Colombia

Lady in Bogota

The final leg of my Colombian odyssey was Bogota. Reaching an altitude of 2640 meters (8300 ft), the city is the third highest capital city in the world. As such, getting off the plane from Cartagena is quite a shock. After only one hour of traveling, the thin, chilly air in Bogota is a world away from the turgid heat on the coast.

Church in Bogota, Colombia

We landed in Bogota and wrapped ourselves in our warmest clothes, then headed off to explore the old town. We strolled by the Capitolio Nacional and the Palacio de Nariño, past the Iglesia de Nuestra Señora del Carmen, and back towards the more modern Biblioteca Luis Angel Arango admiring the mix of old and new in the historic city center.

Biblioteca Luis Angel Arango in Bogota

That evening we met up with some people who would be at our friend’s wedding that weekend. We had a great dinner at Club Colombia, where one of the locals recommended ajiaco, Bogota’s specialty of chicken and potato soup. Delicious.

Church in Bogota

After dinner we headed to the home of a friend of the bride’s for a surprise serenata, or serenade. A Colombian wedding tradition, the serenata involves surprising the bride-to-be with singing. This serenata included both a guitar duo and a full-fledged mariachi band, and the groom sang a lot of the songs. Aguardiente, the national anise-flavored liquor, flowed freely throughout the evening, giving those not used to the altitude quite a rough morning the following day.

Musicians playing for a serenata, a Colobmian wedding tradition

Thankfully my boyfriend and I kept our aguardiente drinking in check, and woke up early the next morning to visit the Salt Cathedral of Zipaquira. Carved out of an old salt mine, the cathedral featured a whole bunch of stations of the cross (I was under the impression that there were only twelve, but apparently you can add more), beautiful carvings, and a reflecting pool.

A cross in the underground salt Cathedral of Zipaquira in Colombia

After the cathedral visit my boyfriend met up with a former coworker from the days when he worked in Bogota. I was left to my own devices at the local mall. After two hours of primary research, I concluded that malls are the most soul-sucking places on earth, no matter where on earth one is. I was glad to get out of there and head to dinner.

Sculpture in Bogota

Dinner was at Colombia’s most famous restaurant, Andres Carne de Res. There is really no way to do justice to the insanity of this restaurant, other than to say that it is big enough that one can get lost in the quirky labyrinth of its rooms, dance floors, bars, and halls. Its low ceilings and long walls are so packed with kitsch that they make Buck’s of Woodside look like an austere tribute to Modernism. The music was loud, the menu came in a box with a jack-in-the-box handle to wind it, and the dancing started early and went late. The food was mainly steak, and the caipirinhas were strong. It was a good night.

Andres Carne de Res in Bogota, Colombia

The next day was our friend’s wedding. We boarded a bus at noon that drove us up over the mountains and out of Bogota. The wedding was at a villa on a farm, complete with sheep, donkeys, and mules dressed in festive flowers for the occasion.

Donkey in a field for a Colombian wedding

The ceremony was short and sweet, and afterwards the guests gathered for drinks and dinner followed by hours of dancing. My boyfriend and I stayed as long as our jet lag permitted, then headed back to Bogota so that we could wake up early for our flight back to London.

Colombian wedding tables

The wedding was the perfect way to finish off our trip to Colombia, but we still weren’t ready to be back in London quite yet. Our five hour layover in Miami was useful in that respect, as we spent most of it sipping drinks by a beach bar in an effort to prolong paradise. Then it was back to London and back to work, leaving us with nothing but a desire to return to Colombia at our earliest possible convenience.

Lady in Cartagena

After our short stint in Miami, my boyfriend and I traveled to Cartagena last Sunday to enjoy some equatorial sun. One of Colombia’s most beautiful coastal cities, Cartagena had long been on my list of places to visit.

Yellow building in Cartagena old town

We arrived at our hotel, Casa El Carretero, at midnight. The three-room boutique hotel in Cartagena’s up-and-coming Getsemani district felt just like a private house. Luis, the staff member on duty when we arrived, took us on a tour of the hotel, including the amazing roof deck and pool. Afterwards he informed us that we were the only guests for the week, so in a sense it really was a private casa just for us.

Interior of Casa El Carretero in Cartagena

The next two days were spent exploring Cartagena’s old town. We woke up early and Alicia, the staff member on duty in the morning, cooked us traditional breakfasts, complete with delicious meat-and-cheese filled arepas and a cornucopia of fresh tropical fruit. The meals were great sustenance as we set out to explore the old walled city.

Candles in Casa El Carretero hotel in Cartagena

We spent our mornings walking through the narrow streets with their brightly colored buildings, climbing up the wall for views of the sea on one side and the city on the other, and visiting the Modern Art Museum, the Gold Museum, and the castle.

Colorful town square in Cartagena, Colombia

By the afternoon the equatorial heat had sapped our energy, so we spent time in the pool on the roof of our hotel and read the books and magazines that had been piling up for months on our to-read lists. It was great to have some time to do nothing but relax.

Roof deck of Casa El Carretero hotel in Cartagena

The evenings were filled with leisurely dinners at La Vitrola and La Cocina de Socorro, followed by drinks at Cafe del Mar, a bar on top of the city wall with great views over the sea.

Horse and carriage ride in Cartagena, Colombia

On the third day in Cartagena we headed out to the Islas del Rosario, a chain of islands off the coast. After an hour’s boat ride, we arrived at the islands, which are a protected national park. I was expecting pristine islets with no trace of human habitation, but was met with a hyper-developed archipelago brimming with resorts and illegal fishermen. Sigh.

Lounge chairs on the beach on an island in the Islas del Rosario in Colombia

At least the snorkeling was good. We saw all kinds of tropical fish, squid and huge crabs. There were schools of bright yellow fish, blackish purple fish, and tiny iridescent fish. There were over 200 different kinds of coral, some of which were sadly dead, but others that were bright orange and soothing mauve. We swam with the fishes for awhile, taking care to appropriately chastise our guide, who kept standing on the coral to teach a young girl how to snorkel. So sad.

Fish under water taken while snorkeling in the Islas del Rosario in Cartagena, Colombia

That evening we returned to Cartagena and discovered Casa de las Palmas, a little restaurant right by our hotel. It was filled with locals and decorated like an old Havana paladar. We loved it. The food was the best we had in Cartagena, and we were sad we didn’t have any more nights to return to try other dishes.

Colorful buildings in Cartagena old town

The next morning we were up early and off to the airport for the final leg of our journey and the wedding that prompted our entire trip: Bogota. Leaving behind the hot weather, the beautiful sea, and the colorful streets of Cartagena, we packed our bags and departed our casa with the hope of someday returning for more.