THE NEXT BUENOS AIRES

From Cartagena, With Love

Colombia's vibrant seaside city is experiencing a rebirth. The country's long civil war has subsided, but the attraction for Liz Ozaist was deeper: She went to discover the place that first enchanted her father 20 years ago.

We arrive around 10 p.m., just as a band is setting up on the stage, the fiddler tightening his strings. Photos of Cuban musicians are plastered on the walls, and couples are cuddling at the bar, squeezed in beside old men wearing guayaberas and neatly pressed slacks. "I feel like we could be in Cuba," I say to Diana, mentioning the many times we've heard "Chan Chan" in Cartagena. Earlier, Todd and I had eaten dinner at a scrappy little Cuban restaurant, La Bodeguita del Medio, where a projection screen showed concerts from the homeland, including one band that performed a moving rendition of the song.

"Yes, the song is popular in Cartagena," Diana says. That's when I learn that "Chan Chan" is a meaningful song not only to me, but for the many Cuban émigrés who've settled here. "The rhythm of the song really encapsulates Cartagena's soul," Diana adds.

The band starts playing, and Diana is quickly swept up in the crowd of dancers forming around the bar and snaking its way outside. Women of all ages sway their hips, and the waitresses do their best to keep from doing the same. Then I hear those familiar, melancholy chords. Except this time, I don't cry.

LODGING
Casa El Carretero
Calle del Carretero 10B-18, Getsemaní, 415/508-3927, casaelcarretero.com, from $165

Casa Boutique Veranera
Calle Quero 9-65, San Diego, 011-57/5-664-1111, casaveranera.com, from $189

Hotel Isla del Pirata
Isla del Pirata, 011-57/5-665-2952, hotelislapirata.com, from $279

FOOD
Casa de la Cerveza Cartagena
Calle del Arsenal and Baluarte San Lorenzo del Reducto, Getsemaní, 011-57/5-664-9261, casadelacerveza.com.co, plates from $8

La Cocina de Carmela
Calle del Santísimo 8-10, San Diego, 011-57/5-664-8298, entrées from $11

La Cevicheria
Calle Stuart 7-14, San Diego, 011-57/5-664-5255, ceviche from $9

La Bodeguita del Medio
Calle Santo Domingo 33-81, Centro Histórico, 011-57/5-660-1993, entrées from $11

ACTIVITIES
Castillo San Felipe de Barajas
011-57/5-656-0590, smpcartagena.org, $7

Santa Catalina de Alejandria Cathedral
Plaza de Bolívar, Centro Histórico, 011-57/5-655-1916, tierramagna.com, $6

The Palace of the Inquisition
Plaza de Bolívar, Centro Histórico, 011-57/5-664-7381, $6

Dolphin Dive School
Parque Fernandez Madrid and Calle del Curato 38-08, San Diego, dolphindiveschool.com, day trip to Isla Pavito from $67 (with lunch and gear)

SHOPPING
Portal de los Dulces
Plaza de los Coches, Centro Histórico, candy dolls 50¢

NIGHTLIFE
Café Havana
Calle Media Luna and Calle del Guerrero, Getsemaní, 011-57/315-690-2566, cafehavanacartagena.com, mojito $5

COASTAL CHARM

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