Once our time in Perú had come to a close, our next destination was Colombia. We had a 2AM flight booked from Lima-Bogotá, but it wasn't quite the smoothest departure we've made from a country. When we went to check in for our flight, we felt silly and shocked when the gate agent asked us for proof of onward travel from Colombia. We already had our flight from Ecuador-London booked, but the regulations stated that we had to have proof of how we would be leaving Colombia. Since we were planning on crossing the border from Colombia-Ecuador by local bus, we certainly didn't have anything booked yet, and we'd forgotten all about this "minor" detail. Long story short, with only 15 minutes left on our 30-minute free wifi at the airport, we managed to book a $900 flight from Bogotá-Quito on United Airlines after finding online that they offer a 24-hour grace period for cancellations. We showed the gate agent screen shots of the booking, and it was enough to satisfy the regulations and we were allowed to check in (we cancelled the flight once we got to our hostel in Bogotá). Sadly, as we were going through security, Pravin's daypack was flagged by the security agents and they pointed out the distinct shape of his Leatherman knife. We used it all the time when hiking to cut fruit, cheese, bread, etc., and he'd forgotten to remove it from his pack before checking his larger backpack, so into the giant bin of forbidden items it went.
For our first few days in Bogotá, we stayed at a fantastic hostel called 12:12 in the Chapinero Alto neighbourhood. One of the things that we had been really looking forward to in Bogotá was the Sunday Ciclovía, where the city shuts down over 120km of main streets and what feels like most of the city goes out on bikes, rollerblades or on foot to enjoy some fresh air. We rented bikes, and had so much fun seeing the city on two wheels and stopping many times to purchase street food and fresh fruit from the many stalls lining the streets. It was a wonderfully festive atmosphere, with many street performers attracting massive crowds of families, tons and tons of people out walking their dogs, and lots of stylish bogotanos out jogging in expensive activewear.
After seeing stickers for the Bogotá Graffiti Tour plastered all over South America, we knew we would have to check it out once we landed in Colombia. The tour focused on La Candelaria area, which contains a wealth of historic architecture and is where the city was originally founded. We were shown all kinds of amazing murals, stencil pieces, and sculpture installations, some of which blended in so well with the surroundings that we never would have seen them ourselves. The tour also gave good background on the history and legality of street art in Bogotá, and it was quite interesting to hear about some of the influential artists, both national and international, involved in the scene.
Since Colombia was a new country for us, we were eager to try a new cuisine and sample some of the typical dishes. One of the most unique (and yummiest) combinations was chocolate con queso - hot chocolate with cheese. You get a cup of rich, thick hot chocolate, and a wedge of mild cheese on the saucer. The idea is to cut the cheese into small pieces and put them into the hot chocolate, which is then consumed. The sweet and salty combination was delicious! We also ate hearty chicken tamales, made with cornmeal dough, chicken and vegetables, and steamed in a banana leaf, and sampled quite a few traditional desserts, all made with panela (sugarcane) and all too sweet for our liking.
We had one very rainy morning in Bogotá, so we decided to check out the Museo del Oro, or the Museum of Gold. It was quite impressive and much more interesting than either of us had anticipated, and the exhibits kept us intrigued for a couple of hours until the rain stopped falling.
After having lunch downtown on our third day in Bogotá, it was time to take the bus to the airport to meet Pravin's parents! Daksha and Bhaskar flew in from Victoria for a couple of weeks of vacation with us. We started off with a couple of days to explore Bogotá with them, and then continued on to the Caribbean coast for 12 days of R&R on the beach together (see next post). We stayed at a beautiful hotel in Chapinero together in Bogotá, and spent time catching up over delicious meals in the neighbourhood.
Something that never ceased to blow us away in Bogotá was the amazing design of all the restaurants. The area that we stayed in is also known as the Zona G, for gastronomic, and a quick stroll through the streets will quickly show you why - there is restaurant after restaurant after restaurant, all extremely stylish and inviting. The best place that we ate at with Daksha and Bhaskar was a small new establishment called Café Bar Universal. We took the server’s recommendations for appetizers, and started with a cold lobster, mango and basil soup, followed by fried watermelon with parsley. For the main course, we shared two different lamb dishes and a wonderful piece of seared tuna. Of course, we couldn’t leave without having dessert, and again happily ordered based on the restaurant’s recommendations. We split a wonderful chocolate dish, but the most interesting treat was shaved frozen lulo fruit on top of fresh cream.
One of the best nights that we had in all of Colombia was at Andrés Carne de Res with Daksha and Bhaskar. Until you see the 2.76-square-mile, 3,300 person capacity restaurant/club/spectacle in person, it’s difficult to conceive of just how big it actually is. A 1.5 hour taxi ride took us through heavy traffic out of Bogotá and into the suburb of Chía, where we disembarked amongst a sea of Christmas lights and neon signs and quirky knickknacks. As we walked through the door, we were greeted with shots of aguardiente, a favourite Colombia liquor made with sugarcane and anise. After perusing the 76-page menu, we chose to eat our way through 800g of perfectly grilled, juicy chicken, and a large shared platter of traditional Colombian foods such as arepas, plátanos, patacones, papas criollos, hogao, and more. The food was wonderful, and as soon as we finished eating, it was time to dance. The music was loud and infectious, and had everyone on their feet. It’s safe to say that no visit to Bogotá is complete without a crazy night out at Andrés Carne de Res!
One of the most informative experiences that we had in Bogotá with Daksha and Bhaskar was taking a private food tour with a local father and son driver/guide pair, Eldolfonso and Alejandro. The friendly duo picked us up at our hotel, and took us to several different spots around town to sample and learn about Colombian cuisine.
A highlight of the food tour was without a doubt the Paloquemao Market, located in downtown Bogotá. We tried countless fruits from friendly vendors all around the market, and it was a lot of fun to learn about how to eat the different fruits and even try some of them blended into refreshing juices. Of course, being a food tour, it wasn’t only fruits that were available for sampling. We were also presented with lechón (suckling pig), tamales and savoury pastries. Although we weren’t able to finish everything, Eldolfonso seemed to have a bottomless stomach and happily took care of the rest. The market itself was sparkling clean, and each stall had running water and refrigeration where necessary. The atmosphere was relaxed and friendly, and we probably could have wandered through the aisles all day long.
After the food tour wrapped up, our next destination in the city was Cerro Monserrate. Monserrate is a steep hill that presides over the Bogotá skyline, and is accessible to tourists and locals alike by a cable car system that runs from the city base to the lush green mountaintop. The views from the summit were spectacular, as was the enormous variety of birds that fluttered around the trees while we were enjoying the panorama.