This post is more difficult for me to write as this trip was different, and special. Instead of it being one of my trips where I hop around between 2 or 3 or 4 different places, I spent the entire 3 weeks in Colombia. I had just finished my contract at the IMF and therefore had plenty of time to spend there while still job searching and taking interviews remotely. I also spent the 3 weeks with a friend in Bogota who was gracious enough to let me stay at her place and show me around.
I booked a business class super saver award flight to Bogota through United's website. Luckily, this super saver award was still available when I booked, so the 5-hour flight cost me 35,000 points, which I thought was a good enough deal to pull the trigger on. The flight was also with Avianca, which is the only airline with direct flights to Bogota from D.C.
Getting around Bogota is quite easy via taxi or Uber. Taxis are literally everywhere throughout the city. However, Uber does operate in Bogota and I found it easy to use there and cheaper than the taxis. If you're feeling adventurous you can use the TransMilenio buses, which are basically express buses that run on the major roads in the city. They get extremely crowded during rush hour so I would avoid taking it during those times.
One of the first things I did with my friend in Bogota was to visit Monserrate, which is a tall mountain towering over the city center. To get the top of Monseratte we took a cable car which made for great views even on the way up. The other options are to take a small train or to walk all the way to the top, which I happy declined. Maybe another time. On the top of Monserrate there are amazing views to be had of all of Bogota. Here is where you really see the sprawling city below and understand how large Bogota really is. There is also a beautiful church at the top that is very much worth a visit, as well as many shops and restaurants on the street there.
The walk from Monserrate to the city center of Bogota is not far so we headed that way after coming back down the mountain via the small train. A key tip when you're in Bogota: don't use your smartphone while you're walking through the city. This is especially true in the city center. Smartphones are very valuable in Colombia and they will get stolen if you aren't smart about it. If you are smart about it you will be perfectly fine. My iPhone was never stolen.
In the center of the city is Bolivar Square, or Plaza de Bolivar, which is worth checking out. Also near Bolivar Square is the presidential palace, called Casa de Nariño, and right next it is the building where the Congress of Colombia is housed. After walking through this area, we decided to go to the Botero museum which was also close by. Botero is a Colombian artist who is famous for exaggerating the size of people in his paintings to make them appear larger. Basically, he painted pictures of fat people. The museum also has paintings from other artists around the world, such as Picasso.
There are many side trips you can do from Bogota to see smaller towns a few hours outside of the city. As soon as you come down from the mountains around Bogota and into the rest of Colombia it's gets very hot, very fast, so be prepared for summer-like weather. One of these smaller town within a few hours of Bogota is Girardot. Girardot is a really pretty, fun town and is also a good escape from the hustle and bustle of Bogota. A friend of my friend has a house in a private complex in Girardot and we spent the weekend there. The complex also has 6 private pools.
The first night there we went to a fun Egyptian-themed club that overlooks the town. It isn't very crowded unless it's a holiday weekend, but it was still fun nonetheless. Something you have to do in Colombia is to try Aguardiente. It is a very popular liquor, and it's also very strong. Each region of Colombia has its own version of Aguardiente.
During the daytime there we spend most of our time on one of the pools to cool down. The second night in Girardot we went to a different club in the center of the town called Oasis. Oasis was really fun as well and there were more people there. It was a bigger club and more of a party-type atmosphere. I wish I had good pictures from Girardot, but I think I Snapchatted everything and forgot to save them...ugh.
After the weekend was over we headed back to Bogota. In the week after Girardot we decided to visit the Museo del Oro, or the Gold Museum. The museum houses a great deal of Colombia's gold collection from each region of Colombia. Much of Colombia's gold was stolen by the Spanish during the colonial period, but a lot of what remains is in the museum. The artifacts that archaeologists were able to unearth and preserve is remarkable and truly worth seeing. I'm not much of a museum person so I can only handle being in a museum for a certain amount of time, but this one was worth it.
The next weekend we had planned a trip to Cartagena, and we left on Thursday afternoon. The flight from Bogota to Colombia is about 1 hour and 15 minutes. To find a flight I used one of my favorite search engines, Momondo, which helped me find a deal for about $215 round trip. We flew on LatAm, which is a Chilean-based airline. It wasn't the most comfortable flight in the world, but it was perfectly fine for the short flight.
For our stay in Cartagena we booked an Airbnb in a building called Morris 3. The building was right next to the beach and there was also an amazing pool in the complex. If I had the money, I would probably buy one of these flats if there were for available for sale. That's how much I liked the building and the flat. I snapped a few pictures amazing of the sunset from the edge of the complex next to the beach:
Of course the first thing we had to do was to check out the Old Town in Cartagena at night. The Old Town reminded me very much of a Spanish-style town with its narrow streets. I highly recommend making your way over to the Donde Fidel Salsa Club and taking a seat outside across the street. From here a waiter will serve you alcohol and you can watch the salsa dancing happening inside the crowded club. More on the Old Town to come.
The first thing we did the next morning was to check out the Castillo San Felipe de Barajas, a large castle on a hill overlooking Cartagena. the castle was built by the Spanish to defend the city from pirates and other invaders during the colonial period. We walked to the top of the castle and took in the view of the city, before walking through a few of the tunnels inside the castle. You can also view a video of the history of the castle and of Cartagena.
After all the walking around in the castle you're probably going to be worn out as we were due to the Cartagena heat. A pool break back at the apartment building was more than necessary, but not before easing lunch at Restaurante La Casa De Socorro. Go to this restaurant for lunch while in Cartagena and try the traditional seafood soup. It is incredible.
At night we checked out Cafe del Mar, which is in the Old Town and has a great view at night. However, the service at the cafe was terrible and the 1 drink that we had before leaving wasn't much better. I wouldn't recommended this cafe. I think it was better in the past but has since gone downhill. Instead, we found and awesome guy selling cocktails from a street cart in the Old Town. His cocktails were so much better than Cafe del Mar's.
The next day we decided to take a side trip via ferry from Cartagena to the island of Baru. Baru is about a 40 minute ferry ride away, and ferry tickets are sold next to the main pier in Cartagena. The ferry left in the morning and came back late in the afternoon, and the round trip tickets included lunch on the island. The island's beaches were beautiful, nicer than the ones in mainland Cartagena. I was so relaxed on the beach in Baru that I fell asleep in the afternoon and almost missed the ferry back.
That night after returning to Cartagena via the ferry and freshening up, we had dinner and drinks at El Baluarte San Francisco Javier. This restaurant also had a nice view over the Old Town and the food and drinks were both great. There was even a live band performing traditional music as the seating area was also outside. Though I was pretty dead from the previous 2 nights, it was really nice to spend a view hours enjoying the Old Town.
The last morning we had in Cartagena we wanted to rent motorbikes to ride around the city, and after about an hour of walking we finally found a place to rent them. I couldn't tell you exactly where it was but it was somewhere in the Old Town. We rode through the Old Town and then left the Old Town to ride through the parts of Cartagena I hadn't seen yet. I love riding motorbikes around and I think they are a great way to explore a city. I remember doing the same thing in Chiang Man when I was in Thailand, and I had just as much fund doing it in Cartagena too.
After that we had to catch our afternoon flight back to Bogota. That was basically the end of my 3 weeks in Colombia. The rest of my time in Colombia and the time in between the things I wrote about here I spent just hanging around, going to malls, eating great food and other random things. If you've had any reservations about visiting Colombia, I really hope this post changed your mind. I have my reasons for this being a really special trip and probably my favorite trip to date, but I have no doubt that you will really enjoy it as well. I still miss Colombia every day and find myself wishing I was still there. Of course if I can offer any more tips as you plan your trip, just ask!