- When: 26 February- 6 March, 2016
- Where: Bogota – friend’s parents house, Cali- friend’s relatives place, Cartagena-Estellar Grand Playa Manzanillo hotel
- Transportation: Flight from Boston (BOS) with layover in Atlanta, GA to Bogota, Colombia (BOG) on Delta airlines. Flights from Bogota to Cali (CLO), Cali to Cartagena (CTG) and back to Bogota on Avianca airlines
- Must see/do: Bogota- La Candelaria (Old Town), Bolivar Square (Plaza de Bolivar), Official Residence of Colombian President (Palacio de Narino), Nightclub- Theatron. Cali- Cali Zoo (Zoologico de Cali), Cartagena – Walled City of Cartagena, Cafe Havana Cartagena, Playa Blanca beach in Isla Baru near Cartagena
- Food/drinks: Bogota- Andres Carne de Res restaurant (in Chia town near Bogota), La Puerta Falsa, Cartagena – Cafe del Mar, Kiosko El Bony, Juan Valdez Cafe– all over Colombia.
This week long trip was very much different from the other trips I have taken so far. I would call it a ‘workation’- it was a sleepless work/vacation all in one. My manager Angelica, who is Colombian, yet resides in Switzerland, invited my colleague Tracey and myself to her home country. Well, she was going home to visit, and maybe we sort of invited ourselves 🙂 . We had a pretty small team at the time and for three people to leave work for a week would have been a big burden for the rest of the colleagues. So we made a plan to work half days while in Colombia, take one full day off when we are at the beach, and explore this country as much as the limited time allows us. Trust me, we made time for everything, but sleep 🙂 . We danced and ate our way through Colombia, visiting three very different parts of it- Bogota, Cali and Cartagena.
Bogota is the capital and the largest city of Colombia. Located in the center of Colombia on a high plateau known as the Bogota savanna at an average 2,640 meters (8,660 ft) above sea level. If you are sensitive to the altitude, you might feel it. As soon as we landed, regardless of it being evening, we were instructed to drink a very black and sweet Colombian coffee -“tinto”. There is a difference between ‘cafe’ and ‘tinto’. The latter is thicker, more concentrated and sold in a very small cups. Well, maybe it’s true and tinto helped, maybe it’s a myth, but we had no altitude sickness the whole time we were in this country 🙂 !
As you are in Bogota, you MUST walk around La Candelaria- historic neighborhood in the downtown of the city, which could be called Bogota’s Old Town.
This colonial district is officially the first neighborhood in the city. Colombia’s capital city was founded here in 1538 by Spanish conquistador Gonzalo Jiménez de Quesada y Rivera.
Walk around Plaza de Bolivar (Bolivar Square) – the main square in Bogota and take in the history and architecture that surrounds this magnificent place.
It is very pleasant walking weather as Bogota is never really very hot or cold. Over the course of the year, the temperature typically varies from 44°F to 66°F and is rarely below 37°F or above 70°F. You will need a sweater going there, even though it’s summer time in other parts of Colombia, you can get pretty chilly up high on the mountain.
We had a great sunny day for exploring and walked by the Palacio de Narino – official home and workplace of the President of Colombia.
We were right on time for the guard changing ceremony, which was a pretty spectacular sight!
You must be hungry by now and you cannot stay hungry while in Colombia! La Puerta Falsa claims to have the “world’s best ajiaco” and I am no expert in this, but it was DELIGHTFUL!
So was tamal and guanabana juice that we pretty much inhaled. There is very little seating, but it was not overly crowded when we came and the prices are incredibly cheap too! Four people meals with juice drinks came to mere $20 USD!
After eating and walking, we need some coffee of course! And there is no better place than Juan Valdez cafe! Yes, it’s a chain, but the coffee drinks are AMAZING. My friend Tracey and I fell in love with malteada de cafe con arequipe- it’s basically a coffee milkshake with a thick caramel sauce. Yummm…
As I mentioned earlier- we did not sleep much on this trip. Well, part of the reason is that we went out dancing almost every night 🙂 ! Theatron is the club to go while in Bogota. It is a very popular gay spot, but straight or gay- anyone will have amazing time at this place. Several stories, multiple dance floors inside and outside, roof top bar- it was like no other club in the USA that I have been to. No wonder it’s considered the best club in South America! Entrance fee of around $17 USD also covers drinks up until 2am! So we danced the night away and then had a 3am snack- mazorcada- corn, cheese and other delicious ingredients dish that taste even better after all the dancing and cocktails.
One more fun place for the evening right near Bogota- in the small town of Chia, was Andres Carne de Res restaurant. It’s a unique place with fun decorations, great cocktails and music. And of course if you are a tourist and especially first time in Colombia- you will get a sash to wear for the night 🙂 . Must try- lulo, caldito (with aji, hogao and chimichurri)- we were ordering everything that Angelica and her sister suggested! After all – they are locals and know what tastes best!
This was another late night, that required some late night food after all the dancing.
Perfect place was right across the street- caldo de costilla-soup that warms up your stomach and your soul 🙂 . And it came in the cute tin cups painted with flowers.
While in Bogota, we also got to try our first lulo juice in a form of a drink called “Lulada” and learned how to eat a granadilla- the sweet fruit that you can basically scoop out with a spoon or slurp straight out of it’s shell 🙂 .
Cali is the city south west of Bogota and is known for salsa dancing. However, considering how much we have been going out already, this was the city we skipped the dancing for a couple of days.
My best memories of the two short days in Cali are of the food (of course!), shopping and the Zoo! We did have to work part of the two days and also there was an early morning flight from Bogota to Cali, so we explored as much as possible, but not nearly long enough in this beautiful city.
The first big difference from Bogota was weather. As I mentioned earlier, Bogota is always relatively cool. When we were leaving early in the morning, we saw a kid riding his bike with a ski mask on!! It was maybe 58F- warm for us coming from Boston in February, but clearly too cold for the warm bloodied Colombians 🙂 . We landed in Cali and the warm, humid air greeted us as soon as we left the airport. No doubt it’s summer time here!
Every day was a new food experience! It really helped to have a native Colombian with us, so we would just nod and Angelica would order for us and everything has been delicious!
Just to mention a few must tries- postre de natas de antano, avena (delicious oat milk), pollo asado (roasted chicken) Colombian style, papa criolla, yuka frita y guacamole, empanadas y chorizo de pollo, marranitas (plantain and chicharron), aborrajado (sweet plantain with cheese), champus (lulo and corn), passion fruit juice, arepas rellenas, aguapanela con limon, mazamorra. Ahh just to go back for a day and have some of these meals now…
I must mention a huge Cali shopping center- Unicentro Cali. We spent some time there and made sure to add some balance to our credit card statements 🙂 . But how can you not? The clothes are very well made, stylish and reasonably priced. I found my favorite shop Naf Naf for amazing women’s clothes and got an array of different color ties for Sean at Arturo Calle men’s designer store.
Good that we came with some extra room in our suitcases 🙂 .
While in Cali, you MUST visit Zoologico de Cali (Cali Zoo). It is big, well organized, animals seem to be well cared for and there are many different species! We saw tigers, lions, a ton of birds (some cool talking parrots) and fish.
It was a warm afternoon well spent with good friends. Flight to Cartagena tomorrow – time in Cali went by way too fast…
And here we are at the last destination in Colombia on this intense work/vacation trip. I must say we left the best for last. Cartagena is a beautiful port city on Colombia’s Caribbean coast. The city was founded in 1533 and named after Cartagena, Spain. As the climate is tropical (no sweaters are needed here!) and surrounded by beautiful beaches, Cartagena is a popular tourist destination.
We stayed at the Estellar Grand Playa Manzanillo hotel and had a great time at this big resort. Conference call with the birds chirping in the background and the pool view anyone 🙂 ?
While in Cartagena, a MUST visit is The Walled City or the Old Town.
Caribbean Sea on one side and a colorful, picture perfect streets within the historic walls is a perfect place for an afternoon walk or a horse and carriage ride!
We were delighted to do both! Cartagena’s cheerful and so Caribbean color scheme is very eye pleasing and I took way too many photos that I simply have to share 🙂 .
We walked around till the sunset and took in more breath taking views. For food, we came to the beautiful Cafe del Mar. And in the evening, we went dancing of course 🙂 ! We skipped a few days, so we are due for some salsa and champeta. Havana club was a nice and crowded “tourist trap” as Angelica put it, but it had a live band and we enjoyed some drinks and swayed our hips to the fun salsa rhythm.
Bazurto was a lovely champeta (genre of folk music and dance popular in parts of Colombia) place. Again, we were lucky to have a live band playing, and danced till our feet hurt 🙂 .
We will rest at the beach tomorrow!
And that we did. We took a full day off and got up early to take a bus to Playa Blanca (Isla Baru) -beautiful clear water beach not far from Cartagena. I have to say, it was a scary bus ride. Colombians drive fast and furious 🙂 . Bus was passing the cars, coming up extremely close to the other vehicles and flying through the winding road. I can’t lie, I was happy we were alive and well and could not wait to get off the bus and finally relax at the beach.
With a pina colada (or two 🙂 ) in the tropical paradise. Now this is what I call vacation! The water is crystal clear, sand is white, with some shells and pebbles, so you might want to rent a chair instead of laying just on a towel. For the photo we were ok being straight on the sand too 🙂 . Lunch was at the nearby cafe and it was delightful.
Regardless of having fish for lunch, we opted going back to Cartagena for a good fish dinner as well. Not every day you can eat a good, local catch of the day.
Kiosko El Bony was chosen for this occasion and it did not disappoint. The place is very simple, but food is fresh and delicious.
Portions are so big, I could not even finish my whole fish on a plate. Try their ceviche, limonada de coco and of course – whatever is caught that day! Excellent last dinner in Colombia…
There were other activities- we had massages at the spa, got mani/pedis, participated at the baby shower for Angelica’s sister and met all her family. Probably one of a few trips where we came back more tired than rested, but with so many wonderful memories!
Colombia is definitely underrated in the list of popular travel destinations. I have to be honest- I did not know what to expect going there. The bits and pieces I knew, were mostly related to not so good things like drug trafficking and Pablo Escobar. I did not know about the amazing culture, the music, the food and the welcoming people. And that’s what all this trip was about. It was more of a taste of Colombia, just enough to want to come back. It was extremely helpful to have Colombian with us and I am very grateful for all Angelica and her family did for us on this trip. We saw the country the best way possible- much less through the eyes of a tourist and more of a glimpse of the insider.