PhotoPOSTcard: Waiting to Make a Dollar in Cartagena

women in colorful local dresses in Cartagena Columbia

Last Updated on 03/04/23 by Rose Palmer

2022 NATJA awardThis story was recognized by the North American Travel Journalists Association with a Silver award in the Portrait Photography category in the 2022 annual media travel awards competition .

The palenqueras of Cartagena  – black women in bright costumes with baskets of fruit on their head – have become a colorful national symbol for their country. All around the old town of Cartagena, I saw these women waiting to have their photos taken in exchange for a tip. Once they saw a potential opportunity, they would put the bowls of fruit on their head, flare their skirts and give a huge smile – and then reach out for the expected dollars.

The history of selling baskets of fruit in Cartagena by these colorful ladies started in 1691. That year, the town of San Basilio de Palenque which was ruled entirely by runaway African slaves, declared its independence from Spanish rule. To make money, the local women dressed in their traditional African garb and trekked the 32 miles to Cartagena to sell their one resource, fruit.

Though not originally from Cartagena, this tradition has woven itself into the fabric of the local and national culture.

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