rice dish -a fish rice dish cooked in a pot- at Paseo de La Barra, in front of the sea, is a perfect plan. Our advice: follow the seafront promenade and you will get to this locality's impressive lighthouse, which used to be a lighthouse-keeper school and is one of the best places to stare at the skyline by the Mediterranean.
Any time is a good time to pamper the palate. Typical from Cartagena are grilled fish, roast fish or fish baked in salt, michirones, the famous caldero rice dish, and rabbit, either with rice or ajo cabañil. The most typical salad is the cantonal salad made with smoked fish, including salmon, cod and harvestfish, together with capers, onion and olive oil. As a dessert: melon, prickly pear, arrope and tocino de cielo. To top it off, the famous asiático coffee, made with condensed milk and a little Licor 43, cinnamon, lemon peel and several coffee beans. The asiático cup is so original that it has become one of Cartagena's most singular souvenirs.