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Fort Union: Third Fort and Post Officer's Quarters--Ranger Ron

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Reviewed August 8, Worst waste of time. A masterpiece of Spanish colonial military engineering, the fort is fascinating to visit. Guides lead visitors through subterranean tunnels, showing secret communication systems and galleries used by sentries. Stair designs gave defenders firing angles that allowed them to shoot at invaders without being seen.

The fort's ramparts, defended to this day by 18th-century cannons, offer excellent views of the old walled city. In , a British admiral, Edward Vernon, massed ships, 3, cannons and 24, soldiers for an assault on Cartagena that was designed to smash Spanish power in the Caribbean. One regiment was commanded by Lawrence Washington, a half-brother to George. The Washington family was so enamored of Admiral Vernon that they named their Virginia estate after him -- Mount Vernon.

For his part, Admiral Vernon was so confident of victory that he coined in advance commemorative medals showing the Spanish defender, Gen. Blas de Lezo, kneeling before the British conqueror. Depicted with all his limbs intact, in reality, during the course of a long military career, this tough Spanish general had lost his left leg, his right arm and his right eye.

By the end of the day, they had lost 1, soldiers. With dysentery, malaria and yellow fever also ravaging the ranks, Admiral Vernon cut his losses and retreated.

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Never one to cower behind the lines, the Spanish general was wounded in his remaining leg, an injury that soon proved fatal. After this stalwart defense, Caribbean buccaneers largely left Cartagena alone. Today, in front of San Felipe, a bronze statue recalls the Spanish defender. Strolling the historic district, a visitor quickly sees that defense defined Cartagena's urban plan. To shorten attackers' line of fire, streets are slightly crooked. In contrast to the baroque fantasies found elsewhere in Latin America, Cartagena's cathedral and its churches have thick walls and austere interior lines.

Providing a sense of intimacy, these narrow cobblestone lanes are laid out to catch ocean breezes and to maximize shade for pedestrians. Many plazas, such as Customs Square, have cool sidewalk arcades. After exploring restored sections of Cartagena's old town it is easy to see why, a decade ago, Unesco declared the city World Historic Patrimony.

Spanish colonial houses, casonas, with rust red, mustard yellow, deep green and sky blue exteriors have wooden balconies, high ceilings and interior courtyards. Government agencies also have restored houses, which are often open to the public. Colombia's Foreign Ministry has an office in a classical estate that once belonged to the Marquis of Valdehoyos. The Gold Museum Museo del Oro occupies another.

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Through a new historic preservation school, the Spanish Government promotes restoration techniques. Last year, King Juan Carlos inaugurated the Caribbean Naval Museum, a magnificent colonial era building renovated largely with Spanish aid. One sinister building I always avoid is the ornate Palace of the Inquisition, an intimidating colonial building with a massive oak door studded with iron bolts.

For two centuries, Cartagena was the regional throne for these high priests of intolerance. Today, in this relaxed beach city, the Inquisition's repressive legacy seems very far in the past. Exploring Cartagena's walled city often is confusing because street names change from block to block. The simplest approach is to wander these well-policed streets after office hours when car traffic dies away. Another way is to rent a horse and carriage for a relaxed evening roll over the cobblestones. A city that lends itself to evening strolls lends itself to pub crawling, although it is hard to beat the rooftop piano and accordion bar at Bodegon de la Candelaria.

Another favorite haunt is Paco's, named after one of its founders, Paco de Onis, son of Juan de Onis, a New York Times correspondent in these parts in the 's and 's. Paco has moved on, but his British partner, Nicholas Beeson, keeps up the tradition of deep fried seafood, brimming pitchers of sangria and, on weekend nights, the Cuban sound of Los Veteranos del Ritmo. View all New York Times newsletters.

For nondrinkers, this corner of the tropics offers a wide variety of freshly squeezed juices -- papaya, mango, guava -- and some not readily recognizable in English -- corozo, lulo, nispero and guanabana. One way to club hop is to climb aboard the "rumba en chiva," a brightly painted city bus that features a live band and dark rum, served liberally in plastic cups.

Tickets must be bought in advance for this rolling party, which circulates in Bocagrande, a peninsula dotted with modern hotels. As the night wears on, it is best to steer clear of Colombia's most notorious export -- cocaine, which is easily available for those who look for it.

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Every season, a few Canadian tourists are arrested at the international airport with a few kilos stuffed in their suitcases. Colombian potencies can pack deadly surprises. In the daylight, Cartagena offers surprisingly sophisticated shopping for a city its size. Because of the increasingly affluent tourist influx, the city has Colombia's largest concentration of antique shops. One, Anticuario del Mar Comarca, specializes in items retrieved from sunken ships, such as brass portholes and compass cases.

Colombian leather goods increasingly approach Italian quality, at lower prices. Several stores offer portfolios, belts and handbags.

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Colombian emeralds are world-reknowned, but should only be bought through reputable jewelers. Colombian prices should be at least one quarter off stateside prices. The Grand is known for its scrumptious afternoon tea served between — p. History buffs are drawn to explore Fort Mackinac and Fort Holmes, while those interested in water sports can go sailing, kayaking, fishing and even parasailing! You will not be bored when you go the Mackinac Island. Freshwater Vacation Rentals has cabins and cottages a short drive from Mackinac Island.