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With dramatically beautiful rainforests, mountains and beaches, lovely cities and enchanting people, Colombia should be among the world's most attractive and amazing destinations. Unfortunately, the current guerrilla war, combined with ongoing activities of cocaine cartels, has made much of Colombia - dubbed 'Locombia' (the mad country) by the press - off limits to all but the most foolhardy travelers. The good news is that it's still possible to enjoy Colombia's colourful swirl of myth and mysticism. As long as you avoid all overland travel and stick to major cities and touristed areas, pay attention to the news, and keep your wits about you at all times, you'll get a safe and healthy dose of what is arguably the most underrated travel destination on the continent.
Cartagena de Indias is legendary both for its history and its beauty. It has been immortalised on countless canvases, glorified in hundreds of books and had its every detail photographed a zillion times - and, as Colombia's most fascinating city, it deserves every one of these tributes.
The walled old town of this fortified Spanish colonial port is a gem. It's packed with churches, monasteries, plazas, palaces and noble mansions with overhanging balconies and shady patios. It pays to just wander through the old town, but some of the highlights are the Palacio de la Inquisición; the colonial mansion Casa del Marqués de Valdehoyos; and the lovely old port of Cartagena on the Bahía de las Ánimas.
Beyond the headlines Colombia is a thriving society with a rising middle class, some of the best health care and universities in South America, and improved security.