The largest port city on Colombia’s Pacific Coast, mostly contained on the small island of Cascajal, is not the drab place it once was. It’s still rough around the edges, sure, but with posh new hotels and hip restaurants it’s slowly returning to the days of the 1950s, when the international jet set would swing by. Founded on July 14, 1540 by Juan de Ladrilleros, Buenaventura remained a coastal backwater until the opening of the Panama Canal in 1914 and the arrival of interior connections in the 1930s. The population has ballooned to more than 400,000, and the port accounts for 60% of all exports and imports to Colombia. Still, while some have gotten rich, this is one of the country’s poorest cities. While tourist areas are generally safe, the drug trade and gang violence flare up at times in outer neighborhoods. City leaders and business owners are pushing for change, like the construction of pedestrian streets and waterfront parks. Sunbathers are returning to nearby beaches, and whale-watching tours are filling up.
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