If you’re reading this post, then you probably already know that I was born in Bogota 30 years ago. Mark my words: Colombia will be the new vacation “hotspot” within the next 1-2 years. So how do you get there from SF, and where should you visit once you arrive? Allow me to explain! From San Francisco the most efficient route is through Panama City on Copa Airlines! From Panama City there are flights every hour to the three major cities in Colombia: Bogota, Medellín, and Cartagena. Our flight was a redeye (not my favorite) but we didn’t loose any time getting there and South America operates on central time so jet lag really isn’t an issue. First stop…BOGOTA!
Your Colombia Travel Guide to Bogota, Medellín, and Cartagena
Where to stay:
Sofitel Bogota Victoria Regia is located in the heart of “La Zona Rosa,” about 40 minutes from the airport. We had a wonderful three nights at this hotel and highly recommend it. The WiFi was complimentary, the breakfast was included with the room rate, the bed was heavenly, and the location is superb. Jonathan and I like being steps away from the action. City life in San Francisco has definitely rubbed off on us! The Zona Rosa has something for everyone and Sofitel Bogota boasts a beautiful property in the middle of it all.
Where to Eat:
La Puerta Falsa in “La Candelaria” serves up authentic Colombian Cuisine and has been since 1816! This hole in the wall joint lives up to the hype and is worth the wait. Get the chicken soup and chocolate plate to start. Don’t ask…just do it! You won’t regret it.
Casa, just two doors down from Sofitel Bogota, is an open-air restaurant offering international food with a Colombian flair. We sat on the heated back patio and for a minute it felt like we were back home in San Francisco!
Dinner at Casa San Isidro on top of Monserrate is an absolute must. We were afraid it would be an over-rated tourist trap, but were pleasantly surprised by the good eats. Ask for a table by the window and prepare to be amazed.
What to do:
“La Candelaria” offers more than just fine food. Rich in history, the Museo de Oro (Gold Museum), the Museo Botero (a famous Colombian Sculptor), and plentiful street art can be found here. Word of advice, arrange a guided tour.
If you’re in the Candelaria neighborhood, you MUST take the cable car to Monserrate for a panoramic view from (10,000 feet up) of the eight million person city. Twin Peaks has got nothin’ on this. WHOA! And while you’re at it, stop for a bite at Casa San Isidro. Dress warm because it’s cold and windy up there. I’m talkin’ 45-50 degrees chilly.
Tip: Avoid the hassle of exchange rates and use Uber to get around Bogota. WiFi is available throughout the city. Please note you will be more comfortable in an Uber Black versus an Uber X, and the difference in cost is negligible.
What to Wear:
Our summer months are Bogota’s winter months. To me, the temperature is perfect because it is very similar to San Francisco. 50s at night (although it felt warmer than that) and 60’s during the day. I dressed in layers with jeans, wedge sandals, and lightweight denim jackets.
The Spanish in Bogota is very textbook – it is very pure and easy to understand. In fact, I used my Spanish all day everyday while we were there. Jonathan, on the other hand, will vouch for me when I say that it would be challenging to visit Bogota without knowing the language…and four years of high school Spanish is not gonna cut it. That is not to say you cannot go there unless you speak Spanish, rather do some research ahead of time, and hire a bilingual guide.
Medellín is an incredibly beautiful city. Here you’ll find desolate country-side as well as bustling nightlife. The city sits in a valley made up of mostly high rise buildings. There is no such thing as a bad view in downtown Medellín!
Where to Stay:
The Charlee Lifestyle Hotel is where it’s at. Located downtown on Calle 9A, this property is simply chic! Featuring a pool/sushi bar on the roof deck, this place is regarded as a Medellín hotspot by locals and tourists alike. Also included in the room rate at Charlee Hotel is WiFi and breakfast – much appreciated. Again, location, location, location. EVERYTHING is steps from the hotel lobby. Boutiques, beer gardens, coffee shops, flower shops, you name it. It felt very much like the Marina District in San Francisco.
What to Eat:
Envy Rooftop on the 17th floor at The Charlee Hotel serves up sushi and Asian Fusion from 5 pm – midnight. And if you’re lucky, it might even be salsa night with live music and entertainment. Regardless, the sushi rolls are works of art and very sizable. Start with the chicken wings and make your way to the salmon and avocado crunchy roll. A “dress to impress” dress code is enforced.
La Guachafita Del LLeras is great for a pre-dinner cocktail or post-dinner dancing. The drinks are all made-to-order and are a good bang for your buck. We enjoyed fresh sangria and pina coloda out of a hollowed out pineapple. You cannot visit an exotic location as a blogger without taking that obligatory fruit beverage photo!
What to Do:
Riding the cable car in Medellín should be at the top of your to-do list. From here you’ll witness sweeping views of the valley and have a better understanding of the typography and challenges it presents. In 2004 the “teleferico” or cable car was constructed as a means of public transportation. This project made it possible for people in the mountainous regions to hold jobs in the big city.
Consider a four hour guided tour. Short and sweet but just enough time to broaden your horizons. Start at Botero Park and finish up over a late lunch at Pueblito Paisa.
What to Wear:
The climate in Medellín is heavenly. There was little to no humidity in the air and the temperature was a consistent 75 degrees. This is very easy dressing weather in my book – anything goes. I rocked two-piece pants sets, a maxi dress, and shorts during the tour.
Medellín is magical. It is very American-friendly as there is city-wide free public WiFi. Uber again works seamlessly from here. The Spanish is slightly faster than Bogota, but more people speak English. Jonathan would be comfortable returning without his personal translator…ME! We stayed for two nights but will make it three on our next Colombian excursion.
Often described as the “Miami of Colombia” this coastal city takes you back to the future – in a good way. The old city sits behind a concrete wall that was constructed back in 1585! It’s a photographer or bloggers’ paradise. The colorful architecture and picturesque backdrops are plentiful. Jonathan’s job as official #InstagramHusband has never been easier.
Where to Stay:
Cartagena is like its own separate country. I didn’t really feel like I was still in Colombia! I highly recommend staying within the old walled city for a one-of-a-kind experience. We stayed at Tcherassi Hotel and Spa. It was very comfortable, and quiet. A totally different experience from Charlee Hotel in Medellin! The beds were lush, and WiFi and breakfast were included with the room rate. Once again we were walking distance to the heart of the city.
What to Eat:
Patacones, patacones, and more patacones! No really though, fried plantains are a menu staple in Cartagena and I was not complaining. Just make sure they’re the green plantains and not the sweet ones.
El Balcon is a flavorful eatery with an abundant menu of Colombian cuisine. Grab a seat along the balcony and people watch as you enjoy 2-for-1 margaritas and a mouthwatering burger. I’ve never appreciated a breeze as much as I did on our first night in
the hottest place on earth Cartagena.
Andante Allegro Vivace is a charming Italian bistro in the middle of the walled city. Here you’ll find Italian favorites such as: cacio e pepe and lasagne, alongside Colombian inspired stuffed pastas. What a treat indulging in Italian comfort food after a week straight of meat and vegetables.
What to Do:
It sounds cheesy, but get lost in the walled city! Start early and end late wandering the magical streets of Cartagena.
Visit Castillo San Felipe de Barajas an old fortress for a lesson in history.
Take a group tour or charter a boat and spend the day exploring Las Islas Rosarios. Here you can scuba dive, snorkel, kayak, etc., in one of Colombia’s most impressive national parks. But don’t be surprised by the rustic nature of the Rosario Islands – you will not find luxurious resorts here! Rather this sanctuary is where you’ll find beautiful white sand beaches and some of the freshest seafood on the planet!
What to Wear:
Is nothing acceptable?! Ha! Cartagena is hot and HUMID. If you visit during June or July I can assure you that you will be sweating the entire time. I saved all my rompers and crop tops for Cartagena and it was the best decision I have ever made.
Thank you for reading my Colombia Travel Guide. Feel free to email me with specific questions should you have any!