“Beguiling” is often how people describe this cruise port on the Caribbean Sea—and rightly so. Its UNESO-designated Old Town is laced with labyrinthine cobbled streets and graced with Spanish colonial buildings painted in a Crayola box of colors. It once inspired Colombia’s Nobel Prize-winning author Gabriel García Márquez, and it still makes romantics’ hearts pound.
History buffs are equally enthralled by Cartagena’s turbulent past. The city walls were built in the 1500s to defend against the original Pirates of the Caribbean; and sites like the Palacio de la Inquisicion, where Roman Catholic Inquistors judged the state of locals’ souls, prove threats came from within as well (if you admire antique instruments of torture, this is the spot for you!).
After exploring assorted cathedrals, castillos, and courtyards, retreat to the beach by taking a boat to Playa Blanca or Islas del Rosario, a coral archipelago that promises great snorkelling in addition to sun and sand.
Insider’s Tip: Love to hit the spa? For straight-up pampering, visit the lux Tcherassi Hotel + Spa where options include a cleansing Colombian Coffee Wrap. For a down-and-dirty alternative, try a mud bath just 45-minutes away at Volcan Totumo.
Branch Out: Driving northeast along the Caribbean Coast past Santa Marta, you will reach Tayrona National Park where dense jungle foliage meets deserted beach. Indiana Jones types may also make the arduous trek to La Ciudad Perdida: a “lost city” that predates Machu Picchu by over six centuries.
American Airlines, which has been serving Colombia since 1990, travels direct from Miami to Bogotá, Medellín, and Cali. Colombian-bound flights are also available through Delta, United, and JetBlue. Within the country, flying is the most efficient way to get from city to city. Avianca, Copa, and LAN all cover domestic routes as well as international ones.
When to Go
Positioned at the very top of the continent, Colombia is a mountainous country that’s bordered by both the Pacific Ocean and the Caribbean Sea, so it has many climatic zones. But, overall, December through March is the optimal time to go weather-wise.
A Word on Safety
Despite huge leaps forward, the national tourism board slogan—”the only risk is wanting to stay”—still isn’t completely accurate. Isolated towns and rural areas are best avoided. In urban centres, commonsense dictates that you take the same precautions you would elsewhere in South America.