Columbia seems to be a popular travel destination lately. Its popularity is quite deserving but one needs to map out the site visits and not take off on a whim. My trip to Columbia centered on three stops: Bogota, Cartagena and Medellin.
Bogota boasted beautiful colonial buildings in the Candelaria district, great museums such as the Museo del Oro and the Botero Museum and great restaurants. For an area to stay in, we chose the Macarena area for our rental apartment. It was a smart choice because it was within walking distances of many restaurants and had a few convenience stores scattered around. A great breakfast place to try is Azimos. It had great croissants, coffee and artisan products. The mural arts in Bogota are very much part of the City’s attraction. We had a tour seeing different styles, different messages and caught a glimpse of the culture of mural artists.
For restaurants, we had great meals at Tabula and its twin Donostia. The only glitch is that the restaurants, owned by the same owner and shared a common wall, also shared the wine list and the dessert menu. Tabula caters to more family style dining while Donostia gives us smaller dishes. A surprise winner is Salvio Patria. The food is lighter and finer in my opinion.
A short day trip from Bogota, the Salt Cathedral is a must see. It is one of the only two existing Salt Cathedrals in the world. An entire Cathedral was carved from inside the salt mines. One approaches by the Stations of the Cross presented as carved rooms with different cross designs. Then the main nave can be best seen from a balcony above the narthex. The cross at the chancel is a clever design being a negative space instead of a 3 dimensional object. The side approach from the transept is a simple but nice set of stairs. The lighting is subtle and works in a humble way for a place of worship.
On the way back from the Salt Cathedral, one must stop by Andres Carne de Res in Chia for dinner. The restaurant takes up about two blocks and is “crazy”- the only word that came to my mind when I stepped into it. There is not a wall or floor space that is not adorned by decorations. The person who pulled the setting of the restaurant must have had a great sense of humor. There are plates screwed to the ceiling, pots glued to posts, thousands of knick knacks found their places where they should not be. The menu is worthy of a Restoration Hardware catalog but much more colorful just like the ambiance of the space. The dessert menu alone is worth another return trip.
Next stop: Cartagena. One must stay in the historical town to fully enjoy Cartagena. The streets are named and meanders so much that one gets lost if it were not for the numbering system implemented later. The area is full of life, restaurants, shops, music, museums and sights. We had the best meal at Don Juan and not too far behind was a Xmas dinner at Moshi. Activities at Cartagena should include a boat trip to islands where snorkeling, swimming, and fresh seafood lunches are offered.
Last stop: Medellin. We only stayed one night at Medellin so I cannot give a full account on things to do in Medellin. The city is located in a valley and looks dreamy when seen from a higher altitude. The greeneries are more lush than Bogota. The Botero park and the Museo De Antioquia showed us the rest of Ferdinand Botero’s art collection. We had a good dinner at Bonhomia in the Zona Rosa. That area has great night life but if you rent anything nearby, be prepared to hear music till the morning hours.
I went on the trip without much expectations having not done the homework myself with all itineraries figured out by another traveler and was pleasantly offered new perspectives, and sampled delicious meals. It was a treat to be able to visit both Botero museums and park and see a full range of his work. I was very intrigued by the level of modernity seen in the designs of gold work from the Gold Museum in Bogota. I also went shopping in the fabric streets in Medellin but was disappointed at the selection. The high end clothe boutiques however showed fine fabric design which I was not able to find in my short stay at Medellin.
I had a great time seeing the sites, loving the arts from the gold pieces found thousands of years ago to Botero’s sculptures and portraits and street arts, and appreciating the gentleness of the Columbian people. No wonder Columbia is “hip” nowadays.