COLOMBIA

Colombia is the only country in South America with coastlines on both the North Pacific Ocean and Caribbean Sea as well as the country with the world's second most biodiversity.

 

The political violence has subsided substantially throughout the majority of the country and savvy travelers have already flocked here from around the world—come before everyone else catches on!

 

Gabriel Garcia Marquez, who kept a home here from the 1990s until he died last year. The city he describes in “Love In the Time of Cholera,” which is clearly inspired by Cartagena, is a “sleepy provincial capital” with haunted old slave quarters, crumbling palaces and narrow streets that smell of night jasmine.

 

The Getsemaní neighborhood, just outside the historic center, is now undergoing a renaissance of its own. Walls are covered in street art that’s auction-house worthy, and trendy little restaurants and bars are opening all over the quarter. The center of the action in Getsemaní is the Plaza de la Trinidad, a central square in front of a 17th-century, marigold-colored church where all of Cartagena seems to gather at night to enjoy the cooling tradewinds. I was planning to have dinner at Demente, a tapas place on the corner of the square, but never made it.

 

Anyone coming to Cartagena expecting to head straight to the beach will be disappointed: The sand ringing the city is gray and the water is a cloudy blue. The best beaches are all in Rosario Islands National Park, an archipelago about an hour’s boat ride offshore

 

Our next beach was Playa Blanca, a three-mile long crescent backed with thatch-roof bars, restaurants and backpacker huts for as far as I could see.

 

Eating there: Agua de Maris a lively new tapas and gin joint (Calle del Santísimo 8-15; 57-5-664 5798). El Boliche turns out artful plates of ceviche in a small space (Calle Cochera del Hobo 38-17, 57-5-660-0074). Locals go to Juan del Mar as much for the ambience (tables are outside on San Diego plaza) as for with the owner, a telenovela actor and heartthrob (juandelmar.com). Hip, new Laboratorio has killer cocktails (Calle de la Media Luna 10-20; 57-318-836-4877). La Cocina de Pepina specializes in traditional Colombian Caribbean food (Calle 25, #9A-06; 57-300-856-5189). La Mulata’s shady back patio makes for a pleasant lunch stop for fresh fish. (Calle Quero 9-58; 57-5-664-6222). Packed every night, La Vitrola evokes a supper club in 1950s Havana (Calle Baloco #2-01; 57-5-660-0711). María is a seafood standout from chef Alejandro Ramírez, who earned his stripes at Daniel in New York City and Gordon Ramsay in London (mariacartagena.com).

 

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