A year ago, I was planning my 10th anniversary at the company that laid me off, amidst the 60 day warning notice period. By sheer luck, my husband’s team decided to send him on a trip to Bogotá, Colombia to help Avianca set up their new aircraft. As part of the support team, he had to work at the airport for 10 days which coincided with Valentine’s Day weekend. Since all I needed to do was pay for my fare and incidentals, I asked for the days off and met up with the crew. [The Colombian dollar was 2500 to 1, so my US dollars would go farther, a nice touch for any vacation plan.]
Although 5 days and 4 nights is not a lot of time to some, it is enough time to take in the city’s major sights and tourist attractions. I highly recommend that you stay at least a week but if this is all the time you have to spare, you won’t regret stopping by. Colombia has a bad rep because of the cartels but don’t be fooled, their cities are beautiful and a lot safer than you’d imagine, and the people are lovely and very hard working. Bogotá is a piece of heaven, a foodie paradise, perched atop the beautiful Eastern Andes mountains. With coffee and flowers as main exports, there is nothing that can deter you from having a good time visiting, except traffic. But that’s another story.
I landed in El Dorado Airport around 2pm, and was escorted to the hotel by a preferred driver. Because I was associated with the airline and was employed as an engineer, my company didn’t want to take any chances. I highly recommend that for any trip you secure transportation before arriving and that you check the service’s credentials. USA passports are a target world wide.
My husband was staying at the JW Marriott Bogotá, right in the middle of the financial and downtown district. If you check out the hotel, it is nearby Zones T, G and 93rd street restaurants and bars, which are very hip and cool. Their own restaurants are excellent and the quality of the food was superb, so if you don’t want to venture outside, you will be well taken care of. Check out nearby Peruvian restaurants. (We missed out on tha tip, :(.)
Because we were staying in the executive suites, I went to the lounge to grab a beer and enjoy the view of the city. Once my husband arrived we went to Bogotá Beer Company or BBC and we enjoyed a pitcher of their very tasty Amber/Red. We ordered a wing appetizer that came with a set of gloves and a bib! The people in Colombia always dress to impress, and what better way to avoid ruining your clothes than with protective gear. Ingenious!
When we got back to the hotel, my husband took me to their restaurant, now called Tamarind, where the steak was so thick and juicy that it rivaled the best USA steakhouses. The decor was very modern and contemporary, and the bar had a DJ playing music to enhance the mood. The place was so good we went twice in three days!
After a quick nightcap at the bar, we went to sleep. The adjustment to the altitude’s lower oxygen content had been tough for my husband but not for me. Little did I know it would hit me the next day, walking uphill no less!
Because it was a weekday, my friend’s dear mom took me to check out the sights. Mr Enginerd was busy at work with the airlines and had a business dinner, therefore I was left to my own devices. (I learned to use Whatsapp to communicate with the locals and avoid roaming and long distace fees whenever Wi-Fi was available.) After visiting several local shopping malls we decided to eat at La Plaza de Andrés at La Hacienda. Their unique marketplace style provides ample choices of meals and side dishes. There is so much to choose from you can barely go wrong. The downside was that each counter works independently so you have to order at each individual station if you want to try more than one thing. Because it is made to order, you get a beeper that buzzes when your meal is ready. To beat the midday lunch rush hour, we got there early. People like to lounge in the area and talk, so make sure you come prepared to dine and interact with the locals. It is a good spot to learn about the culture and current events of the city.
We swung by the nearby Usaquén Cathedral and square. As we walked through the street market it started to rain, so we decided to take refuge inside a local chain store called Cachivaches. (In English the word means knick-knacks.) The store is a combination of Sur La Table and Williams Sonoma, or Crate and Barrel if you have ever seen one. Their variety of housewares and cooking supplies was impressive. It tooks us about 45 minutes to go through their entire stock to find thoughtful and practical souvenirs. Their sauces and seasonings are amazing!
After the visit to the Usaquén stores, my escort took me back to her apartment to enjoy an Oma coffee with an arepa. So yummy! To complement the afternoon snack we went to Crepes and Waffles, another local spot, where I stuffed my face with a nutella and strawberry crepe. The sugar rush was totally worth it. On a side note, I hope these restaurants make it state side soon because their menu was impressive and economical for the portions we received. I’m not a crepe fan but after ogling the menu, it was hard not to indulge.
Unfortunately, the traffic was so bad that it took me an hour and a half to get back to the hotel. The Transmilenio is a great alternative to cars but my hosts decided it would be safer for me to take the taxi. (My Spanish accent could pass for Caribeño or coastal Colombian but I hadn’t been to Cartagena in a while and couldn’t have been able to fake it.) I did enjoy reading the billboards, static commercials, promos and the radio DJ comments on the taxi. The guy kept talking on his cell phone and totally ignored me which worked even better.
I couldn’t really get to the city’s historical center or museums (my husband did though the weekend prior), so I had to make do with the dinner at the hotel and drinks at Circo, the hotel’s bistro and outdoor bar. The aguardiente was really strong, so I switched to beer. We went back to the executive lounge to spot planes and smoke a Colombian cigar. It turned out to be better than some of the Cuban and Cuban knock offs out there.
Because it was the day before Valentine’s Day, I decided to go to the Andino Mall to ger my hair done. The Colombians are used to working with curly hair, and a quick Google search directed me to a Kerastase salon nearby. After two hours of pampering, scalp and neck massages, conditioning treatments and hair styling, I was ready for date night. The bill came out to $60 USD, which for all the services was a steal! I did some shopping at Zara and picked up a couple of books in Spanish at the local librería. Afterwards I visited the mall’s Pandora charm retailer to get the “Key to my heart” piece to remember the occasion.
Before leaving, I went by El Corral to try a hamburger and I have to admit it was delicious! The beef patty melts in your mouth and the seasoning flavors are exquisite. The quality of the fresh local vegetables made me wish the organic food back in the States was thia good. Pair it with a natural fruit juice for effect. Priceless!
That night we ventured to Andino Mall to get more Colombian cigars, since the ones we had had were gifts from the hired driver, and we came across La Cava del Puro and VIPs. Both shops had excellent selections but VIPs had a lower price. We settled on some Brevas which tasted of vanilla and leather which we enjoyed after dinner.
Since this was a short trip, and we had no clue when we’d be back, my husband and I went back to the BBC and had more Ambers, Blondes and appetizers. It was one of the besf dates we have had. The walk back to the hotel was fun and we got to see the locals in their balconies and local cafés living it up. The weather is very consistent in that part of the world, and the 6o to 70 degree temperatures were perfect for a midnight stroll. When we got to the hotel we went back to the executive lounge to smoke the cigars, drink scotch and watch the 787s take off from El Dorado. 🙂 Very relaxing.
For Valentine’s Day, my husband purchased a couples massage package ($200 USD) that included a full body exfoliation, a chocolate massage and a champagne and chocolate strawberries aperitif. For two and a half hours the therapists worked the scrubs and hot chocolate on our skins to losen all the knots and kinks of sedentary work life. By the time it ended we were sleepy so we took a nap and had a late lunch at Circo, the hotel’s outdoor bistro. From there we went to visit with friends and back to the hotel to prepare for our 1.5 hr ride to Andrés Carne de Res in Chia.
The sad part was that because it was Carnaval de Cartagena weekend we were stuck, like in Barcelona, with a throng of people which made out wait times ridiculous. After the hostess confirmed that our reservations were null and void due to the Carnaval, we decided to ask for a refund of the cover charge. After an hour of waiting for a table, we found a spot in one of the bars and had a few beers. After we were done, we called our driver who fortunately had been on a fare call nearby.
Back at the hotel, we looked for a nearby restaurant and settled on Harry Sasson. They are pricey but the service was totally worth the investment. Their interior decoration alone was beautiful. Our four course meal had us in the restaurant until it closed. Again, another high quality steak that rivaled the grass fed Angus beef of the USA. The asparagus and mushrooms were a delight. I’d definitely would go there again. We walked back to the hotel, packed our bags and prepared for the trip back home.
Although I had been at Crepes and Waffles my husband hadn’t, so we went to the establishment right across the street from the hotel and had breakfast in the patio. People watching and crepes are one of the most entertaining things you can do on vacation, especially when passerbys were really envious of our plates. Hehe. We got some souvenirs from the hotel gift shop, said our goodbyes to the lovely staff and made our trek to the airport.
The airport is very modern and beautiful. I perused the shops while we waited for the boarding announcements. A few planes went by and we were able to take good pictures of 787s, A380s and smaller passenger jets. The crew, who had been our ticketing and baggage agents, had to remind people to not block the way to the gate entrance. It seems that wherever we go the “Americans” are always in a hurry to board. Too many frequent flyers on the run, I guess.
As the plane pushed back and made the weather announcements for Atlanta, I realized how relaxing and smooth the trip had been. The people of Colombia were the nicest and more attentive hosts we had had in a long time, and their clean, modern yet historical city is truly a gem in the tropics. We can’t wait to visit again.
My husband had an opportunity to go to the Botero Museum, the Cathedral, Bolivar Square and the Gold Museum. We almost made it to Monserrate and the Salt Church but found out they were closed by the time we would arrive. 😦
He also got a chance to play Tejo with the locals. If you can, book an outing and try it. Be careful with the aguardiente and don’t over do it. Tourists are easy prey for the locals and your iPhone will fetch top dollar…