You shouldn't miss Santa Marta, Colombia, located 450 mi/725 km north of Bogota. The oldest city in Colombia (founded 1525), it has a splendid beach-lined shore backed by the highest coastal mountain range in the world. Santa Marta is divided into old and new towns. The new part is unexceptional. In the old part, visit the antique cathedral, and the Tayrona Archaeological Museum (pre-Columbian artifacts), in the former Customs building on Plaza Bolivar.
The town's main attraction, however, is Quinta de San Pedro Alejandrino, set in lovely gardens on the outskirts of town. This colonial hacienda is where Simon Bolivar died in 1830. It recreates the hacienda as it looked at the time, and includes many of Bolivar's personal effects.
The shorefront Malecon is edged with clubs where you can dance to live Vallenata music, a regional specialty. The beach there is unappealing. Far prefererable is El Rodadero, a nearby resort area that also has a great beach and even an aquarium.
The fishing village of Taganga, 2 mi/3 km east of Santa Marta, is famous for its superb scuba diving. Set in a deep bay, it has a beautiful setting (although the beach is lackluster) and it is popular with backpackers.
The nearby town of Aracataca, 50 mi/80 km south of Santa Marta, was the inspiration for Gabriel Garcia Marquez's novel One Hundred Years of Solitude. The house where the Nobel Prize-winning author spent his childhood with his grandparents has been recreated (the original burned down).
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