2019 Oscars of Tourism Recipient

Derek Braun, TESOL/OFLA Liaison
Columbus City Schools, EL Science Teacher

Colombia, a place when mentioned usually leads one to dream up images of Pablo Escobar, drug trafficking, FARC, violence and government corruption; however, its beautiful wildlife, history-rich cities, amazing food and great coffee is quickly turning Colombia into a must-visit destination.  The 2019 Oscars of tourism recently awarded Colombia as the top tourist destination of South America (CNN Español). During the first week of September, I had the opportunity to explore the city of Cartagena and nearby Tayrona National Park. As a week-long trip for my wife and me, Cartagena and surrounding Northern Colombia had everything we were hoping for: great seafood, good coffee, fascinating history, and beautiful Spanish colonial architecture.  We planned a week-long trip, spending four nights in Cartagena then traveling 6 hours by bus to Fincabarlento, a beachfront eco-hotel just outside of Tayrona National Park at the base of the Sierra Nevada Mountains where the river Rio Piedras meets the Caribbean Sea.

The city of Cartagena is named as a UNESCO World Heritage site.  Often referred to as the Walled City, Cartagena remains an example of one of the defense fortifications built by the Spanish to control wealth within South America.  The entire city is surrounded by a fortified wall that was built by the Spanish 1586. Due to the cities strategic location, this became one of the principal ports for trade and military control throughout the West Indies and South America.  It remains a pristine example of Spanish architecture throughout the 16th, 17th, and 18th centuries. The city is full of museums and historic landmarks to explore including; the Palace of the Inquisition, Castillo San Felipe de Barajas, Caribbean and Emerald Jewelry Museum, Museum de Oro, and the house of Gabriel Garcia Márquez author of Cien Años de Soledad.

The most memorable historic sites visited was The Castillo San Felipe de Barajas.  Despite having been originally constructed in 1536, the castle remains well preserved.  Its name was given in honor of Philip IV of Spain who reigned from 1621 until his death and in Portugal until 1640.  The military castle sits strategically on the top of a hill overlooking the Caribean Sea. The castle consists of a series of walls with a complex system of underground tunnels all of which are open for visitors to explore.  The views of the Caribean Sea and surrounding city from the top of the castle are breathtaking.

Cartagena and surrounding northern Colombia is an excellent destination for a week-long couples getaway or even a summer family trip.  With flights regularly available through Spirit and JetBlue at the price point of $300-$500, the value is unrivaled. The short 2.5 hour flight from Florida and the only one hour time difference makes Colombia very accessible and an easy trip to plan.  Whether brushing up on your Spanish and culture, hoping to bring experiences into your classroom, or just planning a spring break or summer vacation, Colombia remains a fantastic destination.

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