Why to go when you're young: It's cheap, yo. Flights are a cinch, and dollars spend big. And it's close: Even from New York, Bogota’s a shorter direct flight than London. You'll arrive in the same time zone, sans jet lag, ready dive into jungle adventures.
Where to head first: Medellín, the hot springs of Santa Rosa de Cabal, and Cocora Valley
It's not a coincidence that Gabriel García Márquez was Colombian: The country truly is a land of magical realism, where the past blends with the present and daydreams merge with reality. Where else but at the top of South America do you get the Andes coming right up to meet Caribbean beaches? Or will you dance all-night salsa at clubs in Cali, a town famous just for its dancing?
If you're going for just one moment to capture the whole rigmarole, though, I’ve got two and a half words for you: Carnaval de Barranquilla. The four-day festival on the north coast is Colombia's Mardis Gras, the final blowout before the heavily Catholic country succumbs to Lent. Each day the entire town, plus several thousand tourists, gather for raucous, technicolor parades that last most of the day. Everyone dresses up, in racy and bizarre fashion. Among the more notorious costumes is la marimonda, which looks like a mosquito but, locals explain, is actually a caricature of male genitalia meant to depict the corruption of local politicians.
At night, the streets become discos as salsa dancers overrun intersections. Vendors roam hawking cheap beers and juice boxes filled with aguardiente, the local anise liquor. The passions rise as time wanders away and strangers trade dance partners as easily as passing a bottle. Just before the sun rises, people stagger home for a few hours' shut-eye. Then they do it all again, as they do every February. Which is coming soon. So book your lodging pronto. -- Ezra Kaplan, Thrillist contributor