Colombia has been getting a lot of attention lately in the travel sphere, popping up on numerous must visit lists for next year and even being named as one of Afar magazine’s most provocative destinations for 2015. With it’s incredible people, ridiculously impressive scenery and stunning coastline, Colombia makes a fantastic destination that we at BSA recommend hands down!
And where better to start exploring the culture and food of Colombia than in the eclectic capital, Bogotá? Knowing what to budget for this confusing country, where the travel industry is still in it’s infancy, can be a tricky thing – so here’s Alicia Lauhon with tips for planning a trip to suit any budget.
The Colombian capital has a bad reputation, but it’s actually a colonial gem, offering parklife, people-watching, great graffiti and lots of gold.” Wanderlust Magazine.
Spending money on travel is a very personal thing. Some people cherish a good nights sleep and will splurge on an upscale hotel, others value time and hire cars or taxis instead of public transportation, and some will use the money saved on a hostel to spend on a meal. Here are a variety of options from budget to splurge and everything in between. Pick a la cart to create the travel experience that is best for you.
1) Check to see if there are any major holidays while you will be in Bogotá. Many places, such as museums will be closed or have limited hours during these times.
2) Taxi: Download TAAPSI app for Colombia for reliable safe taxis.
What to Do
In a city of almost 8 million people there are numerous things available in Bogotá but these are some highlights that can give you a good sense of the city and its surrounding areas.
La Candelaria – Free. The historic section of Bogotá is home to beautiful colonial architecture, churches, shops and museums. Walk around and discover! As with any city be vigilant about your security and after dark you should take a cab and/or go out with a group.
Museums: Don’t miss the Museo Botero (free) and the Museo del Oro ($3, Free on Sundays)
Churches: Numerous with the Santa Clara Cathedral in Plaza Bolivar the most iconic.
Cerro de Monserrate – About $8 roundtrip with funicular, free to walk the 2-kilometre path. Don’t forget you are at a very high elevation so it will be harder to breathe. Climbing up in the 40-person cable car provides a wonderful view of the houses on the mountainside. You can feel the air get a little crisper and the traffic sounds fade as you ascend. Construction of the church at the top began in 1640 and hundreds make the pilgrimage to this important landmark. Mass is also held regularly.
The following are considered a splurge due to the time involved getting there from Bogotá and mode of transportation needed.
Salt Cathedral of Zipaquira – About $10 adults, $7.00 for children, children 4 and under are free. This is an underground church built in a salt mine in the town of Zipaquirá 47 kilometers outside of Bogotá. Mine tours and many other attractions are available. including .
La Calera – Located 16 kilometres outside of Bogotá this is a favourite escape of Bogotanos to get some fresh air and explore some green space. Weekends will be less crowed. More information here.
Coffee Triangle – The coffee farms of Colombia are a UNESCO World Heritage Landscape and offer some of the most stunning scenery in Colombia. There are three areas that make up the coffee region Quindío, Caldas and Risaralda. Take a coffee tour to learn about the planting, harvesting, milling and tasting process. You will need book a flight from Bogotá to the region (Avianca and LAN offer flights).
Where to Stay
Here are some options in different neighborhoods, price ranges and amenities.
– Zona G is in a safe and quiet neighborhood with bars and restaurants a couple blocks away. They encourage interaction with a shared terrace and a large dining room. Computer zone, laundry and travel desk.
There are many cheap hostels in La Candelaria neighbourhood where you can save money in your travel budget, however, make sure you are aware of what security they have in place and where it is located as there are some blocks that are not safe after dark.
– Located in the financial district and close to Zona G and Parque 93. A huge breakfast buffet is included and access to the Executive Lounge with free food and drink for Marriot card gold members. This is particularly handy as you can drop in whenever you want for something to drink (water, beer, wine, juice, coffee, cocktails) and food (crackers/cheese, salad, veggies, rice dishes, meat dishes, variety of desserts). Excellent service, luxury rooms, spa, indoor pool and Jacuzzi. Long term stay packages available
– Luxury boutique hotel in La Cabrera neighborhood steps from shopping, dining, bars and clubs. BOG has won interior design and architecture awards and mixes décor based on gold and emeralds with handcrafted items made by Colombian artisans. 24-hour security, gym, pool, terrace bar and Wi-Fi among other services.
What to Eat
Food is an important part of any city culture. Be sure to try at least a few of the local favourites such as aijiaco, empanadas and Chocolate Santafereño. Where you do this will determine your price.
La Puerta de la Tradición – Next door to the famous La Puerta Falsa and serves up one of the most iconic Bogotano snack: chocolate santafereño (or chocolate completo). Piping hot chocolate with a chunk of white cheese to drown in the chocolate and served with buttered toast. You can also get ajiaco a thick soup that has 3 types of Andean potatoes, chicken, sour cream, avocado and a corn called Cuzco. The soup is also made with an herb called guascas. Colombian comfort food at its finest
Mall restaurants – The restaurants in the malls are very good and the portions are huge.
– This is a chain restaurant that provides “fast” healthy food. Something you should definitely try is the insanely refreshing drink called limonada de yerbabuena. Made with lime juice, mint, sugar, water and ice. It’s a slushy paradiso. Besides sweet and savory crepes the menu has pitas, ice cream drinks, bread bowls and wine. If you have to eat at a chain, this is the one.
– Basically four (five?) levels of party serving lots of meat and traditional Colombian cuisine. Imagine Mardi Gras plus New Year’s Eve and throw in some serious rumba music and you have Andrés D.C. the sister restaurant to the original party institution Andres Carne de Res in Chia about thirty minutes outside of Bogotá. High-energy party vibe and sensory overload is what you will experience. Not for your every day but definitely the place for a celebration.
Bringing something home for yourself or as a gift is a great reminder of your travels. Room in your pack, authenticity, weight, price and ability to travel well are all factors in considering souvenirs.
Photographs – Pictures from your travels are great since they only take up space on your camera and are original. Print them out when you return home.
Sweets – Who doesn’t like getting candy? Jet chocolate is the most famous brand in Colombia.
Aguardiente – Colombia’s variation is made with anise-flavoured liqueur and tastes similar to Sambuca. You can buy it in juice box size cartons if you are short on room or in bottles. It comes with sugar or without and the general consensus is sin azúcar (without sugar) is better.
Coffee – Everyone knows Colombia is home to some of the best coffee in the world so this gift is a no-brainer.
Send your souvenir from Bogotá so you don’t have to take room in your pack or worry about travelling with it.
Emeralds – Colombia is the leading exporter of emeralds in the world and there are many shops in Bogotá selling emeralds. Make sure you do your homework on size, color, purity, and brilliance. If staying at a high-end hotel the concierge should be able to guide you.
About the Author
This post was written by Alicia Lauhon, the blogger behind Alicia Tastes Life.
Alicia has been passionate about food, travel and all things cultural from an early age, saying “I feel connected on a global level to people. I came to the US as a baby, grew up Midwestern, added a splash of Californian and have tasted life on five continents.”
Alicia loves to discover places where she can connect with people through food, music, art etc. Especially food, as nothing makes her happier than experiencing a good meal: “I’ve never had a good meal that hasn’t inspired great conversation, ideas, laughter and lasting memories… To life, love and great food!”