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5 Must-Do Colombian Experiences (VIDEOS)

10/11/2013 01:17 pm 13:17:29 | Updated Dec 11, 2013

For decades, authors, artists and filmmakers have used Colombia as a muse for creative masterpieces: works of art like Botero's 'Horse' and Gabriel García Márquez's Love in the Time of Cholera. Now, with more international direct flights than ever, a new influx of travelers is getting to experience the magical realism that is Colombia. I recently returned from my second trip since 2009, this time to shoot Travelocity's new web series, Let's Roam. Here are five of of the most standout moments from my recent Colombian adventure.

Road Tripping Through the Cocora Valley

When you touch down in the region of Colombia known as the Coffee Cultural Landscape you can expect spectacular scenes to unfold before your eyes. Everything you see is a postcard. Once you land in Pereira, hop in a car and climb 2,400 feet above sea level to the Cocora Valley, where you'll discover 250,000 wax palm trees that can grow up to 250 feet tall. Plant your own wax palm while you're there. As you wind through the valley, stop at the many miradors (lookout points), like Alto de la Cruz. Here you can also try canelazo, a traditional sugarcane and Aguardiente drink. From the mirador it's 250 steps down to the sleepy pueblo of Salento; a magical place to end your day. It's full of charming handicraft shops, coffee houses and tiny restaurants built in old Colonial homes. ‬

Scale the Wall in Cartagena, Colombia

The walled city of Cartagena is, in a word, enchanting. The wall, built in the 1500s and fortified many times throughout the Colonial era, did a fine job of keeping intruders out, while allowing the city within to grow rich with monasteries, palaces and churches. Today, that very same wall is what lures in romantics from all over the world. A bike will get you everywhere you need to go in Cartagena, and with the guidance of locals like Gerardo of Cartagena Bike Tours, you'll be in great hands. After exploring inside the wall, descend into the tunnels of the San Felipe de Barajas Fortress, then climb high above Cartagena to the La Popa Monastery for the best view of the city (and chance sloth encounters). Have a zen rooftop cocktail at the Hotel Movich before heading over to the Café del Mar for a sunset session. End your night with a moonlit horse and carriage ride.

Day Trip to the Rosario Islands

Beach-lovers in Cartagena know that the most beautiful beaches can be found just a 45-minute boat ride away in the Rosario Islands. Created from a coral archipelago, there are 27 Rosario Islands, most of which are private, but Isla Grande is public and a day-trippers dream. Check out the local village called Orica; population sixty-eight. The townswomen create intricate handmade shell necklaces and crafts. After the village, take a canoe through the mangrove forest and back to the Hotel San Pedro de Majagua for a red snapper, coconut rice and patacones (green plantains) lunch followed by an al fresco massage -- with coconut shells. ‬

Latin Dance Lesson and Medellin Nightlife

While Cali is the birthplace of salsa, Medellin is a melting pot of different styles, including salsa, cumbia and danza urbana. Get a lesson from a local Colombian, like the talented team at the Play Dance Academy, then hit the dance club circuit to watch couples of all ages move in perfect synchronization, while you fumble through your basic steps. Don't miss a stop to Dulce Jesus Mio for a truly unforgettable night.

Shopping in the Fashion Capital, Medellin

In Medellin, the fashion capital of Colombia, shopping is taken very seriously, as evidenced by El Tesoro, Medellin's gigantic indoor/outdoor luxury shopping center. Expect bold prints and bright colors taken straight off the Colombia Moda runway by local designer, Beatriz Camacho, and barely-there bathing suits by Agua Bendita.