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Despite its reputation for cocaine cartels and epidemic violence, Colombia is becoming Latin America's hottest destination. Credit the government's new emphasis on urban reinvention and anticrime initiatives, which have laid the groundwork for a spate of restaurant, hotel, and cultural openings—all at recession-friendly prices. Bogotá, the capital, is the poster child for Colombia's new appeal. Start your tour in the historic center and its excellent (and free) museums, like the newly refurbished Museo del Oro and the Fernando Botero collection, housed in the Colombian sculptor's former mansion. Then set your sights on the city's considerable nightlife: Many of the best restaurants are located around the Zona G ("Gourmet Zone"), including neighborhood institution Harry's Bar and Clos, a new arrival that pairs Latin America's choicest wines with superb tapas.
From the capital, hop over to Cartagena (pictured), the sexy colonial city by the sea that's been designated a UNESCO World Heritage site. The just-opened Tcherassi Hotel and Spa has brightened up the city's illustrious boutique-hotel scene. With a fresh, modern look courtesy of Colombia's hottest fashion designer, Silvia Tcherassi, it's a stone's throw from the lively Plaza Fernández de Madrid and restaurants like La Vitrola, which turns from dinner scene to dance spot after midnight. Don't miss a side trip to one of Colombia's little-known Caribbean islands, such as eco-fabulous Providencia, or to inland spots like Medellín. The former home of drug lord Pablo Escobar is now a must stop for its exuberant street markets and fascinating coffee plantations.