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Santa Marta, Colombia

Santa Marta curves around a beautiful bay on Colombia’s Caribbean coast. The snow-capped peaks of the Sierra Madre de Santa Marta range can be glimpsed from the beach on clear days. Founded by Rodrigo Bastidas in 1595, it is the oldest city in Colombia and second oldest in South America. The Spanish explorer found a large and thriving culture of indigenous Tayrona communities here, with an extensive regional trade in salt manufactured from the sea. The ensuing centuries have erased most traces of them, abetted by the tropical weather and the systematic destruction of the invaders. However some features are recalled in the Tayrona National Park, which also preserves natural elements such as golden beaches interspersed with huge volcanic boulders, lush jungle vegetation and plentiful wildlife. The Santa Marta Gold Museum displays the sort of artfully crafted works in precious metal that inflamed the greed of the conquistadors. Of more recent vintage is the elegant white Villa San Pedro de Alejandrino, donated by its wealthy owner in 1830 as a final home for the great liberator Simon Bolivar and now a time capsule of the era, calling to mind the fictional reminiscences of Nobel Laureate Gabriel Garcia Marquez, who was born nearby. The glittering towers and bustling streets of the Rodadero hug shoreline of the blue bay, attracting tourists from around South America and the world to Colombia’s colorful Caribbean playground.