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Colombia's sultry Caribbean Coast is linked to Bogotá only by the national flag, the milky Río Magdalena, and a couple of snaking highways. The costeño people, driven by salsa and the accordion-heavy vallenato music, have an exuberant spirit not seen in the capital.
Toward the western end of the 1,600-km (992-mi) shoreline is Cartagena, Colombia's greatest colonial city. With
its barrel-tile roofs and wooden balconies, Cartagena's Ciudad Amurallada resembles many cities in Spain, but the feeling is definitely tropical. The Islas del Rosario, just off the coast, provide plenty of exploring options for snorkelers and divers.
Northeast of Cartagena is Barranquilla, a quiet city that bursts to life during Carnival in February, when it has pre-Lenten festivities. (If you go, fly—do not take a bus or car.)