I SPY: Colombia

Apr 30, 2015

BOGOTA + CARTAGENA: March 2015

Does Colombia automatically ring drug lords and street crime for you?  Do not be discouraged!  It has cleaned up it's act, and is now a up and coming hot destination on the radar.  If you don't believe me look what a friend forwarded me last month.  Front page of Wall Street Journal.  WOO HOO, we were right on point, living it up in Cartagena at the time!



1st stop BOGOTA:

This is the main hub.  The capital city surrounded by the mountainous Andean Peaks that keeps the weather typically cooler year round in the 60's Fahrenheit during the day and drops a notch at night.  It is known to receive quite a fair amount of rainfall too, however we didn't get a drop the three days we were there!  LUCKY.  It's a large cosmopolitan city with over 1000 neighborhoods.  Some neighborhoods we drove through were dodgy, but that shouldn't alarm you because such exists in New York too.  As in any city, be street smart, and don't walk around hoods where you don't belong and stand out like a sore thumb.  But otherwise we walked the cobbled streets of La Candelaria and Zona Rosa neighborhoods freely day and night, and never felt unsafe or inhibited.  It actually reminded me a lot of Buenos Aires in Argentina.

SEE + DO:

CATEDRAL DE SAL:
The Salt Cathedral of Zipaquira is a must!  It is about 45 minutes outside the city and is amazing.  An underground cathedral carved out of salt that lies 190 meters below the ground.  There are regular one  hour long guided tours that walk you through the 13 stages of Jesus fateful day.  Besides the granite floor that was recently replaced, the whole cathedral is 95% salt.  Real salt.  I licked the walls so I know!  What?  The guide said complimentary licks, so I had to try to make sure it's legit!  HA.





GRAFFITI TOUR:
This city has some fantastic street graffiti.  I got a taste of it driving around.  However if you have time, take the graffiti tour to learn and see more.  I wish I had time to do that instead of taking my own tour from the back of a taxi cab!





MUSEO BOTERO:
The world famous Colombian artist known for his big butts and voluptuous women Fernando Botero houses many of his great works here.  Even though the two floors of this museum is mainly Botero's works, you will also find several works of Picasso, Chagall, Monet and Miro and a few other famous artists at this museum.  Worth the visit.





PLAZA DE BOLIVAR:
A big square where you will find many things happening outside the 1823 Primatial Cathedral of Bogota.  Camel and Llama rides, acrobats, fruit and balloon sellers and a heck load of pigeons that thankfully did not poop on my head when flying by in huge masses.  HA.  I'm still baffled where they suddenly all emerged from!




EAT:
The local food is so YUM.  You've got to try their empanadas.  You will find them sold everywhere.  These are yuca empanadas we picked up on the street.  I miss it!



A Bogota specialty dish is Ajiaco Santafereno.  Chicken soup with corn, avocado, capers, dash of cream served with rice.  We ordered it from room service as our midnight snack when we arrived!



Another specialty of Bogota that you must experience is Chocolate Con Queso.  Hot chocolate with cheese.  Weird I know, but not bad at all.  To be honest I didn't really taste the cheese.  Maybe it has to grow on you after a few trys!



Fruit is in abundance in this country.  Stock up on the freshness and taste the sweetness.  I became addicted to the local fruit Siruela.  It's the tiny green guava - apple crunchy things.  Not really sure what it was, but it was good.  That and the mango I couldn't stop snacking on.




- ANDRES CARNES DE RES
On the way back from the salt cathedral stop by this mad house for a meal.  Or go for dinner, and check out the supposedly very happening table dancing night scene!  It has a flea market decor, naked mannequins hanging from the ceilings, lots of eye candy and knick knacks all over the sprawling restaurant.  Their menu is extensive.  We ate so much!  The plantain stuffed with cheese, chicharron, tamales, steak, beans, and rice put us in serious food coma after.  If you still have room you can have a cup of Chocolate Con Queso for dessert.  They serve it!







Andres Carnes De Res
Calle 82 No. 12-21

- CLUB COLOMBIA
Local fare.  Go crazy on the BBQ.  Why not eat another serving of steak, rice and beans?  The kids and I can't get enough of it so were happy to!  Great restaurant recommended by our hotel, that had good quality food, and ambience.



Club Colombia
Av 82 No. 9-11

SLEEP:
We stayed at the Sofitel Bogota Victoria Regia.  It's a quaint boutique hotel.  Not huge and overly lush, but a homey feeling five star hotel, full service, classic lobby with modern rooms, and the staff were very kind and helpful.  It is in the neighborhood of La Cabrera Zona T.  Walking distance to many great restaurants and designer shopping.  If it's any consolation the Four Seasons is soon opening a hotel right next door.  So you got to believe location is prime, but with a cheaper price tag then a Four Seasons room!



Sofitel Bogota Victoria Regia
Carrera 13 #85-80 Cundinamarca
Bogota
T: (+57) 646.6390
website

2nd stop CARTAGENA:
An hour away by plane from Bogota and you can land in this lovely city along the Caribbean coast.  In some ways it reminded me of Havana, Cuba.  Just no old cars and the architecture in Cartagena was not as ornate as of Havana.  But the cobbled streets, colorful homes, street life and cheerful locals rang some familiarity.







SEE + DO:

CAFE DEL MAR:
An outdoor lounge with a happening happy hour because of the gorgeous views of the sunset.  Walk along the old city wall that will lead you to this lounge with a DJ, cocktails and lounge beds.



EL TOTUMO MUD VOLCANO:
You can skip everything else in Cartagena, but you MUST do this!  It's nothing swanky.  Essentially a mud bath you dip into, where people massage you, and you have lots of laughs trying to stay straight up because your extremely buoyant in the mud.  After about 15 minutes you climb out and walk down to a lagoon where you wash off.  My lil' guy unfortunately at first sight immediately opted out because he couldn't handle the idea of getting dirty.  Ugh.  Not for everyone, but I say still do it just for the experience and memories that will last forever!





ROSARIO ISLANDS:
If you want a beach then everyone recommends Rosario Islands, about one hour away by speed boat.  Our concierge arranged for us to go on a day package that included hotel pick up and return, boat ride, lounge beds on beach, and lunch.  It was in affiliation with Gente de Mar Resort Hotel.  To be honest I wasn't highly impressed.  Yes I'm a beach snob!  But the stretch of beach was less then half a mile so it felt crowded, and the water wasn't anything to rave about.  Honestly the local beach in Cartagena which was a 10 minute drive from our hotel could of served the purpose for my kids to have a chance to play in the sand.  I felt like we didn't need to trek that far, and would of been happier staying at the hotel pool.  Especially after our disastrous boat ride home.  Let me fore warn you... Spring is windy season and the waters are extremely choppy.  The boat ride going there in the morning was fine.  In the late afternoon returning back to land I thought we were going to die!  No exaggeration.  We were jumping waves in that speed boat, my belly was in my throat, I had to hold on to my boys for dear life thinking they were going to fly out of the boat, and we were all soaking wet by the time we reached land.  Life jackets were given to everyone, but the boat really needed to have seat belts!  REALLY.  Just keep that in mind and be prepared to brave a roller coaster ride if you decide to go.






SHOP:

- SILVIA TCHERASSI BOUTIQUE
A local designer who had worthy fashion forward accessories and clothing that met my NY standards!  I bought one of her pretty beaded friendship bracelets.



- STREET MARKET
Inside the square outside our hotel door there was a nightly bazaar flea market set up.  These beads and bag were my best finds.




EAT:

- DEMENTE TAPAS BAR
Venture outside the wall to this hip neighborhood Getsemani for some good tapas.  It's across the Plaza square and church, so also serves as a good people watching spot.



Demente Tapas Bar
Plaza de la Trinidad

- JUAN DEL MAR PIZZERIA
If you get tired of local Spanish food and need a change in taste this popular place serves good pizza and pasta.  It gets crowded early, and they may tell you there is a wait.  But a secret - they have a cozy open roof top with a few tables.  Ask!



Juan Del Mar Pizzeria
Calle Plaza de San Diego

- LA CEVICHERIA
A seafood restaurant most popular for their Ceviche.  Anthony Bourdain known from Top Chef raved about it.  I do too!  We ate there 2 times during our stay because it was that good!  Must try the Limonada Coco too.  DELISH.




La Cevicheria
Calle Stuart No 7-14

- LA MULATA
Serves local Caribbean food for lunch and dinner.  Unfortunately was closed for Easter holidays when we were there.  But isn't there sign cute?  Have read great reviews on this place, and bummed we missed out on it.



La Mulata
Calle Quero No 9 - 58

- LA PALETTERIA
A famous place for it's gourmet popsicles.  You will find a rainbow of flavors.  Tough decisions!  If you like they can dip it in chocolate for you.  But I just went with just a plain popsicle filled with tropical fresh chunks of fruit.  Super refreshing.



La Paletteria
Calle 109 No. 16 - 11

SLEEP:
We stayed at another Sofitel joint.  Much larger then the Bogota boutique size hotel.  More of a open air resort vibe like a hotel lay out you would find in Hawaii.  The colonial architecture and arches in the lobby surround a beautiful lush court yard filled with foliage and birds which is meditative to have a drink or breakfast by.  The hotel staff were top notch, especially the concierge who were on the ball.  Ambience was kid friendly.  Location is in the heart of the old city, walkable to everything, which made life very convenient with kids in tow.  Excuse my bed hair at our 7am departure!  But had to take a photo with our Manny's before we left!  Good memories.



Hotel Sofitel Santa Clara
Plaza de San Diego
Calle Del Torno 39 - 29
Cartagena
T: (+57) 5/6504700
website

I heart Colombia.  An over dose of photos to prove it!  Check out my Instagram page @ispycandyblog if you want to see more snap shots from our fun trip.  Except for our insane boat ride experience, I have nothing bad to say about this country!  Food was amazing, people were friendly, culture was welcoming, so much charm, and it was fairly cheap to enjoy the good life there.  So happy I finally made it!  For so many years I've been desperate to go, but kept putting it on the back burner because people kept looking at me like I had two heads every time I said I wished to venture there!  But I'm glad I over came my fear of it being too dangerous.  I didn't feel I was at risk at all.  Now that I know better, I plan to return soon to explore the other parts of the country.  The city of Medelin and Cali for sure is on my hit list.  Stay tuned for the next visit...The Crazies Do Colombia: Part 2!


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