Black Meetings and Tourism

May/June 2012

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FAM REPORT CARTAGENA COLOMBIA OFFERS GREAT MEETING SPACES AND HOTELS FOR MEETING PLANNERS AND INCENTIVE GROUPS By EDITH BILLUPS If you are planning ameeting or incentive trip and look- ing for a great Caribbean coast location, the city of Cartagena, Colombia may be the ideal solution for your group. And with the country's recent signing of the Free Trade Agreement with the U.S, Colombians are more than eager to show off their commercial borders. I recently packed my bags for a three day visit and quickly became enchanted with this charming resort area that has been called "one of the conti- nent's greatest cultural treasures." I arrived on a Wednesday, flying into Rafael Nunez International Airport in Bogota, continuing on to Cartagena where its historical Old City still preserves the ves- tiges from a past that includes pirate attacks and slave trading. Cartagena also became widely known for witchhunts during the Spanish Inquisition. Located on the northern coast of Colombia, Cartagena is the fifth largest city in Colombia and was designated a UNESCO World Heritage site in 1984. Founded on June 1, 1533, CartagenaDe Indias is known for its rich history and culture that includes the most extensive fortifications in South America, impressive colonial and republican architecture, trendy hotels, intense nightlife and greatmeeting spaces. I checked into the lovelyCartagena de IndiasHotel,a small luxury hotel located in the heart of the historic district and within walking distance from San Pedro and Santo Domingo squares. The hotel blends colonial architecturewith sleekmod- ern lines and features modern rooms with generous spaces. If visiting, be sure to take a trip to the rooftop infinity pool and jacuzzi where one can revel in stunning views of the nearby cathedrals and stately houses. Also, check out the excellent restaurant that features a sumptuous breakfast with delicious fruits, fresh squeezed juices and an ala carte menu overseen by chef Ervin Jimenez. I immediately set off on a visit to the Old City founded by conquistador Pedro deHeredia on the site of Calamar, a town inhabited by Mocanaes, an indigenous tribe, on the shores of the well protected bay. With its natural protection for seagoing vessels, the town became the capital of the province, and Heredia became governor on behalf of the Spanish crown. Heredia would displace the Indians and would make many successful expeditions into the interior of the province to raid the tombs of the Xenu tribes for gold. That knowledge attract- ed many greedy settlers. Beginning in 1565, Cartagena would become a regular stop for the fleet that traded with the Caribbean on behalf of Spain and which brought silver from Peru. The flow of treasure to its port resulted in attacks by the French and English, including Sir Francis Drake. As a result, the first fortresses were built to protect Cartagena, including a wall around the city, which largely remains today. In 1610, Cartagena would become even more known for becoming the main site for the Tribunal of the Inquisition by order of King Philip III of Spain. The Holy Office of the Catholic church would devote itself to uncovering heretics and witches until the beginning of the 19th century when independence from Spain was declared. Cartagena's past also includes a long history in the African slave trade, becoming the main Hispanic American port for this activity during the last two decades of the 16th century. In Alberto Samudio Trallero's "Walking Cartagena," he writes that "In the boom year of this commerce, about 14 ships would call on Cartagena with a cargo of some 300 slaves each; men, women and children in poor health after long months of navi- gation in inhuman conditions. In Cartagena, they were branded and sold in the so-called 'Black Fair.'" Cartagena's population today includes descendants of Spanish, native and African history, and many are the street vendors that can be seen selling colorful flowers and fresh fruits on the narrow, cobbled streets. If visiting, take a walking tour or one of the romantic horsedrawn carriages to shop at some of the local boutiques. You'll also not want to miss explor- Black Meetings & Tourism May/June 2012: 21

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