Colombia 2019

Colombia 2019

The plan was to meet up with some friends from Lima in Cartagena and then celebrate a birthday on some nearby island. That's about as much planning as I put into this part of the trip. Which is to say, my plan was to show up and be told what to do. Then we'd hit up some mountains. And, finally, finish off our trip in Bogota. When it came to planning for these latter two segments I made more of an effort. Still minimal. But effort.

The Flight
A horrible storm blew through Atlanta right before our flight. So, we were super delayed and stuck at the airport. Fortunately, we had good seats in the lounge and I served my civic duty by having three or four Jack and Cokes. I'm told the flight was short and uneventful.


Arriving in Cartagena
I was warned that Cartagena was warm. But nobody told me it was the kind of heat that makes you question the merits of travel meaning of life. I grew up in Arizona. So I know hot. But, as we say, it's a dry heat. This ... this was more like wearing a trash bag into a steam room. Fortunately, the Uber from the airport had air conditioning. Funny thing, though, about Uber in Colombia. At least at the time it was available but illegal. So one passenger has to sit up front with the drive to ward off any suspicion. Not a big deal. Just interesting. I dutifully played the role of the driver's good buddy. 

We had just enough time to check into our hotel, change clothes, and then speed walk to meet friends for dinner at this highly recommended restaurant in the walled city. It wasn't a long walk, but I did complain about the heat at least twelve times. Dinner was good. Though, if I'm being honest, so long as the place had functioning AC I would've been happy even if they only served sautéed hubcaps.  

Cafe Havana
After dinner we walked to the Getsemaní neighborhood outside the walled city to a an amazing little club with live music. Cafe Havana was had everyone dancing to incredible salsa music. Except me. I didn't so much dance as I did just strategically position myself under an air conditioning vent while, presumably, making orgasm sounds.

San Pedro Hotel Spa
Our hotel couldn't have been any nicer and with a certain old world charm. And it even had a grotto-like pool right in the main courtyard. I took full advantage of this added luxury, and even considered sleeping there, weighing the pros and cons of feeling refreshed vs drowning.

Cerro de la Popa
The next morning, after a little poolside breakfast at the hotel, we summoned another Uber to drive us up to the top of Mount la Popa to see Convento de la Popa - the convent, cloister, and chapel of Nuestra Señora de la Candelaria de la Popa. Also called Convento de Santa Cruz de la Popa, this religious complex dates back to 1607, and you really don't need more than thirty minutes up top to walk around the grounds and enjoy the accompanying best viewpoint in Cartagena. So definitely arrange a price with your driver to wait up top and take you back down.

Castillo de San Felipe de Barajas
Back down from the mountain, we decided to check out the city's famous 16th century castle. Built in 1536 by African slave labor under Spanish supervision during the colonial era, the fortress was originally known as the Castillo de San Lázaro. Honestly, unless you know and appreciate the specific history of the era, it's not all that interesting. I've been to lots of castles and this was definitely one of them. 

Sunday Softball
From atop the castle we saw some activity down at the end of a park along Avenida Pedro de Heredia. A softball game. So we decided to tempt fate and see if we could make it there before melting on the side of the road. And we were glad we did. Here, every Sunday, the neighborhood comes together to play ball and grill food. There's a DJ playing music, and the whole thing is just delightful. Interestingly, though soccer is the main sport in Colombia, baseball is more popular in this specific region of the country. We stuck around and had a couple beers.

La Cocina de Pepina
After softball we wandered back over to the Getsemaní neighborhood - where, the night before, we (they) danced at Café Havana - and were, with only the slightest hint of hyperbole, knocking on death's door. Our shirts were completely soaked with sweat. It was legit borderline dangerous at this point. But it was all worth it for the the best meal we had in Cartagena

About the Doors and Buildings
Refreshed and well-fed, we spent the rest of the afternoon just sort of walking around and taking in the unique architecture. Specifically the doors. Colorfully painted and many adorned with intricate aldabas (door-knockers), you could literally spend all day taking them all in. It's a unique characteristic of this area on top of just the stunning colonial architecture.

Calle Angosto (Calle 27)
One particularly notable street in Getsemani is Calle Angosto. Shaded by a canopy of colorful umbrellas, you can almost escape the blazing sun. Almost.  

Puerta del Reloj
This is the original entrance to the fortified city, and the name identifies with it's most identifying feature, an 18th century clock. Here, you're also right between the two historic squares, Plaza de Independencia and Plaza de los Coches.

Cebiches & Seviches
The only thing better than one ceviche is two. And we were due for another cooling off stop. So we landed at this little restaurant within the old city for another round. Essentially, our time in Cartagena went like this: "I'm hot. Let's have beer and raw fish."

Café del Mar
It wasn't for me. I get it. This popular cafe is wildly popular and has an amazing viewpoint for the sunset. But it's packed and super touristy to the point of almost ruining the experience. The service isn't great on account of too many people, and we ended up not even waiting long enough to get a drink. Instead, we meandered down the road just a bit further where we could still watch the sun fall behind the sea, but with considerably fewer people. 

La Vitrola
Our plan for the night was to eat at this restaurant. However, upon arrival, I was informed that men were required to wear pants. Except, here the thing - and stop me if you've heard me say this before - it's 11,000 degrees! Apparently this is a common issue. So much so, in fact, that they literally have free pants they can lend you at the door. However, by the time we got there all the free loaner pants had been accounted for. This is real, y'all. Alas, it wasn't meant to be.

Thus, we somehow ended up here. At this dump. Which doesn't require pants ... or a refined palate. Terrible food. Avoid at all costs.


Cartagena > Isla Múcura
The next part of our journey was meeting back up with our friends from Peru for a couple days on a little island retreat. It's a two-hour boat ride from the mainland to Isla Múcura. And though it's not the most comfortable to luxurious journey in the world, it's nevertheless pretty and the wind felt incredible. 

Hotel Punta Faro
This is the resort where we met up with our friends who had arrived there the night before. As you get off the boat, they greet you with a coconut. So, yeah, they literally had me at hello. Here, the food is decent - nothing special - but the rooms are comfortable and the private beach area is an absolute delight. Warm water. Soothing waves. And the occasional iguana. Not a bad way to spend a couple days in the Caribbean. 

Stefano's Bistro
After our island getaway, it was back to the mainland where, upon returning, we immediately took an Uber from the boat dock for one last meal in Cartagena. We had a couple hours to kill before our flight to the mountains, and we thought it best to knock out one more round of food. Eventually, we stumbled into this cozy little place where, in addition to more ceviche and other treats, I tried Colombia's national drink, Aguardiente. Even though it's called "fire water" it's really not that strong. Meanwhile, the TV on the wall had the news on which - ha ha weeee - was showing us that there was extreme flooding and landslides in the exact area where we were going. 

Avianca #9789
Our flight wasn't cancelled, so that was a positive start. At least not the first leg where we had to go from Cartagena to Bogota. It's a short flight.

Avianca #9417
Then it was Bogota to Pereira. Also a short flight, this was a bit more scenic from the window. But all that mattered is that it was happening. We were heading to the Salento region whether it was flooded or not.


This is is a department of Colombia in the western central region of the country that's known, largely, for its coffee plantations and colorful architecture. The drive from the airport in Pereira to Salento normally takes one hour, but, because of the mudslides, the ensuing traffic made it closer to two hours. Really, though, unless you had seen the news, you couldn't visibly tell from the road that the region had been battered by the storms.

La Herreria
We arrived late. It was already dark. But after checking in we went for a short stroll through town and had dinner here. I have video evidence of my entree being served, and my response was, "Holy crap!" So, it must've been good. That's how I remember it, anyway. But I've read it's now permanently closed. RIP La Herreria.

El Mirador del Cocora
Since we arrived at night we weren't really able to appreciate the natural surrounding beauty at our hotel until morning. But good lord! This place was delightful, and it also had some absolutely amazing coffee that we enjoyed on a terrace overlooking the view. 

This is my kind of place! When I travel I love these small-ish, totally-walkable little towns and villages that make up for size and and infrastructure with charm and ease. The people tend to be friendlier. The air is cleaner. And you can just feel your blood pressure lower to something far more reasonable. In Salento, these good vibes are further accentuated by the stunning colors that adorn all of the buildings. Also the street dogs are pretty chill.

Valle de Cocora
The obvious natural attraction to this region is the Valle de Cocora. To see it, we set out on an 8:30am Willy from the main square. Old US military WW2 Jeep Willys are everywhere in this area. They first arrived in Colombia in 1946 for the Colombian military, sold by the United States due to a massive oversupply of the vehicle. But they were never used for defense purposes. Instead, farmers took to them due to their ruggedness, and they still dominate the region today. The roundtrip total cost for both of us - to and from the Valle - was about four dollars, and they sort of pack you in there like sardines with other tourists - 13 of us on the ride out. It's kind of fun, actually. You meet some nice people, the more daring of which actually ride along railings on the outside of the vehicle. Once we got there, we opted for the three-hour hike. It was astonishing. Just amazing. Like out of Jurassic Park as you walk near the famous wax palms - the tallest palms in the world. 

Donde Juan B
After we finished our hike, we settled in for lunch at the restaurant at the start of the trail head. Not sure if there is a Donde Juan A, but Donde Juan B was certainly nice enough. Although I was tricked into eating a blended trout head soup mixed with bones and veggies. This area is known for its good trout, and, despite not liking that particular fish, the soup wasn't bad. But I absolutely got grossed out upon learning what I ate.

Back to Solento
Back on a Willy. But this time we rode on the back. Just because. And it was joyous!

Off to Filandia
Back in the main square, we then immediately purchased Willy return tickets for Filandia - a nearby, neighboring town. Yes, this was packing a lot into one day, but also totally do-able. It's about a 40-minute ride and, similar to Salento, this other town also had a very laid-back vibe. It was just as colorful and with really good food.

Claudia Cafe Bar
Once we got there we treated ourselves to some coffee and a snack at this great little shop right in the main square. There's no shortage of places to sit and take a load off, and this was certainly pleasant enough after the Willy ride. 

Mirador Colina Iluminada
Just a short walk from the town center stands the mirador - a towering lookout point offering 360 degree views of the entire region. Once we got there and started up, it was 110 steps to the top. I counted. And the view really is lovely. It's 27-meters-high which is about 88 feet. 

Viejo Rincon
On the way back to town, we stumbled on this cozy little cafe where people were playing carom billiards. It's a pocketless form of cue sport that I'd never seen before. Truthfully, it looks damn near impossible. So we stopped to watch for a bit. If I lived in Filandia this is definitely where I'd just hang out. 

Calle del Tiempo Detenido
Known as The Street Where Time Stopped  - here we walked to the town's other popular scenic lookout. And, along the way, also found an ATL United sticker! We are everywhere! 

Mirador del Tiempo Detenido
The Time Stopped Viewpoint is at the end of the street. It's great for a beer and look-see.

Helena Adentro
Unquestionably, this was the best meal of the entire trip. Spacious and funky, this place lived up to the hype. Travelers love to talk about this place for a reason. We also tried some amazing rum that we ended up buying before going home to Atlanta.

Las Acacias Coffee Farm
For the next day we scheduled a tour of a nearby coffee plantation. And the weather was pleasant, so we decided to walk there from our hotel. It took us about an hour, but we were accompanied by a friendly dog for most of the journey. So, that was a bonus. Las Acacias is just one of the region's many coffee farms. I forget how or why we chose it, but it was a nice enough experience. 

Willy back into Salento
We decided we weren't up for another hour of walking, so we hailed a Willy to take us back to town where we had a couple more hours to kill before heading back to the airport. So we spent some time strolling, taking in the colorful sights and local dogs. There's actually another mirador we could've seen in this Salento, but I was pretty mirador'd out by this point. I'm sure it was nice, though.

Camino Real
For our last meal in Salento we decided on burgers and beers at a funky little restaurant on the edge of town. God knows that over the past two days of walking we definitely earned the calories.

Avianca #8436
To go back to Bogota, we actually flew out of a different nearby airport - this time in Armenia. The ride was about one hour to get there. And then it was another short flight to Colombia's capital, followed by a moderately long taxi ride to our friends' apartment in the city.

:: BOGOTA ::

We started our morning with some homemade arepas. They were out of this world. I don't deserve friends like this. Thank you, Yani!

Our plan was to first visit this famous hill on the edge of town which is supposed to offer some incredible views. Walking to the top is free and takes an hour. There is also a cable car. But the whole thing is mega touristy and was a bit too crowded for my taste. Just entering the grounds was going to take too long. So we decided to skip it. There were other things we wanted to do, and waiting in line wasn't one of them.  

La Candelaria
Instead of suffering through a touristy viewpoint, we hopped in a cab and drove over to this vibrant historic district of Bogota. It's great for just walking around, people watching, and taking in the heart of the city.

Museo Botero
One of the highlights of the trip was visiting this free museum dedicated to the unmistakable works of Fernando Botero. It's an absolute cannot-miss. Especially if you like big butt and you cannot lie.

Andres D.C.
Back in the central part of the city we stopped at this charming, colorful, and popular restaurant for empanadas and beer. And football. 

Walk to Usaquen Neighborhood
It takes about an hour to walk from the restaurant to the colonial quarter of the city. Which was fine. We needed to kill off lunch and it was nice to stroll the wide boulevards that eventually became cute, narrow streets in one of Bogota's most scenic neighborhoods.

Rock and Roll Circus
But there was a problem. Colombia was playing Argentina in the Copa America and every bar was packed. We knew the match was happening - and we were planning to watch it - but we hadn't counted on every restaurant and pub being filled to the gills. Finally, we landed here. This was the only place where we could find seats to sit down. But it was actually perfect. Our kind of place. Colombia would win 2-0. The streets came to life!

80 Sillas
This was our final dinner in town before our early flight out the next morning. We met back up with our friends to toast with wine and eat some amazing food before going back to their apartment ... where I was then berated by two strongly-opinionated Latin women about why it would be necessary for me to brush my teeth AGAIN at 4:45am before departing for the airport.

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