Colombia’s sexy city by the sea has a UNESCO nod, unstoppable nightlife and some of the most stylish locals this side of Milan. But smart travelers couple the glam with the grit, journeying beyond the historic city center to Cartagena’s edgier, emerging neighborhoods. From a dance club with the sort of strong cocktails that inspire Secretary of State Hillary Clinton to get down, to fine dining in a 250-year-old colonial mansion, Cartagena is a city that’s part of the re-emerging country of Colombia, but also a buzzing center of the southern Caribbean. Here is our guide to the best tables in South America’s newest hotspot.  

1. Malagana Café
On a dusty block in Getsemani, a formerly rough-and-tumble neighborhood outside of Cartagena’s walled city, this family-owned restaurant serves up fresh ceviche, hearty empanadas and stiff margaritas. With the sweeping city views from its rooftop bar, Malagana is the perfect starting point to explore Getsemani, which is filled with dance halls, gallery spaces and talented live bands playing alongside roast chicken joints. Calle Tripita y Media 31-55. Tel: +57 (5) 660-1360

2. Vera
For a taste of the high life, hit Tcherassi Hotel’s posh Vera restaurant. The first fashion hotel in South America, Tcherassi has just seven suites in a landmark building in the cobblestoned old city. The 50-seat Italian restaurant is favored by the sort of devastatingly stylish locals who transform the white linen suit look to the height of chic. Vera serves Italian fare using local seafood and impressive technique by Daniel Castaño, a former Mario Batali acolyte who most recently helmed Bogota’s popular Emilia Romagna restaurant. Calle del Sargento Mayor 6-21. Tel: +57 (5) 664 4445

3. La Perla
Peruvian cuisine is to Latin America what Lebanese food is to the Levant, or Italian cooking is to Western Europe. It’s no surprise, then, that pseudo-Peruvian imposters crowd Cartagena’s old city. Bypass those for La Perla, a sophisticated spot from Colombian star mixologist and restaurateur Roberto Carrascal. Lima chef Carlos Accinelli’s menu changes regularly, but house favorites are tuna tiraditos cured in yellow chiles and ginger, and a suckling pig entrée served with heartbreakingly crispy skin. Carrascal designed the drinks list, which includes house-made limoncello and an array of pisco cocktails. Calle de Ayos No. 4-42. Tel: +57 (5) 664 2157

4. La Casa de Socorro
Confusingly, Cartagena’s Getsemani district has both a Casa de Socorro and a Cocina de Socorro. Skip La Cocina, the larger joint facing the convention center. Locals prefer La Casa, located just around the corner, for its traditional Colombian fare and casual, open-air dining space. The well-priced menu is available all day, and proudly represents Cartagena’s Caribbean heritage with seared seafood, fresh-squeezed lemonade, homey chicken stew and mind-blowing salsas. Calle Larga 8E-112. Tel: +57 (5) 664 4658

5. Café Havana
Does Café Havana serve food? Does it even matter? This hotspot, located down the road from Malagana, is the utopian ideal of nightclubs everywhere. By 9 p.m., the U-shaped bar is packed with both young and old, stylish locals and sunburnt travelers alike, all vying for mojitos or a shot of local liquor Aguardiente to loosen them up for the Latin jazz bands that play starting at 11 p.m. nightly. The décor is very much Hemingway’s Cuba, with elegant woodwork alongside lazy ceiling fans doing little to quell the heat of skilled salseros living it up on the dance floor below. Come early, come often; clubs like this are one in a millón. Calle de la Media Luna con Guerrero. Tel: + 57 310 610 2324

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