Bogota Colombia

Explore Bogotá, Colombia

Although I recently traveled to Colombia and posted about our days in Cartagena and Medellìn, I’d been holding off posting about Bogotá for one very important reason.  The first thing any tourist does in Bogota is to head directly to the famous and historic Candelaria district.  Home to the Plaza Bolívar, the Museo del Oro (the gold museum), and some of the most vibrant street art in the world, the district is bold, colorful and always filled with people.  Although it’s a popular place to stay for backpackers and hostelers, it’s lacking in nicer accommodations.  This doesn’t prevent the tourists from flocking here and the streets are always filled with strolling people at any hour of the day.  Anne and I had read about an off-the-beaten path hair salon-cum-bar-cum-boutique where no one is formally trained and you can’t specify what you want done with your style.  Of course it piqued our interest.  After taking an uber down to the neighborhood, it was one of the first places we happened upon randomly.  Anne had just settled into the chair to get her haircut when Nancy Trejos walked in and struck up a conversation with us.  Nancy, a travel writer for USA Today, was doing a story on Bogotá for the paper and interviewed us about why we were there.  This past week, my photos (and a quote from me) were featured in her story for the newspaper.  You can see the full article via this link.  

Here’s some of my favorite images from our stay and my recommendations on what to do with a day or two in this vibrant South American city.

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STAY: There are airbnb’s all over Bogota and you can’t really go wrong.  For the foodies, you’ll want to be in Chapinero.  In addition to an airbnb, we also found ourselves at the Hotel Rosales Plaza, which was quite delightful, reasonably priced, had a huge bathroom (bonus for us after weeks in airbnb apartments) and wonderfully located in the Rosales sector.

EAT: Bogotá is going through a culinary gourmet explosion and the city is filled with incredible options around every corner.

  • Abasto was one of our favorite brunches during our entire Colombian trip.  The menu is creative, laden with egg dishes, and the coffee is exceptional.
  • Our tasting menu meal at Matiz was the first of our trip and one of the most memorable.  It was a veritable bargain compared to similar meals in the states and we both left incredibly full.  The chef came out afterwards and thanked us for coming, in addition to asking for our feedback.  From start to finish, this was a stand out experience and is not to be missed.
  • Salvo Patria is a perfect stop for lunch or dinner.  The inventive menu offers a rotating list of changing specials based on local ingredients creating a hip spot the locals frequent to linger over long lunches.
  • Our meal at Rafael Osterling was one of our other stand out favorites in Colombia.  The setting itself is incredible.  Be sure to make reservations ahead of time and if you’re lucky, you can get seated on the outdoor patio.  The Tiradito (a Peruvian way of preparing fish) is outstanding and the burrata and ravioles are not to be missed.
  • By the end of our trip, we were desperate for some comfort food and both of us always gravitate towards Italian for this.  Our meal at Julia Pizzeria was exceptional.  Seated at the bar, we met an awesome young man from Los Angeles who had recently moved to Bogota for work.  We shared salads, pasta and pizza over a lingering wine filled meal with him.

DRINK:

  • The Bogota Beer Company is a well known favorite here with locations in 12 different Bogota neighborhoods.  You are certainly never far from one of their outposts, no matter where you are.
  • The Irish Pub in Candelaria may seem like a strange place to make a stop while you’re in Colombia, but the patio is incredibly inviting and always filled with locals after they get off work.

EXPLORE

  • Bogota has become world renown for it’s street art thanks to the decriminalization of the art.  When graffiti artist Diego Felipe Becerra was shot and killed in 2011 by a police officer, the current mayor took charge and helped turn the culture of the art around by offering up public walls and creating safe spaces.  Today, businesses and artists work together to create vibrant murals on the outside of businesses.  The Bogota Graffiti Tour was started by local graffiti artist CRISP as a way to help tourists and locals alike understand and appreciate the growing art.  The tour itself is free but the docents work off tips, so make sure to bring some cash.
  • Feeling brave?  Let one of the self-described “hair assassins” at La Peluqueria bring out your essence.
  • Every Sunday, the majority of major thoroughfares are shut down to become bikeways for the locals to get out and spend the day with their families.  You’ll see walkers, cyclists, skateboarders and rollerbladers parade past for most of the day!  Referred to as Ciclovia, you can learn more about where it takes place and how to participate here.
  • If you are feeling energetic, you can hike up the 1.5 km steep steps to Monserrate, which overlooks the city from 10,000 feet up.  If you’re feeling lazy, catch the cable car out of the Candelaria.

 

Medellin

3 Days in Medellìn: A Travel Guide

 Medellìn is a beacon of culture and officially one of my most favorite cities ever: the people are generous, enthusiastic and welcoming, the mountains are captivating, the food and coffee is incredible, and the city is incredibly clean and proud.  This city, once famed for it’s violent and storied past, has transformed itself into a star-attraction in a country that has everything going for it.

Medellìn was named the 2013 “City of the Year” by the nonprofit Urban Land Institute for it’s transformation and quick turn-around.  Utilizing revitalized civic spaces, green parks, libraries, art galleries and the creation of a world-class metro system and infastructure that connects the city’s poorest neighborhoods with its center through innovative solutions such as giant escalators and cable cars, Medellìn is now a world-class travel destination thanks to its dedication to the inclusion of all it’s inhabitants.  For those of you who think it’s dangerous: Medellìn isn’t even to be found on the list of the top 50 most dangerous cities in the world anymore, though you will find New Orleans, Baltimore and Detroit on there.

Medellìn is called the “city of eternal spring” by it’s people for it’s permanently pleasant weather.  The people are called Paisas and they are a proud, hopeful culture that loves to talk.  They will serenade you with stories about their city, their past, and their future.  Their pace is a bit slower and they aren’t in a rush.  They are beautiful: everyone in this city is attractive and they dress well.  They have inquisitive natures and they want to talk to you: although we found that Colombians, overall, were incredibly welcoming and generous, this was even more apparent in Medellìn where every person we encountered wanted to know where we were from and why we decided to visit their city. 

Here’s some of my favorite images from our stay and my recommendations on what to do with 3 days in Medellìn.

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STAY: The areas surrounding El Poblado are the most popular with tourists.  This includes the neighborhoods of Manila, which is where we stayed, and Parque Lleras.  The streets are safe to walk at all hours of the day and filled with hip and stylish restaurants and coffee shops.  You can get an entire apartment to yourself for $45-60/nt on Airbnb.  We stayed in a charming apartment in Manila and Al Alma Cafe and Hija Mia both within walking distance.

If Airbnb isn’t your thing, there’s a wealth of mid-range hotels and budget hostels in the area.  If I’d had to pick one, you probably would have found me at the Art Hotel.  If your budget is higher, I’d head to The Charlee Lifestyle Hotel.

EAT:  Medellìn is filled with heavier and more traditional (read: arepas and empanadas) dining options than Cartagena and after a week of travel and eating out, we were ready for some variety and comfort food.

  • Cafe Zorba was our standout favorite in this city. It could have been that two weeks of travel and seafood left us craving fresh salads and something different, or it could just be that it’s exceptional in both it’s food and it’s atmosphere.  Although the cafe is large, it feels warm and cozy thanks to it’s open air upstairs patio filled with small lamps, comfortable pillow topped benches and modest tables that encourage whispered jokes and intimate laughter.  Make sure you order at least one pizza – their brick oven thin crust pies come out crispy and is certainly where they excel.
  • Although we went looking for a vegetarian restaurant that no longer existed, we ended up at the endlessly charming Peruvian fusion restaurant Tal Qual.  Themed around art, the walls are filled with color.  The restaurant is split into a number of small alcoves and rooms that makes it feel both bustling and intimate simultaneously.  Don’t skip the meat skewers or one of their pasta dishes.
  • We should have also eaten at El Cielo, but we didn’t have another three hour dinner experience in us and after a week of eating out already and the incredible eating experiences we had in Cartagena, we weren’t clamoring for food.  El Cielo has made press for it’s gastronomic creativity and is featured on most Best Of lists for both Latin and South America.  If you’re jealous of that time I went to Alinea, this is the budget option.

DRINK:

  • Drinks with a view: head up to the top of the Envy Rooftop Bar to where bartenders fun and tropical cocktails like watermelon basil margaritas while DJ’s spin tunes to accompany one of the best views in Medellìn.
  • Bonhomia is a great place to park yourself for a late afternoon snack and a drink.  The huge patio of outdoor seating and bright lights is attractive and offers great street views while you feast on platters of house-made charcuterie.  There’s a large wine list that also offers half bottles.
  • Viva Italia! had the best wine list we found in the area and although you are welcome to stash yourself on their 2nd story patio and watch the locals cruise by in their fancy shoes, they also offer all their bottles for sale in this hybrid Italian Restaraunt meets wine bar.
  • Established in 2008, 3 Cordilleras offers five craft brews in a happy hour like setting every day after 5 PM.  For about $5, you get 5 beers (beers, not tastings) and an explanation in rapidly spoken spanish about the history of the brewery and the brewing process.  We opted to skip the tour and just stick with the beers.
  • Downtown’s historic Salon Malaga is like stepping back into a time machine.  The walls are covered in memorabilia and old jukeboxes litter the floor.  The tables are filled with locals during the day who stop in to chat and drink tinto.  If you’re lucky, they have a selection of 3 Cordilleras craft brews on hand, but they stock up on Thursdays for the weekend crowds and were mostly sold out the day we were there.

EXPLORE

  • Real City Walking Tour’s free tour of the downtown area of Medellìn is a must do for every traveler.  I’d reccomend doing it on your first day in the city as their expansive four hour tour provides you with scope on the area, it’s troubled history and the Paisa culture.  The tour occurs twice a day and reservations are required.
  • Wander the lush pathways of the Botanical Garden, which feature, in addition to other things, 40 acres of exotic orchids. The entry is free.  When you’re ready for a break, stop for lunch at In Situ, where contemporary dishes are served up while you gaze out through wide open doors that leave you feeling as if you’re in the garden itself.
  • Head to the Plaza Minorista to sample Colombia’s wide range of tropical fruits.  Although you can do this by joining any number of organized tours, there’s really no reason why you can’t go on your own, as we did.  The Colombian people are incredibly kind, generous and inquisitive and they are more than ecstatic to see tourists, and gringos especially, wandering their stalls.  They were eager to chat with us, asking where we were from and why we were there and each vendor we purchased from explained the fruit and cut it open for us to sample.  Our favorite was the pitahaya, similar to an Asian dragon fruit.
  • Ride the cable car.  Medellìn’s people are incredibly proud of their metro system and in fact, it was the cleanest metro system I’ve ever seen in the world.  There wasn’t a speck of trash to be found, people never ate or drank on the subway and the cars themselves were in pristine condition.  As part of a social and economic development strategy to help revitalize the poorer areas of the city, Medellìn installed cable cars to provide connectivity to it’s massive hills.  The views are tremendous and you can get off at various stops and explore the barrios all for less than $2.

WHAT NOT TO DO

  • A Pablo Escobar Tour.  Paisas do not like this man and they do not want him immortalized or paid tribute to.  In fact, during our walking tour of the downtown area, he was the man-who-was-not-named and in discussion, we used code names to reference him as to not incite anger from nearby locals who cannot speak English and may have misinterpreted our discussion as praising him.  Escobar brought years of pain, violence and fear to this city and the memories are both recent and tragic.
Cartagena

Cartagena Travel Guide

Be still my heart.

Colombia was just named Lonely Planet’s 2nd best travel destination for 2017 and with good reason: the sheer variety of landscapes, cultures and welcoming people make it a dream travel destination.  When I met my Colombian friend Christian Cardona in Portugal this past year, he convinced me that travelling to Colombia had to be next on my list because it was the “gem of South America.”

He was not wrong.  I have fallen in love with this country again, and again, and again as I explored it the last two weeks.  Around every corner is a surprise waiting to delight you and in Cartagena this is especially true.

 Cartagena is incredibly special: it’s a place of vibrant color, late nights of dancing, romance and seafood.  It is everything I want in a vacation destination and it is clearly the backbone of Colombia’s tourist economy.  Cartagena is unbelievably charming, affordable, and engaging.  We easily spent five days in this city and never tired of wandering it’s streets.  

The humidity is off the charts in Cartagena so be prepared to drink lots of limeade and wonder why you even took a shower.  Be prepared to be wet, sweaty and hot the entire week: dance close to someone and embrace it.

Here’s some of my favorite images from our travels there and my personal mini Cartagena travel guide for navigating this beautiful city.

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STAY: You will want to stay within the city walls for it’s charming historical winding streets.  Pops of bright color, inventive door knockers and churches around every corner are steeped in old world colonialism.  There are tiny amazing restaurants tucked into every corner with incredible seafood.  We ate octopus every single day.  There are beautiful studio apartments that you get all to yourself on Airbnb for $80-160 a night in the area.  We really enjoyed our stay at Luis and Monica’s Old Town apartment.  It was a perfect and incredibly convenient location to explore from.

If you aren’t interested in the straight tourist experience, then stay in the nearby barrio of Getsemani, the burgeoning, borderline hip neighborhood that’s an equal mix of locals and ex-pats.  While the richest originally lived in the northwest corner of the walled city, this is smaller and poorer section of the original city, which now features more modest architecture but an electrifying atmosphere.  Most of the best bars and dance clubs can be found in this hood and it’s starting to fill up with hostels, airbnb options and boutique hotels such as Casa Lola.

EAT:  The most memorable places we discovered in Cartagena were intimate and featured long lists of seafood every way.  Restaurants in Cartagena open late (expect to eat after 7 PM every night), or confusingly, sometimes not at all, and reservations are usually needed, especially with large groups.

  • El Boliche chefs Oscar Colmenares and Viviana Díaz dish out incredible ceviche that honours and partners with the local fishermen.  Each meal starts with a bowl of homemade soup, a tradition in Colombia.  This place is incredibly intimate and only seats 25 – swing by and make a reservation in order to make sure you get a table.
  • La Perla is dim, stylish and comfortable.  Beat the humidity of the streets of Cartagena by stepping into this cool oasis that serves up Peruvian style ceviche and is best known for their tiraditos, thin strips of fresh tuna or sea bass.  The staff is incredibly gracious and attentive and willing to pass around the pisco sours and their wine list was one of the better ones we encountered and was filled with dry whites, reds and roses to accompany any meal.
  • One of my other favorite meals was at Carmen.  Although this restaraunt seats many in multiple different rooms or with the option of al fresco on the patio, the experience feels intimate because everyone is split up.  Our waiter did an excellent job of choosing wines and helping recommend dishes for the night.  The highlight of our meal was certainly the pez negro, a thick strip of barracuda seared in black olive oil and accompanied by raviolis filled with seafood and ricotta.  Reservations recommended.
  • Restaurante Donjuan is collected and cool.  Dishing out Basque style delights in an exquisite setting, the menu boasts a dizzying array of starters and shareable plates.  If you can’t get a table here, try it’s sister restaurant next door, Maria.

DRINK:

  • Alquimico is a new addition to Cartagena but clearly a welcome one.  Reasembling a Manhatten speakeasy, the swanky cocktail focused joint is in a two story dimly lit building and features custom cocktails prepared with local Colombian fruits.
  • Demente is a trendy, hip new staple to the Getsemani barrio and features Colombian craft beers from Bogota Beer Company and 3 Cordilleras, brilliant cocktails and a cool outdoor patio with long communal picnic tables perfect for the large group that failed to make reservations for dinner inside the walled city.  It’s clearly the place for ex-pats and tourists to be seen.
  • Cafe Havana is the local Cuban hotspot packed to the brim for those looking to salsa almost every night after 11 pM.
  • Alma Restaurante is located in the Casa San Augustin, now a boutique hotel that retains the beauty of Cartagena’s colonial architecture with it’s original frescoes and centuries-old wood-beamed ceilings.  The outdoor patio is shaded and perfect for an afternoon snack and a glass of wine.  Their list is extensive and features a fantastic selection of Spanish, Portuguese and South American vineyards.

EXPLORE:

  • Get lost over and over and over again in the streets of the walled city and Getsemani.  The vibrant colors, cascading flowers, overhanging balconies, street performers and artisanal shops supply days of endless entertainment.
  • Get your extra tourist on: Volcàn de Lodo el Totumo” is a strange 15m high volcano mound about a half hour outside of town.  Legend says that the volcano once was active but a local priest, seeing it as the work of the devil, sprinkled it with holy water and the lava miraculously turned to mud.  The mud is silky, at moments gritty, and so dense that you float effortlessly and confusingly on top.  For a mere few dollars you can pay one person to let you climb up into the mud bath, then you can pay another person to give you a questionable “massage,” and then another to carry your shoes around, and then some women to aggressively strip you down in the river afterwards and make sure your orifices are clean.  It’s preposterous and worth the $10 you spent laughing.  Don’t book a tour to do so – simply hire a car for the day to drive you out here and for double the fun, have him take you to the mangroves afterwards where you can arrange for a 30 minute kayak tour through the narrow water channels of the mangroves.
  • Hire your own personal photographer: Flytographer offers two options for photographers in Cartagena.  I love hiring my own personal photographer while on vacation – photos make exceptional souvenirs and I can’t imagine a more romantic or colorful place than Cartagena to be photographed.  I am one of Flytographer’s Lake Tahoe photographers and have utilized their services for my own personal shoots in both Bangkok, Thailand and Porto, Portugal.
  • If you visit during early November, chances are you’ll be here for Cartagena’s Independence Day celebrations when a lively atmosphere takes over the city.  Carnaval de Cartagena starts on Friday with a three hour parade started on one side of the walled city that snakes it’s way through the town.  Bands of teenagers roam the streets with disposable canisters of foam, ready and willing to offload it’s contents into the hair, heads and backs of any likely suspect.  No one is spared.  The weekend’s festivities also include Colombia’s Beauty Pageant where they elect Miss Colombia for the year.