First stop: Cartagena, where daily November temps are around 90 degrees. Cartagena is really two cities in one. There’s the colorful streets and Colonial architecture of charming Old Town (similar in look and feel to New Orleans), and the dazzling “new town,” called Bocagrande (the Miami Beach of Columbia). We enjoyed walking along the wall that surrounds Old Town at sunset, visiting the Getsemani section (considered the SoHo of Cartagena), where we had a fun meal at Oh La La restaurant, and my favorite – live music at Café Havana. Felt like we were back in the 1920’s and the joint was jumping!

We spent three days at the Las Islas resort in Baru (a 1-hour boat ride from Cartagena), arranged by Metropolitan Touring. Las Islas is a tropical oasis with 45 villas. Guests choose either a waterfront villa or a tree house villa. We chose the tree house. Highlights included snorkeling, cuisine, white sand beaches, and living in a tree house. One night we did a Bioluminescent Plankton Night Viewing Tour in the shallow waters near the mangroves. During the day the plankton store sunlight like a solar panel. At night when you swim, you create a chemical reaction that releases the light in the plankton. The result is a sparkle-filled underwater light show. Swimmers look like Tinker Bell casting off magic sparkles with every stroke. I’ve never seen adults so giddy with childlike wonder and delight. Truly a unique and unforgettable experience.

Medellin is a totally different experience from Cartagena. Much larger than I expected. Less expensive and less crowded. Called the City of Eternal Spring because of the consistently gorgeous weather (think San Diego). We stayed in the lovely El Poblado section and visited Plaza Botero (featuring the whimsical sculptures of Fernando Botero)… the fruit market (sampling dozens of fruits I’ve never seen)… took the cable car ride up the mountain… explored Comuna 13… got a stunning view of the city from the top of the hill at Cerro Nutibara… and relaxed in the Jardin Botanico gardens. I didn’t get many photos because my phone ran out of juice after the fruit market.

El Peñol is a large free-standing rock in the middle of a picturesque countryside about a 90-minute drive from Medellin. Our guide Luis from stopped along the way for my new favorite food, Pan De Queso, a cross between a bagel, a soft bun, and a croissant made of Yuca, flour and cheese. Our goal was to see and climb the famous rock – 750 steps – and take in the view. Beautiful landscapes.

After our La Piedra adventure, Luis took us for lunch to Guatape, “the most colorful town in Colombia.” Los Zócalos square is the most colorful square in the most colorful town. Many homeowners in Guatape decorate the bottom of their homes with fresco-like panels called “zocalos.” Some zocalos are simple flowers or animals (see bull photo above). Others serve as advertisements. The most elaborate tell stories or commemorate an important event.