Want to pack as much style and culture into your vacation as possible–not to mention a few dips in the Caribbean? Consider Cartagena, a stunning cultural mecca on Colombia’s Caribbean coast.
Cancun is overplayed, Buenos Aires is far away, and while the Caribbeans islands are a reliable retreat, sometimes you want to be dazzled, stimulated—surprised.
Enter Cartagena, the perfect melding of South American antiquity, mellow beaches, and diverse cultures—an idyllic destination for architecture enthusiasts, foodies, and music buffs alike.
“Imagine New Orleans in a tropical setting and with a Latin edge,” says Melissa Biggs Bradley, founder of luxe travel site Indagare.
What’s more, JetBlue opened a direct route between New York City and Cartagena earlier this year, meaning that East Coasters can now dash down for a long weekend. After all Cartagena (pronounced carta-HEY-nah) is just a 4.5 hour flight from NYC — or just 2 hours 45 minutes from Miami — and is in the same time zone as both.
Yes, like Mexico, some areas of Colombia are known for drug violence (and you should probably avoid visiting the jungles), but Cartagena is where the fabulous people flock, and inside the old walls of Cartagena, you’re safe, says Bradley.
A few of the best spots in town:
STAY Cartagena de Indias boutique hotel
This modern, boutique hotel has spacious, stylish rooms (the best ones feature floor-to-ceiling windows with views of the port), Wifi and plasma screen TVs. You’ll want to linger by the sexy rooftop pool.
PLAY Take a day trip to the Rosario Islands, where you can swim, snorkel, and sunbathe. The best way to get there is to hire a private boat for the day or go by the fast-but-bumpy water taxi (50 minutes from the Cartagena port).
EAT Vera in the Tcherassi Hotel
Located in the courtyard of an old mansion turned chic, minimalist hotel, this late-night, reservations-only dining spot features stylish Italian fare like caprese salad and tuna carpaccio from Mario Batali-trained chef Daniel Castaño.
Also be sure to visit the Palace of the Inquisition, one of the city’s three cathedrals, and the Teatro Adolfo Mejía, a newly restored arts and culture hall with wooden, latticework balconies and ceiling frescoes. Or simply stroll around gawk at the crumbling mansions, some of which are now being restored by hip designers.