Cementerio de Santa Cruz
I don't know what was wrong with me, but I didn't research a single cemetery before we left for our recent South America trip. I didn't even realize my egregious error until we were already leaving Cusco. On our bus ride to the beginning of the Inca Trail, I was looking at all of the small towns passing by and it hit me—I bet the cemeteries are great here (a totally normal thought to strike me). Almost as soon as I said it out loud, we actually passed a cemetery and although our bus was speeding along the rickety road, I had just enough time to give it a quick, wistful glance. Later in the day, we passed a smaller cemetery at the beginning of the trail but I was still hoping that we'd find time in our trip to properly explore a burial ground.
Determined to remedy my nearly cemetery-less vacation, finding one was first on my agenda when we arrived in Cartagena, Colombia. I had expected Cartagena to have a vibe similar to New Orleans, and I just instinctively knew that its cemeteries would be amazing. It didn't take me long to find one—an easy, ten-minute walk from our hotel—and on our first full day it was first on the agenda.
The Cementerio de Santa Cruz is located on Manga, an island just outside of the walled city. I can't find a ton of information on the cemetery, but it's definitely old—probably from around the 1700s—and in disrepair but still very much in use. I had read that it was abandoned, but on the day that we visited there was a security guard sitting just inside of the entrance and several people tending to gravesites.
Most of the stones and vaults are damaged, and I'm not sure if it's a result of weather, time or vandalism (or all three), but the cemetery has definitely seen better days. I even got the sense that maybe older vaults are now being reused for new interments, and many of the niches are broken open and empty. I knew we would probably see some exposed human remains, but I was not prepared for just how many bones we saw. We even saw a few skulls—complete and partial—which was definitely a cemetery first for both of us.
The above-ground tombs and the style of the stones in general definitely reminded me of the cemeteries we visited in New Orleans. There were statues and offerings and tons of brightly colored fake flowers. One stone even had a miniature awning on it to protect all of its flowers and trinkets. I probably say this a lot, but this was definitely one of the best cemeteries I've ever visited—it may not be on anyone's "wonders of the world" list, but it was a trip highlight for sure.