When I arrived at El Dorado International Airport in Bogotá, I immediately spotted the official tourism banner which read, “Colombia: the only risk is wanting to stay”. Short and sweet, the statement could not have been truer. The Republic of Colombia is located in northwestern region of South America and is known for its coffee and flowers. The nation is rich in culture from the coastal cities of Cartagena and Santa Marta to the inland cities of Bogotá and Medellin. 2,400 miles away from home, over the course of 10 days I was able to explore and live a true Colombian experience.
Bogotá, the capital city, is bustling and full of life. It holds a variety of modern shopping malls, an assortment of restaurants, as well as features its traditional history. The roads of the capital city are strategically ordered by numbers making navigation easy even for a tourist.
My cultural experience began in Monserrate, the mountain that dominates the city which is accessible by a funicular leaving me directly at the top revealing a full view of the city and its surroundings. It has a deep history of pilgrimage with a beautiful church at the top. Visiting the site on a sunny Sunday afternoon I was able to sit on the church steps listening to music, snacking on a traditional caramel wafer (Oblea), while enjoying the breathtaking views of Bogotá.
La Candelaria– the old city center featured the famous Colombian Gold Museum as well as the Botero art museum. Both sites are within walking distance and provide free admission on Sundays. Strolling through the area gave me time to explore the area and see the presidential palace, feed pigeons in Plaza Bolivar, and sip on a traditional Juan Valdez coffee (I refer to it as the “Colombian Starbucks”).
On a weekend, the party sets off at night in the capital. Heading to la Zona Rosa one can find a range of restaurants featuring foods from all around the world. For a true Colombian experience, I was directed to Club Colombia. The restaurant served delicious traditional Colombian dishes and had a distinct design, located in a renovated antique home. Recommendations include typical empanadas, ajiaco, tamales, and of course a chilled Club Colombia (national beer).
Walking through the area I approached La Zona T (T zone). The pedestrian, T-shaped street is lined with bars and clubs allowing for an entertaining night out. Andres Carne de Res is just around the corner, and made for a fantastic night in the town. The restaurant-bar-club featured five floors of Latin music, food and drinks. Here I met both locals and foreigners and was greeted by carnival-inspired decorations complete with waiters in costumes. Reggaeton, Vallenato, Merengue, Salsa, and even international top hits were blasting in “Andres” allowing for a dancing-night out.
* Beware: you may be greeted by free tequila shots at the entrance adding to the craziness.
Back on the road on a direct Avianca flight (the official Colombian airline) I was headed to the coastal city of Cartagena. The city is composed of two main areas the city features Boca Grande– the modern shopping district which reminds me of Miami, and second the Ciudad Amurallada (walled old city).
Staying at a beautiful colonial home in the heart of the walled city I explored all the small picturesque streets the old city has to offer and shopped through traditional markets. My purchases include crafted bracelets, as well as a local Colombian knitted bag called a Mochila.
Apart from enjoying the pool and views offered by staying at a house in the walled city, I ventured outwards to the islands off the coast. Arriving early at the port, I set out by boat to the Isla Barú and after a 45 minute boat ride I arrived at Playa Blanca. On the island I was greeted by turquoise water, soft sand, and happy locals. The 30 USD fee for my boat transportation also included a typical Costeño plate of fresh fried fish, coconut rice, salad, and tostones (fried plantain chips). Needless to say, after a delicious lunch my afternoon consisted of napping on the beach and swimming in the crystal water.
Once again, it was time to check out the party scene in Cartagena and what better way than by taking a traditional Chiva (party bus). Hoping on the bus we were taken through all the major neighborhoods of Cartagena while listening to traditional music played by musicians on board. Traditional Colombian liquor called Agua Ardiente (translated to fire water) was a key feature of the open bar. As the Chiva passed the walls of the old city we made a stop to climb the fortified walls and dance to live music. While dancing on the wall I could clearly see the old city on my right and to my left the breathtaking view of the Cartagena coast. Locals and foreigners, we were all dancing together. An hour of dancing left us all hungry and ready to try the traditional Arepa de Huevo (egg roll) offered once we boarded the bus. As we enjoyed the energy snack the Chiva continued towards a second club where we would conclude the night.
A trip to Cartagena cannot be complete without a visit to Cafe del Mar. The picturesque cafe is located atop the Old City wall and is most popular during the late afternoon. After a long day it is the ideal place to relax and have a drink while looking over at the sunset along the coast.
Colombia was an incredible Spring Break destination providing relaxation as well as adventure.
Gracias Colombia, hasta la proxima!
* A recap of my experience in Colombia would not be complete without the following top Latin hits whose catchy melodies I continue to replay on my iTunes.
Limbo- Daddy Yankee
Pasarela- Daddy Yankee
Para Ti- Pasabordo
Te Pintaron Pajaritos- Yandar y Yostin
Hipnotizame- Wisin y Yandel
By Alessia Marsiglio