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Colom­bia has been a grow­ing hot spot for in­ter­na­tional trav­el­ers from around the world, and its north­ern most city of Cartagena is boom­ing. The num­ber of for­eign tourist vis­its is 5 times what they were 10 years ago in Colom­bia and this jewel on the wa­ter is con­tin­u­ing to draw peo­ple in. “Ev­ery year for the past 6 years since I moved here it’s get­ting harder and harder to tell the off-sea­son from the peak sea­son be­cause of the con­stant in­crease in tourism,” says Don­ald Ives, owner of A Slice of Cartagena, a tourism ser­vices com­pany.

The top ten vis­it­ing coun­tries from high­est to low­est are the United States, Venezuela, Brazil, Ecuador, Mex­ico, Peru, Ar­gentina, Chile, Spain and Panama. “You never know where the next per­son you meet will be from, Colom­bia is a melt­ing pot of tourists”, ex­claims Ives. Be­ing at the north­ern tip of South Amer­ica you can get there is un­der 3 hours from Florida which makes it an easy trip for peo­ple from that re­gion, and plane tick­ets are of­ten lower priced

than do­mes­tic flights. De­spite the in­crease of vis­i­tors it doesn’t feel over­run and you can still get an au­then­tic ex­pe­ri­ence.

Once you get there, Cartagena has a lot to of­fer no mat­ter what you are look­ing for. It has a laid back Caribbean vibe in a city of just un­der a mil­lion peo­ple. You feel like you are on a Latin Amer­i­can ad­ven­ture upon land­ing. The air­port it­self, with sev­eral houses that are right off the run­way, gives you the sense you are in Colom­bia. The two most pop­u­lar parts of the city, Old Town and Boca­grande, are both not far from the air­port and of­fer a dif­fer­ent feel from one an­other. Cab fare is cheap as the cost of liv­ing is low.

Old Town is by far the big­gest at­trac­tion. Founded in 1533, it is sur­rounded by Las Mu­ral­las, thick walls con­structed to pro­tect the city. Con­struc­tion be­gan af­ter an at­tack by Sir Fran­cis Drake, and took 200 years to com­plete. The walled city and the fortress that ac­com­pany it are des­ig­nated a UNESCO World Her­itage Site. The fa­mous clock tower sits above the main en­trance into the city. The ar­chi­tec­ture within is pre­dom­i­nately colo­nial. Beau­ti­ful man­sions with bal­conies, his­toric squares, churches and stat­ues make it the per­fect lit­tle town to wan­der around.

Walls that were once made to keep peo­ple out now serve to en­close a scene bol­ster­ing with fun, food and cul­ture. Old Town is loaded with things to see, do and taste. If it’s cul­ture you seek stop into the Castillo de San Felipe de Bara­jas, Palace of the In­qui­si­tion or just stroll the streets. With its bal­conies and laid-back at­ti­tude it feels slightly like a 500-year-old Latin ver­sion of New Or­leans.

If you are go­ing to be walled in and hun­gry there is no tastier place to be trapped. There is noth­ing old about Old Town when it comes to din­ing. The food in Cartagena is fresh and de­li­cious. Lo­cated on the wa­ter, the seafood dishes are a must. The ce­viche at La Ce­vicheria, tossed in man­darin or­ange and lime juice, is so fresh it’s ridicu­lous. Even An­thony Bour­dain made his way there to try it. An­other great spot for seafood is Boliche. For steaks go to Mar­zola, Senor Toro and Que­bra­cho; for sushi try Ta­betai and Teriyaki; for cazue­las (a va­ri­ety of South Amer­i­can dishes served in a pot) go to El Bal­cones. Re­gard­less of your choice I’m pos­i­tive you’ll be de­lighted.

The nightlife is elec­tric in the walled city. The South Amer­i­can vibe, lo­cal flavor and mix of in­ter­na­tional vis­i­tors make for ex­plo­sive evenings of danc­ing and drinks. There are cool indoor and rooftop clubs filled with pretty peo­ple. They even of­fer bot­tle ser­vice. For an up­scale last stop try Café Ha­vana, Mr. Babia, Tu Can­dela, La Movida or Babar. They are all solid choices that prom­ise a fun time.

If bars are more your scene, check out the Clock Tower Pub, Capon­era, Donde Fidel or De­mente Bar. Café del Mar, po­si­tioned atop the Balu­arte Santo Domingo, the west­ern­most point of Cartagena’s 17th cen­tury fort, is the king of sun­set bars. The end­less sea views and re­ju­ve­nat­ing breeze at­tracts an in­ter­na­tional crowd that doesn’t mind pay­ing higher prices for the op­por­tu­nity to sip a Mo­jito and watch the sun dip into the sea.

Boca­grande of­fers a va­ri­ety of great lo­cal food and fun as well, but with less of the ac­tion and his­tory of Old Town. It is most known for its tow­er­ing high rises and beaches. The beach sand is com­posed of vol­canic rock so it of­ten makes the wa­ter look grey but it is not. Here you can find small restau­rants on the beach play­ing mu­sic and serv­ing lo­cal drinks. It’s the per­fect place to kick back and re­lax. Or you can take an eco-tour to Rosario Is­lands and en­joy div­ing, snor­kel­ing, dol­phins and more. An­other orig­i­nal tour is to the To­tumo Mud Vol­cano, one of the world’s small­est vol­canos. There you can climb to the top and take a re­lax­ing soak in the warm mud in­side.

Colom­bia is a hot va­ca­tion spot in the world right now. It has ev­ery­thing you could want in a fun, ad­ven­tur­ous South Amer­i­can get­away, and it hasn’t been com­mer­cial­ized yet. So I sug­gest you put Cartagena on your travel itin­er­ary and try some­thing new!

This is the largest and old­est square in the old town and was used as a pa­rade ground. In colo­nial times, all the im­por­tant gov­ern­men­tal and ad­min­is­tra­tive build­ings were here. The old Royal Cus­toms House was re­stored and is now the City Hall. A statue...

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