Gabriel García Márquez, author of Love in the Time of Cholera and Colombia’s only Nobel laureate, grew up about 100 miles from Cartagena and still keeps a house in the city. His memoir, Living to Tell the Tale, is a nostalgic look at his raucous upbringing that also gives readers a personal view of the recent history of political violence in Colombia.
Plaza Santo Domingo Artisans
Street vendors sell the best regional crafts. At Plaza Santo Domingo, look for artisans displaying beaded necklaces made from small chirilla seeds. Or try on mochilas, handbags that indigenous Colombians weave from natural and brown-dyed wool. High-end imitations were featured in Vogue; here you can get them from the source.
Isla de Baru
When the temperature rises and the Caribbean beckons, a day trip to a nearby island beach is a must. Catch an early-morning tour boat to Isla de Baru, where you can snorkel with iridescent blue fish. Feeling adventurous? Hire a fisherman to cross the bay to the island of Tierra Bomba, where white-sand beaches face Cartagena’s modern Bocagrande strip. After a morning in the sun and sea, replenish your energy with a whole fried red snapper and icy Aguila beer, served to you on the beach.
Castillo de San Felipe de Barajas
For a sense of Cartagena’s colonial past, take two short taxi rides from the old city. Built in the 17th century, the Castillo de San Felipe de Barajas was an impregnable, tunnel-filled Spanish fort that kept both pirates and the English Navy at bay. On a nearby hill, the 400-year-old Convento de la Popa makes a great spot for getting the lay of the land—then watching the sun set into the Caribbean.
Tcherassi Hotel and Spa
The seven-room Tcherassi Hotel and Spa is an ode to modernism set in a renovated 250-year-old mansion. Colombian-born fashion designer Silvia Tcherassi named each room after a fancy fabric (the trilevel penthouse is called the Gazar). After a chocolate-particle scrub at the spa, head to the rooftop Aquabar for a champagne-and-cognac Silvia Royale cocktail beneath the stars.
>> Next: The AFAR Guide to Colombia