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Special to msnbc.com
updated 2/7/2008 7:04:04 PM ET 2008-02-08T00:04:04

FLYING DOWN
From Miami,American (800/433-7300)andAvianca (800/284-2622) fly directly to Barranquilla, and Avianca also to Cartagena; Spirit (800/772-7117) is starting flights to Cartagena from Fort Lauderdale in March. With Air Canada (800/247-2662) you have to connect in Bogotá or Medellín.

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SLEEPING
Decent hotels are easy to find for as little as $80 to $125 most of the year, but rates start popping steroids for Carnaval. For next year’s celebration (Feb. 20-24), you’ll want to reserve as far in advance as possible. Here are several top picks (most with jacked-up rates for Carnival ’08, taxes are included):

Hotel Puerta del Sol
(Calle 75, No. 41D-79, tel. 011-57-5/356-5006)
A solid six story business hotel with pool and restaurant; doubles from $406.

Hotel El Prado
(Carrera 54, No. 70-10, tel. 011-57-5/369-7777)
A full-service, 200-room grande dame built in the 1930’s; doubles from $291.

Hotel Versalles
(Carrera 48, No. 70-188, tel. 011-57-5/368-2183)
A seven-story 77-roomer in the business district, it includes a restaurant, pool, and small spa; doubles from $209.

Hotel Majestic
(Carrera 53, No. 54-41, tel. 011-57-5/349-1010)
With 48 rooms and a Moorish flavor, pool, restaurant, room service; doubles from $130.

Villa Girón
(Carrera 38, No. 41-31, tel. 011-57-5/351-1330)
A two-story budget option in central Barranquilla, it has a restaurant and 28 rooms with private bathrooms and TV/phone but fans instead of A/C; doubles from $23.

EATING
Naia
(Carrera 53, No. 79-127, tel. 368-1316)
A Caribbean-fusion hotspot in the upscale Alto Prado neighborhood, whose chef, James Beard Foundation associate Nancy Cabrera, is an alumna of New York City’s Sign of the Dove and has also done her thing on the Food Channel and other high-profile outlets. Entrées $12-$20.

La Cueva
(Calle 72 at Avenida 53, tel. 340-9813)
A cool boho spot restored in 2001, famous as the onetime hangout of “Gabo” (Nobelist Gabriel Garcia Marquez) and other literary and journo types (you can check out plenty of pics on the walls and a video in the screening room); the food’s Latin with nouvelle-style touches. Entrées $10-$15.

Narcobollo
(Carrera 43, No. 84-188, tel. 359-5305)
Blue-walled and family-owned, with homey Colombian fare and both buffet and table service; check out the wall pics of Latin celebs who’ve eaten here thanks to its notoriety (the building’s previous owner was a dope dealer, and the cops raided it by mistake — thus the jokey moniker, meaning “Drug Buns”). Entrées $3.65-$7.28.

GETTING MORE INFO
Before leaving, log onto the Colombia Tourism Web site, or call its Miami office (305-374-3444). For Cartagena, log on to TurismoCartagenadeIndias.com.

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