I have to admit, I have a little crush on the entire country of Colombia. It's hard to dislike the people, endlessly kind and effortlessly smiling through all sorts of weather - the rainy and cloudy cool climate of the capital, Bogota and the extreme heat of Cartagena on the Caribbean Coast. As a country that's been through a lot - namely a five-decade-long conflict between government forces and anti-government insurgent groups - this drug-fueled conflict that escalated during the 1990s and their seemingly endless streak of strikingly beautiful beauty pageant queens is traditionally what put Colombia on the map. But now, in 2016... it's emerging out of its cocaine-fueled dark ages sunnier than ever. It's only time for the world to know. It's time for Colombia's debut party.
Colombia isn't traditionally the first place that jumps to mind when people think of a peaceful vacation, but I feel like it's incredibly underrated.
The reasons I find traveling to Colombia being such a good idea right now include the following:
Colombia's capital lies in a mountainous region in the Eastern Cordillera of the Andes. It is the third highest capital in South America (after La Paz and Quito), at an average of 2,640 metres (8,660 ft) above sea level. The weather is cool and often rainy year round so people don't leave their homes without carrying an umbrella. The weather makes for very interesting clouds. A jacket is definitely needed and some wear winter jackets all year round.
We stayed at the Sofitel Reina Victoria in the center of an upscale neighborhood that was conveniently located within walking distance to many restaurants and shops as well as the nightlife of Parque 93. This is important, especially in Bogota because the traffic is so awful. There are modes of alternative transportation like bikes or the recently introduced superbuses that have their own lanes... But overall, it takes longer than you want to get from one part of town to the other.
Within walking distance from the hotel are restaurants boasting different cuisines - Italian, Thai and many others. We settled at a place called Central Cevicheria and were extremely happy with our food.
One of my favorite things we did was waking up super early and heading to Plaza de Paloquemao, a fresh flower and fruit market. Colombia is one of the world's largest exporters of flowers so the number of different flower species we encountered was quite overwhelming... I've never seen bales of sunflowers being carted around before.
After the flowers, we made our way to the market section of the plaza and ate our way around - tasting fresh Colombian fruit and avocados. I love the avocados there! They are ginormous and not at all like the ones you see in the states, which are predominantly of the Haas varietal. I had mine with a little bit of lime and salt and that was basically my breakfast.
Colombia is also abundant in good coffee... You can find it everywhere... literally. The best and popular Colombian brands are Juan Valdez and Cafe San Alberto. I was able to get coffee from a street vendor for 2000 pesos (less than USD1) in a plastic cup - really delicious coffee too so I was happily caffeinated. Although there was a minute I feared that my little plastic cup would melt and the boiling coffee would burn my hands. Thank goodness it didn't!
We also visited La Candelaria, a cobblestoned town square that houses colonial-era landmarks like the neoclassical performance hall Teatro Colón and the 17th-century Iglesia de San Francisco. It's also home to popular museums including the Museo Botero, showcasing Fernando Botero's art.
A city full of an artistic vibe, you don't need to go to museum to see some interesting pieces. The city walls are full of graffiti by phenomenally talented artists.
Another cool thing we did was go up a funicular (tram) to Monserrate for a beautiful view of the city.
And then we had lunch at Casa Vieja, a very traditional Colombian restaurant that felt like we were dining in someone's home.
Nestled on the Caribbean coast of Colombia, this seaside city has a completely different vibe to Bogota. It's warm for one and incredibly laid back.
The walled city of Cartagena is a very charming colonial town with a lot of shopping, restaurants, live music, and the town comes alive at night with dancing. It has such a quaint Spanish-colonial feel with 16th century plazas, cobblestone streets with colonial buildings donning bright Caribbean colors. It's also quite romantic and you can also tour around town in a horse drawn carriage.
I stayed within the walls of the Old Town, at the Sofitel Legend Santa Clara in Cartagena, one of the only five star hotels within the walled part of the city. The 123 room hotel is very historic and absolutely beautiful. Originally opened as a convent in the 1600s, this is one of the most beautiful hotels I've ever stayed at. With a lush courtyard and a beautiful pool, I could have spent days just lounging within the hotel grounds. You can also take a leisurely morning stroll around the city on the wall itself.
If you prefer a smaller boutique hotel, Bovedas de Santa Clara has only 18 rooms and is right next door and you also have access to the pool and spa at the Sofitel Santa Clara.
Service in general is very good in Colombia. The people are naturally very friendly and nice. Sometimes overly enthusiastic! The food very good, although I'm not a big fan of the way Colombians have their ceviche with mayo and ketchup but there are also several Peruvian style ceviche places in town that were really delicious. Also to try is the Caribbean lobster here - a bit more tender and sweeter than their Atlantic kin.
The beaches that are right by the city of Cartagena aren't the nicest but if you want beautiful white sand, then you should do a day trip to the Rosario islands - those beaches are beautiful. You can choose to spend a night on the islands as well.
I also took some salsa lessons and learned the difference between Colombian salsa and other types of salsa... apparently, Colombian salsa is much faster in tempo than Cuban or Puerto Rican salsa. And apparently, according to my salsa instructor, Colombians find the other types of salsa quite boring. She definitely kept me on my toes... literally!
Like many tropical destinations such a Mexico, Belize or Thailand, mangroves are aplenty. A short drive out of the center of Cartagena, away from the touristic hub-bub, you can jump into a colorful hand-carved wooden kayak and make your way through Colombian mangroves and the sleepy fishing villages to watch local fisherman catch the seafood that you would have for lunch. The water is literally knee deep water so if you fall in, you definitely will survive. Once overboard, all you would need to do is stand up and step back into your kayak. You'll be a little wet but that is welcoming given how hot the weather is.
Colombia is a beautiful, magical country populated with seriously friendly people. It's a place that I definitely can't wait to have you explore. I would love to book your Colombian adventure for you!
The perks with booking with me are as a Virtuoso Travel Agent, I'll be able to get you special upgrades, daily full breakfasts, massages or food and beverage credits (depending on the property) as well as complimentary late check in and check out. These are perks that you can't get yourself online.
Please use the form below to get in touch with me and we can schedule a phone call to discuss your needs. I can't wait to help you plan the best vacation ever!
Fly into El Dorado Int'l (BOG)
Rafael Núñez Int'l (CTG)
Sofitel Victoria Reina (Bogota)
Sofitel Legend Santa Clara (Cartagena)
Walk on the city's old walls in Cartagena
by Patricia Serrano