It’s just possible that Cartagena de Indias, on the coast of Colombia, is indeed the most beautiful town in the world. The old city, the “ciudad antigua,” is well preserved and pleasant for tourists, with lane after lane of prettiness and plazas. Wander from gelateria to ice cream shop (two are right next to each other which makes an comparisons much easier), after a dinner al fresco. The humid weather makes the juice (50 cents a glass) from the street vendor taste extra refreshing. Maybe try one of the “plantain hotdogs” which is a deep fried plantain stuffed with shredded meat and topped like a hotdog.
While this town is expensive, I recommend staying inside the walled city anyway. The city is different at night, and it’s nice to call it home for a while. During the day, enjoy the ridiculously picturesque lanes. Sure, it’s touristy but the vendors are not unpleasantly aggressive.
If you want, take a day trip to one of the nature reserves located out in the Caribbean. The main attractions in Cartagena for tourists seem to be the warmth, the beaches, the castle of St. Philip (“castillo san felipe”) and the walled city itself. Just outside the walled old city is the Getsemani, a neighborhood getting more publicity these days for its culture rather than for being the red light district.
The modern hotel strip of Cartagena (pronounced “Car-ta-heh-nah”), called the big mouth, “boca grande,” is a bit outside the walled city.
Speaking of “Car-ta-HAY-nah” — If you go looking for scenes from the movie, Romancing the Stone, you will not find it since that was film was filmed in Mexico. But never mind, Cartagena de Indias will romance you (couldn’t resist!) even if you are made of stone. And yes, you can buy emeralds here (more on emeralds later).