I just returned from a wonderful trip in Colombia. I joined some family members who were traveling through the region. I spent a full day in the capital city of Bogota and then 2.5 days in the Caribbean colonial city of Cartagena on the Northern coast of the country.
Colombia is a beautiful city, filled with delicious organic foods (they have some of the most fertile soil and best climates for growing produce in the world), and friendly people. It is NOT the Colombia in most people’s minds in the modern day no thanks to the horrible modern history the country has had to face. While Netflix’s great hit show Narcos has helped put Colombia back on people’s radars, it may not necessarily be for the right reasons. Trust me, the 2017 Colombia is definitely not the 1980s or 90s Colombia. I never once felt unsafe in Colombia, in fact I have felt less safe in most major U.S. cities (a sentiment I tend to have when I travel). So drop your stereotypes and inhibitions and go see for yourself this vibrant South American country.
Most flights from the United States arrive at night in Bogota, mine from Atlanta was no exception. Getting around town is cheap and easy, you can take taxis or ubers (both very cheap) or if you can figure it out, the buses are a good alternative as well. Bogota is a massive city with terrible traffic, so this is something to keep in mind when planning where to stay, what to do, and how to get around. We stayed at the D.C. Artisan Hotel Autograph Collection, near the Zona Rosa, the more affluent/modern area of Bogota, and slightly a ways from the main sites. Nonetheless we were able to do a lot in 24 hours.
Bogota was very similar to other high-altitude South American cities such as Quito and Cuzco (more so to Quito than the more Colonial/Inca Cuzco). It is dirty, has terrible traffic, and is very spread out, BUT it is filled with quite friendly people, and embraces the true vibrancy of Colombian culture and history, one in which it seems everyone is trying to not necessarily forget but to let the world know that this country is more than Pablo Escobar and cocaine-related travesties.
- Arrived late evening at Bogota El Dorado Airport. Taxi (around $10, but average around $6 to get around) to hotel.
- Next morning to taxi to Calima Central Commercial to meet our guide, Loon, who organizes and runs the Bogota Foodie Food Safari Tours. I highly recommend this food tour of Bogota. It lasts around 3-4 hours. We started off at Paloquemao Market, also visited by Anthony Bourdain. This is where most of the tour is spent but there is so much to see and eat here that it doesnt feel long, we never once passed the same stall! We started off by having breakfast of Sancocho de pescado (Fish soup made with plantain, yuca and potatoes) and Tomale of chicken. Then we went on to explore the fresh produce of the market as well as sample the vast array of tropical fruits found in Colombia, I have never tasted such sweet and juicy dragon-fruit, the Asian variant aint got nothing on the Colombian one. We then had some Empanadas (Colombian style empanadas filled with potato and beef), and a rice, beef, chicken and boiled egg stuffed fried Pastel de Yuca ball. Then some Dulce de Leche Bread and Bunelos (a Cheese Flour Bread Puff) and Avenas de Agua drink (an oatmeal drink made with condensed milk, milk, cinnamon and cloves). We then walked around more, exploring other parts of the market and finished off the market part with Lechona (Colombian whole-stuffed pig), it was amazing. Our tour then continued out to the downtown area where we grabbed some Tres Leches Cake from Cafe La Florida, one of the oldest cafes in Bogota and my goodness the Tres Leches cake there is the best I’ve ever had, rich, creamy, perfectly moist but not too wet and not overly sweet. We then took our dessert to a cafe near the Museo de Oro (one of the piece is the featured image no this post) to have some Colombian Coffee, a brilliant end to a wonderful tour of local Colombian food, food culture and agriculture.
- We then headed to the Museo de Oro across the street. For a small entry-fee, this small museum offers a rather informative display of gold, gold mining, its history and ties with not only Colombia but the world and the socioeconomics and politics of metals. It even shows how various ancient gold objects were made. I’d say worth a visit, as it doesnt take long to walk through and is rather insightful.
- We then walked through La Candeleria, the main historic neighborhood of Bogota. We walked around Plaza Boliviar. This is the main square in Bogota where the Palace of Justice (internationally famous for the 1985 siege by Pablo Escobar), National Capitol, Congress, Cathedral Primada are all located. A very beautiful square.
- We then had a mid-afternoon snack at La Puerta Falsa, a historic and popular snack and breakfast spot just off the main square and again visited by Anthony Bourdain. They are famous for Chocolate Completa (hot chocolate served with sides of cheese and buttered bread) and Tomale (though the Tomale from the market was much better).
- We then walked down the street to the Museo Botero, a free art gallery linked to a couple of other art galleries. This is an exceptional art gallery that is made even more worthy that it is free admissions. Not only is it home to an extensive Botero collection, it also has pieces from multiple famous artists including Picasso, Miro, Klimt and many more.
- We then took a uber to the cable and funicular station to take the cable car up to Monserrate, a mountain top church with sweeping views of the city that is 3,170 meters above sea level. The views are indeed impressive and worth a trip, although for us it was quite cloudy. But thats about it, its just for the views here.
- We then headed to the Museo Nacional, the national museum housed in a former prison. It has multiple galleries going through the history of Colombia with various items to showcase this history. Unfortunately a vast majority of descriptions were only in Spanish, so for non-Spanish speaking folks it could be a challenge, but most of the main signages did come in English. I would say its worth a visit as well, after all it is for free too.
- With an awkward gap between dinner and our site seeing we grabbed some Chocolate infused Green Tea at the Parque Central Bavana, across the street from Museo Nacional and next to the original Dutch beer brewery building in Bogota (the brewery failed though).
- Walked across the street to have dinner at Leo Cocina y Cava. Rated #16 in Latin America and #1 in Colombia, this restaurant is run by a mother (chef)/ daughter (sommelier) duo. The goal being to showcase little used or known Colombian ingredients while supporting local communities and farmers and showcasing traditional Colombian flavors and techniques. It was an incredible 11 course tasting from start to finish, with perhaps one small let down. The food, ambiance, presentation, service alcoholic and non-alcoholic beverage pairings were all executed well. (Await a separate post on this restaurant).
- Ubered back to our hotel for a night’s rest before my early morning departure to Cartagena, while my family remained for more time in Bogota.
Before I arrived and after I left, my family had food at Tabula, Abasto, The Four Seasons Hotel and coffee at Amor Perfecto. They also did a Bogota City Bike Tour which they really enjoyed as well.