One of the best views of Cartagena and the surrounding archipelago is from La Popa Monastery perched on the edge of a cliff overlooking La Bahia de Cartagena. The word popa means “stern” in Spanish and it’s said the monastery resembles the stern of a boat from a distance. Sweeping views from La Popa include the Caribbean Sea, the Island of Tierrabomba, and the neighborhoods of Getsemani, La Matuna, Centro Historica, Bocogrande, and Castillogrande.
There’s a sharp contrast between Spanish Colonial Cartagena with its distinct African influence and the newer modern areas of Bocogrande and Castillogrande. Even more contrast is apparent from the view on the back side of the monastery where one can see Cartagena’s extremely poor neighbors. I find the atmosphere and architecture in old Cartagena more appealing. The contrast between the old colonial buildings and the modern hotels and high-rise apartments in Bocogrande and Castillogrande is slightly unnerving.
During the 17th century the town built a chapel on top of the hill for church members who helped clear and clean the area. The original chapel was a modest wooden structure with a small cabin next to it. The structure had a statue of the much revered Virgin of Candelaria who saved Cartagena from disease and pirates.
Later, an influential monk of of the Saint Augustine monastic order received a divine message to build a convent at the top of the nearest hill in Cartagena de Indias. The convent of Nuestra Señora de La Candelaria eventually replaced the modest wooden church.
The convent became a fortress during the independence and civil wars of the 19th century. In 1964 the Augustinian religious group restored the convent and today it’s one of the most visited places in Cartagena de Indias. I enjoyed touring the monastery. It was a hazy day but the views were still incredible!