View of the Santa Cruz de Manga Islands, Boca Grande and Castillo Grande and Tierra Bomba seen from Cerro de la Popa, Cartagena de Indias, Colombia. Photo: Wikimedia
CARTAGENA, Colombia -- Cartagena de Indias, the picturesque colonial city on Colombia's Caribbean coast, is experiencing major growth in investment and international arrivals, leading to huge gains in tourism and business development, according to Proexport Colombia, the country's trade, investment and tourism agency.
With a strategic location, temperate climate and rich cultural history, Cartagena is becoming a regional economic leader and one of the most sought-after destinations for new cruise calls, flight routes and hotel chains.
"Cartagena's 'boom' is indicative of the transformation Colombia has undergone in recent years," said Maria Claudia Lacouture, president of Proexport. "Investors and tourists from around the world are realizing the incredible potential of Colombia's resources, whether it be our diverse tourism offering, high-quality exports or secure investment environment. Cartagena is the epitome of the trajectory that I expect Colombia and many of its urban centers to follow in the near future."
According to Colombia's ministry of commerce, industry and tourism (MICT) an all-time high of 3.7 million foreign travelers visited Colombia in 2013. Likewise, Proexport helped the country to attract a total of US$16.8 billion, a record amount of foreign direct investment (FDI) in the same year.
Within Cartagena alone, there was an 11.5 percent increase in the number of international visitors between 2012 and 2013, and airlines are taking note; the city has 38 direct weekly flights from four cities – three in the US and one in Panama – with a direct flight from Fort Lauderdale to launch in October.
Virtually no area in Cartagena has been untouched by this growth, which is most noticeable in the "new" portion of the city, a collection of modern skyscrapers for business and new luxury resorts.
Likewise, Cartagena's historic district has become a sought-after destination for travelers looking for a more personal boutique hotel experience. Dozens of the city's colonial-era houses have been converted into boutique properties, allowing visitors to completely immerse themselves in the city's old-word charm and unique architecture.
All-in-all, 17 new properties are expected to open in the city by the end of 2015.
These boutique and chain hotels will house an influx of travelers arriving to attend meetings and conferences in Cartagena's new convention center, which will open in later this year. They will also provide accommodations for visitors spending time in the city before embarking on cruises out of its revitalized port. Colombia's National Marine Tourism Plan poured US$23.5 million into the infrastructure of Colombia's ports for both commercial and leisure use.
Since 2006, cruise arrivals to the country have increased eight percent, with Cartagena – whose cruise season lasts from October to May – as the most popular destination for visitors-by-sea. Additionally, the city's strategic location provides access to the Pacific and Atlantic Oceans, making it an ideal hub for international shipping. For commerce, the port has been recognized as the most efficient in the Caribbean, providing a reliable hub for multinational organizations that have facilities in Cartagena. This includes Dow Chemical, Chevron Phillips and Mexico's Cemex.
With these remarkable developments, Cartagena captures the essence of Colombia's latest tourism campaign, now entering its second year, "Colombia Is Magical Realism." As the longtime home of Nobel Prize Winner and magical realist Gabriel Garcia Marquez there is no more fitting place for business and leisure visitors alike to experience this remarkable destination that offers natural wonder and seemingly limitless business potential side-by-side.