My most recent adventure was a two week trip to Colombia. I purchased tickets for it literally one week before I even had interviews non-the-less a job. I flew into Cartagena, stayed two days, then flew to Bogotá, stayed a night in transit to La Macarena to make sure my goal/dream on Caños was met. I stayed in La Macarena for 4 days and then headed back to Bogotá staying three whole days there. From there it was a bus to Medellín for three days and then a bus back to Cartagena only to catch my flight home (aka Panama).
Cartagena, the very safe and very touristy city is very picturesque and beautiful with it´s walled old city, many tucked away plazas, colorful buildings, and views of the open sea. It is a great place to relax, wander, shop for knick-knacks, eat, drink, dance, people watch, and just take in and enjoy what it has to offer. It is by no means a cheap city. It is a very hot city so I say it is more of a wander then find some plaza, eat some fruit or an AC shop! Walk the city wall in the AM or evening and do the castle in the AM also. Other than that, go out at night and in the evenings. People watching at its best and if one street is busy try another direction it is likely calmer. Dancing and clubs are great, check out Fidels (chill for having a few drinks and salsa) in the Old city or go to Getsemaní, calle Media Luna, for the discos. Getsemaní day and night was my favorite part. It was more of an awe at every turn (day). Night well, it is just fun!
You can also go to Bocagrande in the day for beach time and coool down! It is more residential and high end but it works, there is fruit there too! Sunset you should be on the wall, specifically at or around Cafe del Mar. All is walkable in this city and safe at night…well Getsemaní might be better in group or at least using the main roads, no short cutting street! Cartagena is a very important city historically too. It was settled by the Spanish and well built to protect the new motherland. The Castle San Felipe is the largest fort in Latin America. The city is strategically the first port of entry to the main land and is kind of why Spanish exists and English does not in Latin America. Long story short, the British came to invade Cartagena and move inward but lost the battle at this fort with the Spanish after days of battle at sea, sickness, and death. Cartagena´s small population defended the city and the entry of the British into Latin America. The End. Short e Airport and Bus in Cartagena
TIPS: To go by taxi to the airport tell them you want to go to Crespo, then when there you can ask them to drop you off outside the airport…from the main street it is a one block walk to airport…cost 6 to 7 Thousand pesos…10 to 12 to the airport by taxi. Airport from town is like 15 minutes. There is also a bus outside the wall. Neither is much, so do as you please. The bus terminal is close to the centro but it is not close to the airport…fyi. Taxi is 20min, 40 by local bus.
Bogotá, I stayed with a friend I met in Brazil and hungout with some family friends during the day. My university friends were not in town although I have quite a few contacts in Bogotá! If you don´t know people, I think most stay in La Candelaria, pretty happening place or maybe Usaquen. Bogotá is a large modern-ish city, some 8 million people and it has numbered streets North and South all the way into the 200s. Avenues are what they call Carerra and also have numbers up unto the 200s too! Addresses are the Calle whatever then número whatever then the house number. So I stayed at Calle 145 número 17…aka número is the Carerra! The first night (not the pass through to La Macarena) it was raining so my friend took me around the city to see the main areas, Usaquen (the city that was swallowed by Bogotá over the last 20 years – Bogatá is ever expanding, it will likely eat more cities) I liked, it has a nice plaza and cute streets surrounding it with restaurants, bars, and some shopping. Weekends and Holidays there is a street fair worth checking out!
We also went to Calle 82 or zona rosa, shopping district, fancy shopping…there are like three malls (or maybe it was 4) almost connected and huge. Here is Andres D.C. – the best mojito and meats in town, the original location is in Chía outside of the city on the way to Catedral de Sal (should you drive). The other área we went to is the hillside called La Calera. La Calera is where you go to see the sweeping views of the city at night and have a canelazo, hot sugar water, which is actually pretty good….Some people put cheese in it…we did (it was fine)…they really like cheese in Colombia and Pineapple! You can do this on the roadside or in a bar/restaurant on the hill…we opted for the restaurant considering the rain.
No car? take the bus or a taxi! Taxis are cheap I paid 12 dollars to go from the airport to my friends house, by no means close! The rest of the city is accessible via bus or Transmilenio (bus that acts as a metro)…I used it plenty. Traffic is pretty bad here…there is a bike culture here through…they have really good routes too, called cicloruta! Many use in the cicloruta in the morning…remember though drivers are still learning about us bikers in South America…be careful…in the centro you can use bikes for free during the day using your passport (forgot mine at home…aka friends home) to explore the city…nice.
DON´T Forget this is a high altitude city though, over (2,500 meters) 8,000 feet. You shouldn´t have any altitude sickness just by coming here but don´t exercise in excess…aka do a short run or slow bike ride and you wont regret it. Sundays much of Bogotá closes and it becomes ciclovia, roads closed to cars for more than 2 million people to exercise between 7am to 2pm!! SO NEXT TIME! Reminder, It will be harder to climb stairs and hills though!!! Note: Being high up means Bogotá is cold and rainy, sun is powerful if present though…bring the right clothes and note heaters don´t always exist! My family probably remembers Chile in winter :P!
My other two days I did sight seeing. I went to two museum, the Museo de Oro (gold) the best about gold in the world and largest collection of artifacts I believe. Then the Museo de Botero, which I talked about in my other entry. Oro costs and takes like 3 hours or so, guides help but only do one section. Botero is free and takes an hour or so. They are relatively close by to each other. I did not go to others. I figure I will leave something for the next trip as I am almost positive I will return (maybe for work). At the Oro there is a lot to learn about the stories behind it, how it was found, crafted, importance, etc. Also they talk about the local tribes in Colombia. Here I learned about the Legend of the Dorado, where a cacique (who at elected via previous cacique family lineage, at age 9 he leaves to live alone for 9 years and learns how to be leader) at 18 he takes a boat to the middle of a lake to bath himself and make offerings to the gods. He pours honey over his body and covers it with gold powder and dresses with gold and emerald jewelry. In the middle of the lake he bathes himself and gives the gold as offerings. This story encouraged my friends to take me to this lake to receive its spiritual energy.
My last day in Bogota was spent visiting with friends the Laguna de Guatavita to feel the energy in person. We also visited a salt mine, called Cathedral of Salt in the cute town of Zipaquirá (underground). You can arrive by train, or head to the North End of Bototá via Transmilenio to the bus terminal (portal norte) there and bus over. It is worth checking out BECAUSE this mine was designed by an architect to be a cathedral, church. Inside, each pit dug is a station of the cross…sculpted out of salt. Then you get to the dome, we had someone sing, que especial :D, from there you can overlook the nave and altar. You go down another floor to see it, check the cross from above and then from below…notice anything different? There are also in the cathedral lower level two side naves and 4 massive pillars…for looks only.
..it is not supporting you 200 m (650 ft) below the earth…no worries. Also here is a light show…think Fremont street in Vegas…
Medellín was my last stop of the trip and my most anticipated stop besides Caños mainly for the artist Fernando Botero. Again here I stayed with my friend who I met while studying in Chile. Her and her family live in a barrio popular and were super welcoming and amazing located. The bus station was like a 15 minute walk, the metro 10 minutes, Botanical garden and Parque explorer, Norte and one other educational museum. These parks were safe to take photos and be in at night. Past there not so much. Medellín is the only city with a metro which is funny because it is smaller than Bogotá (Medellín is at 2-3 million). Their metro is uber clean and super cool because Medellín is hilly, it has 3 metrocables or gondolas that act as the metro for the hills! SO COOL! We went up two…each had four or 5 stations. Medellín´s temperature is great, temperate, somewhat cool at night!
Note, in the past, Medellín was a very dangerous city, it was headquarters of the famous narcotrafficking cocaine boss Pablo Escobar (now dead) and like 20 years ago was the city with the highest homicide rate in the world. Medellín has come a long way since then and it is quite safe! There are areas still for sure but they too have improved. For instance, on one metrocable you can go to la Biblioteca de España (Library of Spain, donated by Spain…very cool design, great views, lots to read)…in the neighborhood Santo Domingo, it is still bad but much, much better. You can tell by the increase in cops and size of guns just at the metro station! The library is easy to access though and a nice trip…further along that metrocable line is a park also worth visiting for hiking and picnicking. About Library
In Medellin´s centro we went to a lots of museum, went to Parque explorer´s aquarium for local fishies, a science fair, and other sciency things. Botanical garden…better in August when they have the flower festival. Medellín is a flower city, famous for orchids (well actually it is considered the capital of mountains), recommend a visit if you are there in summer…free. From there took the metro into town. Went to see the rightly named Plaza Botero…safe in this plaza for fotos, not outside. Safe to walk around except toward the Cathedral on Sundays (other side of the metro line)…generally sketchy…we walked from there along the pedestrian street of fake goods toward the city hall and intelligent building. Once in the open plaza (off to the right) with lots of poles it is again safe all the way up until the intelligent building or plaza descalzado (barefoot park…literally a park to take off your shoes and walk in dirt and then clean them…ok….awesome! Restaurants here also). In general, a very modern city as I felt walking around…besides the never ending brick homes…but that to me gave Medellín character…brick homes with tiled roofs up into the hillsides. At night we went to a local traditional version of maybe a singing poetry slam/beat boxing….two people (generally men) had a theme each and were to make sentences one after another but the trick was to end the first sentence with a word and then the other had to take the word and use it or end with it…or at least that is what I gathered…some were comical…I know for sure the comedian at the intermission was funny.
The next day we did a family trip to this huge rock in a town by some lakes 2 hours away. The drive out there was so pretty. Those in the car, very funny and happy. The rock is near Peñol and Guatapé. It is this random stone that is similar to those found in RIO but few others exist or no others exist in Colombia. There are stairs built to climb to the top, now concrete and there are two, one up, one down, the old ones used to be wooden. You pay then climb to the top and at the top you climb a mirador…in total some 740 stairs. It is not bad, I did it without stopping (I feel like this is where Maegan is laughing at me and saying no one listen to her it was not easy, her scale is different – ja ja). At your own discretion entonces!
The view from the top was excellent, a never ending view of little lakes, trees, and water. The mix between the water´s color, trees, and natural earth was beautiful. We had a great time but then came rain, we had packed a lunch, so we headed to Guatapé to look for a place to eat, we found the perfect spot, at the end of town before the bridge a covered picnic table with a great view…we settled in and enjoyed :D. From there, the day was still young and we went to a town on the way back called San Antonio known for its deserts and church. Lots of people were there because it was a three day weekend. Very cute town, we had a sweet and I shopped for a purse….other than that we did nothing…we did see the church too.
Forgot to mention, in the morning my friend and I went to a museum in the former house of the artist, a huge house right by her´s (huge because he had 8 kids!). The house was of artist Pedro Nel Goméz famous for his murals around the city depicting the culture of the natives and future of Medellín. The road leading up to this museum is filled with art on the walls, pretty cool, take note. If you do not go to this museum, although free, his works can be found in the Museo de Antioquia (Antioquia is the state where Medellín sits) which you should see! Museo de Antioquía cost $5 usd and has the art of Fernando Botero, it is located in Plaza Botero. Keep in mind this museum was the former city hall so murals are placed in areas for reasons. I went to Museo Antioquía my last day. I didn´t do too much my last day actually, I think we started too early because we arrived to places but too early and never went back with exception of the museum. That night I bused out on Brasilia…it broke down and we were quickly transferred to another bus ya know in the middle of the night.
Also of interest in Medellín to some is Pablo Escobar, he is buried here and you can go to his grave if you want it is close to a metro line in the rich end of town I believe. The house where he was killed on the roof is also something you can find but I think it is now inhabited and remodeled. It is in Los Olivios neighborhood, Carrera 79B #45D-94, near Estadio Girardot. Mind you he was in his time the 7th richest man in the world and had so much money he helped build schools, churches, and other public things. I did not visit. About tours 1 About tours 2
I liked Antioquía and the city of Medellín the most out of my stops overall. Lots of outdoor activities and it is pretty. Here too they had ciclovia, actually more. Sunday they close down a road along the river to exercise throughout the city, plus Tuesday and Thursday after 6pm for a few hours…although not many ciclorutas nor as many people cycling…hills…and I mean mountains…roads go straight up. Medellín is like Seattle and Boston in the fact that there were lots of libraries and books in general, education is important. La Macarena and Caños is explained in the past entry.
Buses were safe just not efficient. No super recliner line Perú or Argentina, the basic reclining or auto-reclining seats and buses.
I mention the areas to take photos because it is definitely a caution in Colombia…valuables should stay at home in general and cameras hidden. I never felt unsafe in Colombia, except for my camera but I was wise about it.
Chocolate (dark amargo) is not commonly eaten by Latins, but Colombia has amazing chocolate. You can get a few brands, I tried Santander. Yum!
Coffee/café if you like it, go. I did not but I have a lot of coffee beans covered in chocolate that are out of this world!
Eat Arepas..as if you could not. Arepas are like a flour or corn or potato or yuca dough that is fried and generally with cheese and butter…super healthy, right? The Arepas de Choclo come with cheese and are delish. Also there is a sweet one that was great, no clue what they are called but I was happily surprised every time.. Those prepared by my Venezuelan friend are way different, maybe better because of toppings or maybe I didn´t try the right places in Colombia. Here the ones with egg are like a boiled egg inside with meat…not what I was expecting but good.
Dancing is great in Colombia in general, I have never even heard of half of the the dances they have there. If you are Salsa happy, this is your country! Cali has the best (did not go).
THIS CONCLUDES THIS BLOG. HOPE YOU ENJOYED ALL THE INFO, PHOTOS, LOCATIONS, AND ADVENTURE. NOW GO OUT AND EXPLORE!