Though Santa Marta in Colombia may not be as well known as Cartagena, some 200 kilometers (120 miles) to its southwest, the city is actually older. Founded in 1525, it is Colombia's oldest city and the second-oldest continuously inhabited settlement in South America. The historic center, with its streets lined with stately colonial buildings, is centered around Parque Simón Bolívar, a square dotted with shade trees located on Santa Marta Bay. (The plaza's namesake, the liberator of much of South America, spent his final days and died in the city.)
There is also, however, a contemporary, glittering side of Santa Marta. While the city, like much of Colombia, suffered for decades from the effects of the country's drug wars, that history feels very distant today. The centerpiece of Santa Marta's revival is the new marina, with its boutiques and open-air restaurants. Gourmets on the go will want to have a meal in the city, where the cuisine is a mix of Caribbean and South American influences and ingredients. Finally, Santa Marta is a convenient starting point for excursions to nearby destinations, from trekking in rain forests to relaxing on Caribbean beaches.