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Viva Cartagena! Openings Bring New Life to the Old City

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Tough times for tourism? Not in Cartagena de Indias. I recently returned from a long weekend in Colombia (currently a "recession-proof country," according to several economic analysts), and while global markets may be floundering and travel numbers down, this sultry Caribbean city is booming with a wave of new boutique hotels, innovative eateries, and ample old-school watering holes. Here's the scoop:

At least a half a dozen gorgeous properties have recently opened downtown (plug: don’t miss T+L’s It List of Best New Hotels in June!). I settled into the 24-suite Anandá Hotel Boutique (pictured below), a quiet retreat in a restored Spanish-colonial building with carved-wood balconies and three breezy roof terraces. The cool, Zen-like calm is a world apart from the bustling street scene just outside its massive wooden doors.

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Cartagena’s dining scene—which frankly, has lacked a bit of vim in the past—is also popping. At Restaurante Don Juan the decor is unfussy and the kitchen open, but don't be fooled–this is anything but casual gastronomy. Colombia-born chef Juan Felipe Camacho dishes up Spanish-inflected Caribbean fare that reflect his apprenticeship at Spain’s Michelin-starred Arzak (think razor-thin octupos carpaccio swimming in olive oil). Vegetarians won't find a single entree for them there, so they can either focus on the wine list (not a terrible idea...) or try Oh! La La, whose friendly French and Colombian are always on hand to help you select your meal from their excellent and wide-ranging menu.

Located in the sober 17th-century monastery that houses the landmark Hotel Sofitel Santa Clara, decade-old El Coro bar still lures locals and guests alike with perfect mojitos, live salsa tunes, and the prospect of glimpsing writer and occasional barfly Gabriel García Márquez. A true Cartagena classic.

So basically what I'm saying is: Cartagena is hot hot hot. Get on down there! If my words don't convince you, maybe this video—which captures the unbeatable energy of the city—will:

Catesby Holmes is an assistant research editor at Travel + Leisure.

Captions: The author in Cartagena's Plaza de los Coches, in the Old City (top) The rooftop Jacuzzi at Anandá Hotel Boutique. Photos courtesy of Greg Morril (top); Anandá Boutique Hotel; and video courtesy of Adam Barton.

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