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It’s impossible to visit the city of Cartagena without noticing its gorgeous doors and colorful buildings. Well, these days it’s impossible to avoid them even if you don’t visit, as Cartagena’s doors are an Instagram favorite.
Even I, someone who’s not a fan of “Instagram hot spot” trends, could not resist its allure.
The rainbow array of wall colors in this coastal Colombian city reminded me of its cousin on the other side of the Caribbean: Trinidad, Cuba. But its doors and those fabulous, dramatic door knockers are all Cartagena.
A brief history of Cartagena’s doors
Beyond the beautiful facades, there is both fascinating and dark history.
Originally, the door knockers, or aldabas, signified the social status and professional affiliation of the household.
A lion meant they were military, a fish was for those with ocean-related trades, a hand was tied to the religious class, and an iguana signified that they were a member of the Spanish royal family or nobility.
Today, many of those knockers still exist, but residents have also gotten fanciful with their modern door knockers.
To me, the door knockers are the fascinating part of this history. But the doors hold the legacy of colonialism as well.
If you look carefully, you’ll see that many of these grandiose doors also have a smaller, normal-sized mini-me encompassed within.
As our Free Tour Cartagena guide explained, the expansive doorways were for Spaniards to enter on their horses or in their carriages. The smaller one was for servants and slaves to walk across — because how indecorous it would be for them to cross the same thresholds as their masters! Just a tidbit of history to keep in mind as you enjoy the beauty of Cartagena’s Old Town.
Getting the best photos of Cartagena’s doors
In all likelihood, if you’re going to be in Cartagena, you’ll probably take at least one photo either of a beautiful door or in front of it.
Here are some pro tips to experiencing this gorgeous city and its many distinctive portals:
- Wander the streets and enjoy the facades that speak to you. There are so many stunning doors, there’s no need to follow anyone’s prescribed “best Cartagena doors” list. And it’s not just colorful doors either. Even the windows and awnings are beautiful.
- Don’t be rude. People do live in these homes, so be polite, don’t actually use the door knockers, and respect the residents’ wishes if they ask you to move along. Similarly, don’t be a hog in front of any particular door. Let your fellow tourists take some photos, too.
- Get up early. Cartagena is blazing hot: as in 89 degrees F, feels like 105 at 8 a.m. hot. So if you’re not already used to this weather, you’ll likely want to start exploring early to avoid sweat stains in every photo.
- Watch where the light falls. Depending on when you’re out and about, lighting can be a bit odd. It’s almost always sunny in Cartagena, and the light can wash out or darken your face. Of course, that can also be used to create some stunning photographs.
And of course, always remember that there’s wonder and joy to be found even in the less well-maintained spots.
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