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Buenaventura

Buenaventura is Colombia's Pacific port, and the only way to access the Colombian Pacific by road. The center of Afro-Colombian culture, it is a four hour bus ride from Cali down steep and windy roads. It's about 16 hours by bus from Bogota, and about 13 from Medellin. While once considered the most dangerous city in Colombia, the Uribe/Santos governments' emphasis on safety and security has markedly improved the area. You'll find friendly locals, cheap hotels, fun bars and clubs, and an abundance of amazing sunsets. And the wonders of Juanchaco, Ladrilleros, and la Barra are only 45 minutes away by boat from the muelle turistica.

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Buenaventura is not the most beautiful city in Colombia, but it has its own unique port charm. As long as you stay in the downtown area and use good judgment, you should be just fine. Don't walk too far south, as you may find yourself in a bad part of town pretty quickly. The waterfront in Latin America is typically called the malecon (boardwalk). Buenaventura's malecon is a pleasant walkway with a lighthouse, muelle turistica (tourist dock), and a slightly dodgy amusement park. It is striking how much of the land around Buenaventura has yet to be developed. Much of this land is, unfortunately, still used for drug smuggling routes.

Make sure to try some tasty barbecued beef over an open flame. There are many great dining options in Buenaventura, although many things must be transported by road from Cali, so you may be surprised that some things are quite a bit more expensive than they would be in Cali or in Bogota.

While Colombians have an image of the city as purely Afro-Colombian, I would say only about half the city is Afro-Colombian. There is a sizeable mestizo population as well. Here people gather on the malecon to wait for the sunset, sip a cold beer, and feed the birds. The Pacific Ocean stretches out for five thousand miles to the west. You won't find a better sunset in Colombia. Cranes and large shipping containers dominate in the port, located at the northern end of the city. While you can't go in, you can get close enough to see the hustle and bustle of maritime commerce.

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Buenaventura is surrounded by wetlands. If you want to walk through them do so cautiously. As I can report from first-hand experience, it's very easy to get stuck in the muck, and there may be sharp sticks or trash awaiting your unsuspecting feet! The city's poorer residents reside in shanty towns that ring the city. Typically they are made out of wood, and feature tin roofs. During the day I would suggest you could cautiously explore, but it would not be advisable to enter neighborhoods like this at night.

Overcome your inhibition and go talk to some locals. If if you speak only basic Spanish they'll appreciate the effort, and some will be able to meet you halfway with the basic English that most Colombians learn in high school. Hector Copete ran as a Cambio Radical (Radical Change) candidate for mayor of Buenaventura. He was ultimately defeated by Bartolo Valencia. Twenty miles north and west, around the point ahead, you will find the tropical beach paradises of Juanchaco, Ladrilleros, and La Barra.

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