Unearth a spectacular collection of pre-Columbian artifacts at the city’s gold museum
Delve into the unlikely and largely untold history of the emerald trade
Select your own stones for custom-crafted jewelry designs
Colombia has a deep and often controversial history with gold. Pedro de Heredia sailed into Cartagena’s protected bay in 1533 to establish what became Spain’s primary Caribbean port in South America. The Spaniards amassed vast wealth for the crown through the slave trade and, not least, the plundering of gold and precious stones from the graves of the indigenous Zenú tribe. At the Museo del Oro Zenú (or Zenú Gold Museum), facing Plaza de Bolivar in the Centro, you can explore what remains of intricate pre-Columbian gold artifacts, Zenú pottery, and the fraught legacy of the gold trade. Carrying on the theme of shiny precious things, make your next stop at the neighboring Joyería Caribe Museo de la Esmeralda (Emerald Museum). At this museum-in-miniature, the complex mining process and beguiling history of “the Mother’s Stone”—did you know Cleopatra was purportedly the first to wear emeralds?—is told through dioramas and display boxes, culminating in a visit to the in-house showroom. Colombia is the world’s largest producer of emeralds, according to Jessica Paula Gomez, a member of the knowledgeable staff; emeralds here are typically lighter, clearer, and possessed of a deep, rich green hue that sets the stones apart. You can buy one of the displayed baubles, set in 18k gold, or choose from a collection of loose stones and have a custom piece crafted in 36 hours. If you prefer to shop around for a stone-studded souvenir, we’ve found consistently high-quality stock at Lucy Jewelry, an elegant store housed in a 17th-century mansion, just a three-minute walk away.
Have your car or taxi drop you at Plaza de Bolívar in the Centro, a 30-minute trip from the Conrad; the Gold Museum and Emerald Museum are right next door to one another, while Lucy Jewelry is just a few blocks northwest.