As tourists swarm Cartagena, the country looks to spread the wealth.
From Chicago Tribune
By Chris Kraul
CARTAGENA, Colombia — Four giant cruise ships recently docked within hours of one another in this Spanish colonial port city and disgorged 6,000 foreign passengers. Most headed to Old Cartagena for a day of sightseeing and shopping, jamming the narrow streets of what many believe is the best preserved colonial city on the continent.
Many of the day-trippers walked the 16th-century stone walls that still ring the historic center. Looking out to the Caribbean, they could imagine the corsairs of Sir Francis Drake, the English pirate who sacked the city in 1586. Others trudged to the top of San Felipe fortress or taxied to a monastery atop La Popa hill for the panoramic view. Or they passed through the forbidding doors of the Palace of the Inquisition to see instruments of torture.
“This is my first time in Colombia, and I love it,” said Ronald Sell, a Swiss accountant, as he shopped for souvenirs in Las Bovedas, the converted dungeons that once housed slaves who were imported to work the colony’s mines and cane fields. “I’ve seen other Colombian cities before arriving here, but this is definitely the highlight.”
The presence of so many foreigners was unthinkable just five years ago, when tourists were put off by the image of a country beset by violence sown by leftist rebels and drug traffickers. But the nation’s improved security, booming economy and rapidly expanding tourism industry have put it on many travelers’ itineraries.
Colombia’s international visitors increased 17 percent last year, to 1.7 million, compared with a global tourism gain of just 2 percent from 2008 to 2009, according to Ernst & Young consultants. The Colombian visitor industry that once consisted mainly of “backpackers and thrill-seekers,” to use a former U.S. ambassador’s term, has gone mainstream.
That figure doesn’t include cruise passengers, who typically stop in Cartagena for just a day, spending on average about $110 each, according to the local tourism office. During the last peak cruise ship season running from October to April, the city saw an average of 25 cruise ships per month, up from just four per month in 2004. Each averages about 1,500 passengers.
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