CARTAGENA, Colombia — The history, tropical charm and improved security of this exotic Spanish colonial city, so in vogue with conventioneers and cruise ship passengers, has been luring increasing numbers of foreigners interested in real estate.
As the effects of the global financial crisis have eased, people from Spain, Italy, Venezuela and the United States are buying restored colonial mansions inside the old city as well as modern condos in beach areas.
One such buyer was Hector Cabrera, a chocolate importer from Venezuela who last month bought two condo units in Karibana, a new community about eight miles northeast of the city. A Jack Nicklaus-designed golf course is near completion at the 900-unit project and a five-star hotel is planned.
“I wouldn’t have considered it five or six years ago, but Uribe gave the country relief from the guerrillas,” said Mr. Cabrera. He was referring to the former president, Álvero Uribe, who used United States military aid to subdue the leftist insurgents who had been challenging the government for decades.
The Bogotá-based developer, Megaterra, modeled the project on other golf-oriented residential projects like Cap Cana in the Dominican Republic, Hacienda Pinilla in Costa Rica and Mayakoba in Mexico. It even hired EcoPlan of Fort Lauderdale, Fla., the landscape architecture firm that designed Cap Cana.
“We’re building the golf course to sell the project, to get people to believe in us,” said Joseph Mildenberg, the young University of Miami-educated scion of the family who owns the development company.
The average sale price at Karibana is about 5.1 million Colombian pesos a square meter, or $264.77 a square foot.
Most Colombians say a top-end project like Karibana would not have succeeded in 2002, when Mr. Uribe was inaugurated.
At the time, guerrillas controlled one third of Colombia, including much of the rural area south of Cartagena. There were an average of 10 kidnappings a day across the country.
But Colombia, and especially Cartagena, has experienced a remarkable turnaround in recent years, morphing from tourism pariah to global hot spot before Mr. Uribe left office last summer. An average of 29 cruise ships a month now stop at the city during the eight-month season, up from just four a month in 2004, said Luis Ernesto Araújo, the city’s tourism director.
The ships’ passengers spend their time in Cartagena shopping in places like the Bodegas, a converted slave dungeon, and exploring narrow streets like those in a Gabriel García Márquez novel. The Nobel Prize-winning writer owns a mansion here.
“People come here and are enchanted by something that’s hard to define. The national slogan, ‘Colombia Is Passion,’ says it well,” Mr. Araújo said. “People come and realize Cartagena is a colonial relic that hasn’t been seriously touched.”
Tourists’ increased familiarity with the area has turned many foreigners into buyers, said Rafael Abondano, a developer who heads the construction industry association in Cartagena. He said 50 percent of the 11,000 high-end condos sold in the area since 2006 have been bought either by foreigners or by Colombians whose primary residences are abroad.
The percentage of foreign buyers was even greater — more than 80 percent — at Terrazas del Mar, Mr. Abondano’s development in the Boca Grande neighborhood of Cartagena. The majority of the buyers were Colombians living in the United States, Spaniards and Venezuelans, with prices averaging 3.5 million pesos a square meter. That is the average price of condos at most high-end tower complexes in the city, he said.
There also is a strong market for restored mansions built 300 or more years ago inside the old city’s 11 kilometers of walls. Wealthy Colombians see the houses as status symbols or as essential business assets in a city that increasingly is considered an important meeting, convention and cultural venue, said Mayra Rodriguez, owner of the Inmobiliaria IBN real estate agency in Cartagena.
Cecilia Bustamante, the real estate broker who handled Mr. García Márquez’s purchase in the early 1990s, said prices for restored mansions now average about 10 million pesos a square meter while unrestored properties go for half that amount.
Ms. Rodriguez said one recent sale involved an American who paid a little more than 7 billion pesos, or about $4 million, for a 750-square-meter mansion. She described the residence as a typical property, rooms with high ceilings on two floors and an altillo, a roof-top area for entertaining and relaxing.
The interest today is quite a turnaround from the early 1900s, when many of the old city’s mansions were abandoned and a section of the historic wall torn down to ease traffic, Ms. Rodriguez said. But the area’s lack of parking, high taxes and tourist hordes still push some buyers out to the beach areas and its new developments.
A version of this article appeared in print on May 13, 2011, in The International Herald Tribune.