Cartageneros don’t need an excuse to shake it. In the daytime, roving musicians play vallenato, a folkloric accordion music popular in Colombia’s Atlantic coast, at impromptu dance sessions on Bocagrande beach. Tip them a few dollars and request anything by vallenato master Carlos Vives. Nightly carousing begins around 10 p.m., when dressed-up locals (no shorts allowed) start passing around communal shot glasses of aguardiente, the national liquor.
Start your night at Paco’s (Calle 35 No. 3-02; no phone) in Plaza Santo Domingo, where you can sit by one of Medellin artist Fernando Botero’s corpulent statues while sipping an after-dinner coffee. Next, make your way to Quiebra Canto, a dimly lit salsa bar where a D.J.-cum-bartender plays songs by Mongo Santamaria, Celia Cruz, and other legendary Latin singers.
A younger crowd favors Calle del Arsenal, a strip crammed with bars and lounges like La Carbonera Cantina (Calle 24 No. 9A-47; 57-5-664-3720), which plays a crossover mix of pop, electro, and Caribbean sing-alongs. Tourists from Ecuador, Panama, and other neighboring countries come in droves to Mister Babilla (Calle 24 No. 8B-137; 57-5-664-7005), a big kitschy club where female waitresses and bartenders hop on the bar to get the crowd riled up.