The stunningly beautiful city of Medillin, Colombia, 150 mi/240 km northwest of Bogota and capital of the department of Antioquia, is where drug lord Pablo Escobar and his Medellin cartel waged a violent war with the army, police and anyone who happened to get in the way during the 1980s. However, Escobar is dead, and most of his associates are in prison.

Though much improved since its "heyday" as the world's most dangerous city, Medellin, Colombia, still requires visitors to exercise considerable caution. Its once spectacular murder rate has dropped to almost the level of major U.S. cities. Most of the crime takes place in the slums, where no tourist in his or her right mind would ever venture. Be aware that the northern outskirts of Medellin remain raw and violent. Also exercise caution when venturing out farther afield: Don't drive at night.

Medellin deserves at least two full days to explore its many museums and plazas, and to admire its sensational modern architecture.

Rio Negro, to the east and above Medellin, is where people from the city go to escape the summer heat and for weekend retreats. There are many fincas for rent, ranging from small country cottages to luxurious estates. A weekend there can be a delightfully relaxing way of experiencing Colombian country life without getting too far out of the city. Nearby, a visit to El Penol de Guatape is richly rewarding. Her, a massive boulder rises over a man-made lake of exquisite beauty. You can scale the rock by a spiral staircase built into a cleft in the rock.

For a longer day trip, head to Santa Fe de Antioquia, a beautiful old colonial town, 50 miles/80 km northwest of Medellin.

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