When deciding on locations to feature in MODE’s “Going Places” section we always cast our nets wide and far so that we may find both often overlooked local gems, as well as places afar that are already known but that have not always been explored on a more personal level. One of these gems is the city Cartagena, located in the northern coast of Colombia.
The beautiful settings that include the pristine beaches, secluded cabins, and some almost untouched woodland, make for great settings for a fashion swimwear shoot. So, to better understand what makes Cartagena a notable place to visit, we follow Stefano Campanini on a wondrous and immersive photographic journey into this enchanting paradise.
Cartagena, situated on the northern coast of Colombia, boasts a rich and captivating history that spans centuries. Its origins can be traced back to the early 16th century when Spanish explorers, led by Pedro de Heredia, established the city in 1533. Named after the city of Cartagena in Spain, the Colombian Cartagena was strategically positioned as a key port for trade and maritime activities in the Caribbean.
Throughout its history, Cartagena played a pivotal role in the Spanish colonial empire. The city became a major hub for the shipment of valuable resources, including gold, silver, and precious gems, extracted from the mines of South America. Its fortified walls, built over several decades, were a testament to its strategic importance and served as a defense against pirate attacks and rival European powers seeking control over its wealth. Today, Cartagena stands as a UNESCO World Heritage Site, celebrated for its well-preserved historic center, characterized by colorful colonial buildings, cobblestone streets, and impressive fortifications.
Venturing eastward from Cartagena, you embark on an adventure. Passing through the metal arch that welcomes visitors to the city, you step into a time machine, traversing centuries in just a few kilometers. The surroundings transform into a verdant expanse, a medley of simple agriculture, rivers, and forests.
A two-hour drive leads to the Cape of Salgar, crowned by its hilltop castle overlooking the Caribbean. Constructed by the Spaniards in 1848, this fortress held a strategic position for spotting smugglers’ vessels. Today, one can easily envision a pirate-laden galleon on the horizon. Our photographic journey commences in Salgar, with its stunning beach sprawling at the castle’s base.
Barranquilla, Colombia’s fourth-largest city, follows, trailing behind Bogotá, Medellín, and Cali. Hotel del Prado grants each guest a regal experience, evoking a sense of belonging to royalty. The hotel’s construction began in 1927, culminating in its completion by 1930. Its Corinthian columns and open architectural design encapsulate a history that hosted luminaries like Gabriel Garcia Marquez, Ernest Hemingway, several prime ministers, and fortunate travelers like you.
Yet, the true enchantment lies to the east, a two-hour journey away, within the Sierra Nevada de Santa Marta—home to Tayrona Park and solitary beach huts embraced by wilderness. This realm remains inhabited by four indigenous tribes, collectively referred to as the Tayrona, despite their distinct group identities. More than half of them remain unfamiliar with the Spanish language. They generously share their ancestral lands with us. Amid this lush and primal landscape, don’t be startled; it’s still a realm of jaguars, anteaters, tree-dwelling monkeys, and an endless expanse of birds adorning the sky. Numerous splendid tourist facilities offer a unique experience for those seeking solace. These establishments host yoga retreats, meditation sessions, detoxification programs, guided eco-tours, river rafting, and much more.
Making friends becomes an effortless endeavor when interacting with the locals. Their genuine kindness and perpetual smiles exude a timeless charm, with an unwavering attentiveness to every acquaintance they encounter. Their warm gazes fixate upon new friends, reflecting a deep-rooted connection. In this setting, an overwhelming sensation of stepping back in time envelops me. Amid sporadic phone signals, antiquated cars adorned with manual gears dominate the streets. Horse-drawn carts sporadically punctuate the scene, embracing a landscape seemingly locked in “manual mode.” Even the act of placing an order at a restaurant entails the waitress jotting it down on a scrap of paper. As the meal concludes, the costs of each dish are manually calculated, culminating in a handwritten check delivered to you.
Such a journey inevitably transforms into an experience that resonates both outward and inward. The majesty of nature unfolds in all its splendor, painting a vivid and colorful landscape. The locals, unabashedly exuberant and vocal at the bustling restaurants, contribute to the vibrant ambiance. Delightful meals, often sourced from trees and plants right next door, present a taste of the exotic.
Yet, it’s not just the external aspects that leave an indelible mark. It’s also the genuineness of the people that lingers in memory, their lives dictated by a rhythm markedly distinct from our own. The allure of siestas taken in a symphony of colorful hammocks becomes a beckoning call to slow down and embrace the present moment. The intermittent phone signal and the scarcity of Wi-Fi, seemingly hindrances, weave a thought-provoking tapestry that raises questions about the speed at which we navigate our lives.
In the midst of this, the thought surfaces: Should we not pause for at least a week every now and then? Should we not venture into the realm of the Tayrona’s—a place where time seems to sway with the wind and the heart beats in sync with nature’s rhythms? As we absorb the serenity of this land, it invites us to recalibrate our senses, to find solace in simplicity, and to rediscover the art of savoring each precious moment.
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