Once considered the “bad boy” of South America, Colombia is trying hard to change the world’s perception of the country. Where once drug cartels made the news and headlines, today’s Colombia is considered a safe, emerging global travel destination. From the capital city of Bogota, located high in the mountains, where history and cultural attractions are plenty, to the historic Caribbean city of Cartagena de Indias. Here are a few highlights from my trip and things not to miss when you plan your own visit to Colombia.
First stop was Bogota, the capital city nestled in the mountains. It’s hip, chic and full of culture. Located at 8612 feet, it’s the largest city in Colombia and also the third-highest capital city in South America. The temperate here remains cool, an average of 57 degrees, even in the middle of summer.
As a base for your exploration, The Hotel Avia is a nice, clean, modern hotel that is centrally located in the main restaurant district. It has an award-winning French restaurant, spa and gym along with comfortable rooms.
Unless you are an experienced driver in Latin American cities, I suggest either a taxi or use the Transmilenio bus system to get around the city. There are over eight million people that live in Bogota and a good majority of them use the bus system so it’s pretty efficient. Also traffic seemed to pretty heavy no matter what time of the day it was and roadways went in all different and crazy directions.
A must stop on the places to visit in Bogota is the Museo Del Oro. This museum started in 1939 in the old Central Bank Building. It expanded in 1968 and now has an amazingly large collection of over 35,000 pieces of gold and pre-Columbian artifacts. Ever heard of El Dorado? Well this museum has El Dorado collections.
The Casa de Narino or Presidential Palace offers free tours seven days a week. You must sign up online at least five days ahead of time and be prepared to leave all of your bags and cameras with the front guards. It’s a great tour and worth the effort to set it up. The Palace boasts Baccarat crystal chandeliers, Italian sculptures and tapestries. Tours are done in both Spanish or English just be sure to indicate your preference when you sign up.
Since 1640, this sanctuary has been a beacon atop Bogota’s eastern mountains. Cerro de Monserrate offers amazing views of Bogota and is accessible via funicular or cable car. Once on top of the mountain, you can tour the church, eat at one of the two restaurants or just take in the sights.
A great area to just explore and walk around is La Candelaria. This preserved historic site is Bogota’s oldest neighborhood. There are pedestrian-only, cobblestone streets, centuries old homes and churches and is a burgeoning art community.
Of course since Colombia is famous for its coffee, with over 900,000 coffee farms, no trip to the country would be complete without experiencing a cup of java. At E&D Café not only can you order your favorite coffee concoction but they have a coffee lab where you can learn about and taste different beans and flavors.
Food choices range from ChibChomBia in the La Macarena Zone where the restaurant serves up typical Colombian food such as Arepas, which are sweet corn pancakes, Empanadas and Ajiaco Soup, which is a typical Colombian soup with chicken, rice, potatoes and avocados. Fruit juices are very popular at lunch and you can order a variety of flavors made with either milk or water.
For dinner, Andres D.C., is a four-story restaurant and nightclub. Dancing is on the ground floor with restaurants tables on the other three. It’s uniquely decorated with each floor named. You could be in hell, earth, purgatory and heaven.
Keep in mind these are just the highlights. There is a ton of things to do and see in Bogota. I only had one day (yes, it was a very long day!) but I would suggest spending at least a couple of days to tour this magnificent city.