Visit Cartagena’s Naval Museum – A Guide to the Museo Naval in Cartagena

A big historical anchor you can see when you visit the Cartagena naval museum.

The walls and fortifications of Cartagena speak to its importance as a coastal trading port during the Spanish colonial era.  A visit to the Naval Museum of the Caribbean in Cartagena will give you some great insight into those fortifications and their role in defending the city from numerous pirate attacks.  The museum is the most complete in the city and has a wealth of information about Cartagena’s history, the pirate attacks on the city, and the history of Colombia’s navy.  Read on for a guide to the Museo Naval del Caribe, Cartagena’s Naval Museum, where you will learn what you will see, how to get there, and visitor information.

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Entrance to the Naval Museum in Cartagena, flanked by cannons.
Entrance to the Cartagena Naval Museum

What to See at the Cartagena Naval Museum

As its name implies, the Museo Naval del Caribe is focused on the naval history of Cartagena ranging from the time of colonization to the present day.  However, there’s an absolute ton of information on display at this little known but gem of a museum in Cartagena.

Through the exhibits you will learn not only about naval history, but also about how Cartagena was colonized, its importance as a seat of Spanish power, Colombia’s struggle for independence, and wars Colombia has fought since independence.  It really is a bit of a one stop shop for Cartagena’s and Colombia’s history.  In fact, if you are only going to visit one museum in Cartagena, I’d recommend making it the Naval Museum.

When you begin your tour on the first floor, you’ll go through a chronological history of the colonial period.  First, you will learn about the indigenous inhabitants of the area and the Spanish conquest.  Then you begin probably the most fascinating part of the museum, the accounts of the various pirate attacks on the city.

Cartagena was a constant target for pirates during the colonial era, and it was attacked numerous times.  The exhibits here will tell you about those attacks, including when the city fell to Sir Francis Drake and the French Pirate Barón de Pointis and when the Spanish treasure ship San Jose sank just off the coast.

For those attacks and the the successful defense of the city against Edward Vernon’s fleet, the museum has some awesome models and dioramas that show how the attackers entered the bay and provide a day by day account of the events.  If you’re a military history buff, the exhibits really are jammed pack full of information.

A diorama showing a line of ships entering the Cartagena bay during one of the battles on display at the Cartagena Naval Museum.
One of the great exhibits showing the pirate attacks on Cartagena.

However, even if you don’t want to read all the detailed accounts, the exhibits still provide a neat look at the geography of the city and the bay.  There are models of all the major fortifications, including the Castillo San Felipe (which is absolutely worth visiting) and a cool mock sail where you can point it in the direction of coordinates for other major colonial ports and read up about them.

When you continue your tour upstairs, you’ll learn about Colombia’s struggle for independence and the role patriot naval forces played.  A naval force played a crucial role in the final liberation of Cartagena from Spanish rule in 1821.

You’ll also learn about the Colombian Navy’s role in modern day conflicts up to the Korean War.  It’s a little recognized fact, but Colombia was the only Latin American country to participate in the US led United Nations force sent to Korea.

Finally, there are some cool interactive exhibits of what the inside of a submarine and bridge of a warship look like.  There’s even an anti-aircraft gun you can strap yourself into and point at the skies.  If you have kids, they will love imagining they are watching the sonar, looking up the periscope, or sitting at the captain’s chair.  Likewise, if you’re like me, and an adult who likes acting like a child, you will also love this part of the museum.

The model ship bridge with captain's chair and controls on display at the Museo Naval in Cartagena.
The interactive model of a ship’s bridge on display at the Cartagena Naval Museum.

On your way out, be sure to check out the liberty bells on display in the courtyard.  They are bells that tolled when the city declared its independence in 1811 and are a cool piece of history that is easy to miss.

There really is a ton on display at the museum, and it’s easily the most complete in the city.

How to Get to the Cartagena Naval Museum

The Naval Museum is located on the backside of the Church of San Pedro Claver, diagonal from the Hotel Charleston just inside the entrance to the wall beside Parque de la Marina.  It is about a 8 minute walk from the Clocktower.

Visitor Information

Cost of Admission:  Entrance to the museum is 16,000 pesos for adults and 2,000 pesos for children. *Note that as a privately run museum, it is not free like Castillo San Felipe or the Inquisition and Historical Museum on the last Sunday of the month.  There are guided tours available for an additional fee.

Hours of Operation:  The museum is open 9-5 everyday.

Time to Visit:  You could spend anywhere from an hour to 3 hours here if you read all the detailed information given in the exhibits.


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