Cartagena and the North Coast

Shutterstock/45281770/javarmanDescending on the lowlands of Colombia's Caribbean coast you enter another world. Steamy, colourful and lively, the entire area pulses to the rhythms of the omnipresent
vallenato
.
Costeños
may be looked down on by their more sombre countrymen, intimating that they lack the same sophistication and work ethic, but they certainly know how to enjoy themselves. There are almost endless fiestas and the Barranquilla carnival is held here, often cited as
second best only to Rio for colour and size, and less commercialized.

Aside from drinking and dancing, there is also fine architecture and an impressive literary legacy, particularly in Cartagena, the emerald in the crown of Colombia. This stunning colonial city bursts with colour and history, and offers fine food, a lively nightlife and some sparkling coral islands within easy reach.

South from Cartagena is Mompós, a colonial town where the clocks stopped somewhere back in the early 20th century and which puts on one of the best Easter festivals in the world. Up the Gulf of Urabá, on the way to Panama are the villages of Acandí, Capurganá and Sapzurro, unreachable by road and boasting a wild shoreline of coral reefs and the virgin jungles of the Darién.

Travel east along the coast and you'll reach Santa Marta, Colombia's oldest city and gateway to the spectacular Tayrona National Park. Rising up from the shores is the Sierra Nevada de Santa Marta, the highest coastal mountain range in the world, and one of the few places that can boast tropical beaches and snow-capped mountains within 20 miles of each other. The Sierra Nevada was home to the indigenous Tayrona and a visit to one of their recently discovered cities, Ciudad Perdida, must come high on anyone's list of Latin American adventures.

Beyond Santa Marta is the arid landscape of the Guajira Peninsula, home to the indigenous Wayúu, enormous flocks of flamingos and the ethereal Cabo de la Vela, where turquoise waters lap against a desert shoreline.

This is edited copy from Footprint Handbooks. For comprehensive details (incl address, tel no, directions, opening times and prices) please refer to book or individual chapter PDF
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