Colombia is currently one of the trendiest destinations in South America, owing not only to its warm culture and natural wealth but also the wide availability of flights, which make it easier for Americans to travel, and the country’s overall affordability.
It is still a rather diverse territory, comprising inland metropolises surrounded by Andean peaks, jungles, and a sunny Caribbean coast, and if it’s the latter that appeals to you the most, you may be wondering which spots to hit for the ultimate tropical experience.
Worry not: we’ve got you covered. Here are four of the best beach getaways in Colombia that will help you escape those winter blues:
A lesser-known city in the Magdalena Department, one of the Caribbean regions of Colombia, Santa Marta is a smaller city home to just under half a million inhabitants and boasts a fascinating history dating back to the Spanish colonization.
It was originally founded in 1525 by Spanish ‘conqueror’ Rodrigo de Bastidas as one of the first European settlements in modern-day Colombia. It is distinctive for being Colombia’s oldest standing and second oldest European-founded city in South America, surpassed only by Cusco in Peru.
Other than the stunning Iberian-inspired architecture, Santa Marta is known for its semi-arid climate and enviable sea access. Some of the most beautiful nature reserves in Colombia are, in fact, within driving distance of the city center, including Tayrona.
A national park covering both an unspoiled section of the Sierra Nevada and the Caribbean Coast, it is a postcard-like picture of palm-lined sands and rainforests.
Within the park, tourists will also find the Pueblito ruins, dating back to the long-lost indigenous Tayrona civilization.
The gateway to the wider Colombian Caribbean, Cartagena is a sprawling coastal metropolis known for its Afro-Latin heritage, beautiful colonial-era architecture, and year-round warm weather.
It was established as a colony in the 16th century, though indigenous people had already called the territory home prior to the arrival of Europeans and enslaved Africans. Still to this day, the modern-day city is a fascinating mishmash of cultures and different influences.
Walking the cobbled streets of ‘Ciudad Amurallada’, which comprises Cartagena’s UNESCO-listed historic center, visitors will be transported back to the golden age of the Spanish Empire, marked by stately buildings with ornate facades, a fortress, and monumental churches.
Around the Bocagrande Harbor area, sitting across the bay from the Walled Town, the historical, yellow-tinged cityscape gives way to clusters upon clusters of modern skyscrapers, providing a unique contrast between colonial traditionalism and 21st-century development.
Bocagrande is also home to a stretch of volcanic-sand beaches, bounded by the azure Caribbean Sea, though some of the best beaches on the Colombian Coast actually lie offshore:
While the seas around the Cartagenian mainland are perfectly appropriate for swimming, they can appear muddier due to the volcanic nature of the sands and are thus often skipped altogether by tourists landing in the Colombian Caribbean.
On the other hand, the tourist island of Baru, part of the Rosario island group, located just off the coast, is famous for its bright-blue oceans, thin-white sands, and impossibly tall palms providing much-needed shade from the scorching sun.
Baru is the definition of paradise on Earth, lacking the skyscrapers and busy city life that may make Cartagena less attractive to some, and being a protected reserve dotted with small, boutique hotels that put wellness at the front of the tourist offer and affordable hostels with a youthful, sociable community.
Colombia is one of the cheapest tropical destinations there are, and overnight rates in idyllic Baru, in properties straddling the landmark, aptly named Playa Blanca, start from only US$57 (though they can go as high as US$344 depending on the level of comfort and exclusivity preferred).
Our last pick for the season, San Andres is Colombia’s most beautiful tropical island. 470 miles north of the mainland, it is a pristine coral archipelago encompassing numerous reefs, atolls, and sandbanks bounded by translucent waters.
El Centro, the region’s capital, occupies the northern end of the main island, and it’s the best-equipped town, home to major hospitality brands, a lively bar district, and some of the archipelago’s best-preserved colonial structures.
When it comes to natural beauty, it’s truly hard to summarize San Andres’ abundance of protected reserves and scenic spots. It is, after all, a UNESCO Biosphere Reserve, and there is truly no shortage of thin white-sand crescents bordered by teal-colored oceanic lagoons.
San Andres is also famous for being the Colombian capital of ecotourism, due to its rich biodiversity. Some of the most popular activities tourists can take part in while sojourning on the island include snorkeling in the reefs, sailing around the archipelago, and admiring marine life.
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This article originally appeared on TravelOffPath.com