Dancers at independence festivities in Cartagena, Colombia // Dancers at independence festivities in Cartagena, Colombia (LP/Alfredo Maiquez)

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Dancers at independence festivities in Cartagena, Colombia

Don't let the outdated drug cartel stigma fool you: Colombians are as pleasant and sociable as they come. Tired of their notorious image, they're eager to accept outsiders and show them the country's thriving cities, luscious beaches and thrilling history.

The travel writer speaks: "I was lost in Medellin and I found myself chatting to a storeowner," says the travel journalist Richard McColl. "Thrilled that I was considering moving here, I found myself, a complete stranger, invited back for an asado [a kind of barbecue] with his family the following day."

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