Of all the Colombian cities, Cartagena, an ancient walled fortress city on the north coast, is perhaps the safest because some effort is expended in safeguarding its tourism economy.
Within its walls, the old city is loaded with churches, plazas, and stately mansions surrounding lush, shaded courtyards vivid with bougainvillea. Highlights include the Palacio de la Inquisici¢n; the palatial mansion Casa del Marqu?s de Valdehoyos; and the old port of Cartagena on the Bah¡a de las Animas.
The old town is also one of the best places to eat in the city. Many small restaurants offer complete meals -- replete with meat, beans, and fried plantains -- for very little money.
The only hill in Cartagena, La Popa, is the site of the convent that houses the Virgen de la Candelaria, the patroness of the city. And although endless busloads of crowds visit the shrine, the city's religious fervor doesn't dampen its festive atmosphere. Cartagena is noted for its lively nightlife. Revelers can choose from a variety of drinking and dancing experiences, everything from ramshackle bars with bare lightbulbs to sophisticated night clubs serving exotic cocktails.
The beach at Bocagrande is a crowded, raucous gathering spot where strolling musicians fill the night air with the strains from their guitars. A more upscale beach experience can be had at the Islas del Rosario, a chain of tiny islands about an hour's boatride away and the favored retreat of Colombia's wealthier inhabitants.