Adding to Colombia's attraction for US travelers are its close proximity (it's only a 2 1/2-hour flight from Miami to Cartagena), its year-round warm climate and its no-visa policy. Best yet, a recent devaluation of the peso means that Americans travel at what amounts to a 40% discount - for example, your clients can enjoy a good three-course dinner in Cartagena for about $30.
This Caribbean city is the best known to Americans, with its 6.8 miles of walls built by the Spanish. Its historic center was declared a UNESCO World Heritage Site for its 400-year-old colonial mansions, churches and monasteries, and for South America's most complete set of fortifications. This romantic location is a favorite for honeymooners, who can explore its flower-decked plazas and stone-paved streets on foot or in a horse-drawn carriage. From the gold museum to the dazzling sunsets to nights filled with salsa dancing, there's always plenty to do in Cartagena. A short boat trip takes visitors to the Rosario Islands, where the crystal-clear Caribbean is bordered by beautiful white sand beaches.
While major hotel brands are plentiful here, for more local character and romance, book clients at the boutique Casa Pestagua (www.hotelboutiquecasapestagua.com) just steps from Plaza Santo Domingo, or the four-star Casa San Agustin (www.hotelcasasanagustin.com), a beautifully maintained colonial home. Both have fine-dining restaurants.
Also on the Caribbean coast, lively Santa Marta is a beach town known for its colorful nightlife and seafood restaurants. But like Cartagena, it has its share of history. Clients will find the Tairona Gold Museum in the town's oldest house, built in 1530. Before the Spanish arrived, this land was home of the Tayrona, who built their cities on terraces carved into the steep mountains. In the Taironaka Nature Reserve is a museum with artifacts and exhibits on their history and culture, along with restored terraces.
Hotel Boutique Casa Carolina (www.hotelcasacarolina.com) is close to restaurants and nightlife in the heart of the town, and has a spa and its own fine-dining restaurant. Also in the historic center, Casa Salamandra (www.hotelcasasalamandra.com) is a restored Colonial town house a short walk from the beach, with Caribbean views from its sun deck.
Medellin, a beautiful city ringed by mountains, erupts into festival mode at least twice a year. Each August it bursts into bloom - literally - with the Feria de Las Flores, a week-long extravaganza of flowers that is highlighted by a parade of silleteros. These flower sellers build elaborate displays of brilliant blossoms, which they carry on giant boards. Throughout the week are parades, fireworks, musical events, competitions and a full range of activities for the whole family.
For the entire month of December, Medellin is aglow with Los Alumbrados, the festival of Christmas lights. More than 30 million LED bulbs create a holiday fairyland all along the Medellin River and in parks and plazas throughout the city. Lights outline bridges, hang from trees and create arches along the streets and promenades. In the river, water spouts are bathed in lights that change color in time with music, with colored projections dancing in the plumes of water. The wide park bordering the river is filled with giant illuminated Christmas scenes and holiday-themed displays that rise as high as 75 feet.
Even without a festival, Medellin will delight clients with its arts and cultural scene, designer shopping and buoyant nightlife. Hometown of the artist Fernando Botero, the city showcases his work on Plaza Botero, where there are 23 of his larger-than-life bronze sculptures. The museum facing the square exhibits several galleries of his paintings. Parks line Medellin's river, and the Botanical Garden is a shady place to stroll - suggest lunch in its airy café.
You'll have no trouble booking flights to Colombia, as air connections have been a major priority of its tourism initiatives. About 250 flights a week connect nine U.S. cities (Miami, Los Angeles, New York, Atlanta, Houston, Washington D.C., Orlando, Dallas and Fort Lauderdale) with the Colombian cities of Cartagena, Medellin, Bogota, Barranquilla, Armenia and Cali.