Sarah Miller visits Cartagena, Colombia

Sarah Miller, of Condé Nast Traveller, discovers another side of Colombia

Say "I'm going to Colombia" and people will probably look at you in amazement and tell you about the drugs, bombings and kidnappings. But the civil war never reached the pretty former colonial town of Cartagena, on the Caribbean coast, and the home of Gabriel García Márquez. Its walls, built from coral, brick and limestone by the Spanish in the 16th century, have protected the city for hundreds of years, and it's why Colombia's movers and shakers have bought up many of the crumbling mansions and monasteries and turned them into glorious places to stay.

The old Santa Clara convent was turned into a beautiful luxury hotel long before the current wave of investment and renovation; breakfast in its cloistered garden with the sound of parrots in the trees. The Agua is a mansion that has been converted into a boutique hotel with sea views from its top-floor terrace. But the swimming pool on the roof of the Hotel Charleston Santa Teresa is one of the world's hidden gems - it affords the most fantastic view of the city and its magnificent cathedral.

Night time is when the streets come alive with the sound of café society and samba music. It's the experience of being in this vibrant and yet relaxed city that invites comparison with Florence at half the price.

• Hotel Charleston Santa Teresa (, Sofitel Santa Clara (, Atel ( There are no direct flights from the UK but you can fly from London to Madrid via Bogotá (

Sarah Miller

The GuardianTramp

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