If Bogota, Medellin and Cartagena were sisters …
Bogota would be the responsible one, her maturity shaped by the years spent looking after her sisters. Bogota was 9 when her parents decided to divorce and she’s the only sister who still remembers what it felt like when her home became a battleground. Today, Bogota’s really come into her own. She works full-time for the government and is finishing up her MBA. Just don’t be fooled by her calm and collected demeanor; Bogota still knows how to boogie.
Sprawling across 613 square miles on a huge plateau, Bogota’s the fourth-largest and third-highest capital city in South America, its sheer size and elevation making it impossible to ignore. It can take hours to travel from one end of the city to the other, and climbing the stairs before you’ve adjusted to the elevation might leave you breathless — literally. But Bogota’s also well known as the political, industrial, administrative, and cultural capital of the country, making it an incredibly interesting place to visit.
Start at Plaza de Bolivar, the main square in town, before heading towards the colorful Candelaria neighborhood. Here, you can go on a graffiti tour packed with local history, enjoy a cocktail in an intimate bar, or buy a beer from one of the street vendors and post up in the park like a local. If you’re looking to learn something new, visit the Museo Del Oro (the Gold Museum) or the Museo Botero (a museum honoring one of Colombia’s most accomplished artists, Fernando Botero) instead. For those who are more interested in wining and dining, Parque 93 offers an impressive selection of international and local restaurants, while Zona T is the place to party on any night of the week. When you’re done dining and dancing, don’t forget to hop in a cable car and head to the top of Mount Monserrate for sweeping views of the city.
Medellín may be the middle sister, but she’s never spent a day living in someone else’s shadow. Medellin went through some very tough times when she happened to fall in with the wrong crowd during high school, but she’s in a much better place now. Medellín wanted me to tell you that despite the scary stories you might hear about her past, she really is her father’s favourite. He likes to tell anyone who will listen about how much he admires her stormy moods, vibrant personality and adventurous spirit.
Medellín is a city where the clouds meet the mountains, and its geographical location lends the urban sprawl a distinctly jungle vibe. It’s also known as “the City of Eternal Spring,” boasting some of the most delightful weather of any city in the world. On any given day, Medellin’s temperature sits at around 72 degrees Fahrenheit, and even though it rains often, it never seems to last long.
Spend a morning in El Poblado, arguably the city’s safest, most tourist-friendly neighborhood, and cozy up at a coffee shop before parting with your pesos at one of the many boutiques. Then, head for the hills and spend an afternoon at Parque Arvi, a large nature reserve, or visit the Medellín Botanical Gardens, closer to the city centre. For those who are feeling a bit daring, take an Uber (or public transit) on a scenic 40 minute drive away to experience to go tandem paragliding over this magnificent city.
Cartagena’s undoubtedly the boldest and the brightest of the three sisters. She’s charming, elegant and knows how to throw a party. She’s quick to buy tickets for various festivals and enjoys meeting people from all over the world. Cartagena’s an old soul whose simultaneously young at heart. I dare you not to fall a little bit in love with her.
The coastal city of Cartagena is the quintessential, idyllic Colombian destination. Whether you’re looking for a sunny beach vacation, a cultural immersion, or a quick history lesson, Cartagena’s well-preserved Old Town (a UNESCO World Heritage site) is the perfect place to stimulate your senses. It’s the kind of city where visitors actually enjoy getting lost — one of the top things to do is to wander through the streets and stay awhile at whatever draws your attention. From its colorful buildings to its unbeatable cuisine, white-sand beaches to boutique shops, there’s something for everyone in Cartagena. Below, I’ve included a few of my favourite things to do while your there.
Carmen: A pretty, fancy and oh so worth-it restaurant, Carmen holds the number one spot on Trip Advisor and has a sister restaurant in Medellin. I’d recommend splurging and going for the 7 course tasting menu with wine pairings. The small dishes take you on a journey through Colombian cuisine and highlight ingredients that come straight from the sea. If you’re making a reservation, ask for the outdoor courtyard. Prices: $$$ www.carmenrestaurante.com.co
la Cervecheria: Indoors, la Cervecheria is charming with it’s nautical theme while outdoors, it has a handful of sunny tables that decorate the cobblestone street. Anthony Bourdain put this restaurant on the map when he featured it on one of his t.v shows. The seafood and ceviche is on point, but the other dishes (like the Vietnamese rice) are well worth going back for. $$ www.lacevicheriacartagena.com/en
el Balcon: Has average prices, but delivers better than average food. Sit on the balcony on a friday or saturday night, it over looks a lively square and is perfect for people watching. $ www.facebook.com/elbalcondesandiego
Restaurante la Cocina de Cartagena: Also well priced, this restaurant features one of the best Posta Negra’s around. One of my favourite traditional Colombian dishes, Posta Negra is beef cooked in a rich, dark, sweet sauce and served with fluffy white rice and fried plantains. www.lacocinadecartagena.com
Mazola: Located right across from la Cevecheria, Mazola’s a really cool bar/restaurant serving Argentinian food. The space has high ceilings, cool vibes, and their specialities include fried cheese, deep red wines and sizzling steaks. $$
Beer Lovers: When you tire of drinking Club Colombia, head here for an extensive collection of craft beers that have been imported from around the world. (they even have cider!) $ www.facebook.com/Thebeerlovers1/
Mistura: Japanese and Colombian Fusion. Order the blackened tuna steak with salad or the Malibu steak with sweet coconut rice risotto. The latter is served surf and turf style with two small medallions, prawns and a creamy, sweet sauce. Malibu Steak at Mistura is the kind of meal that should cost $40, but only costs $15!
The Clock Pub Bar: Not this pub, but the rooftop bar (on top of this pub) is great fun and gets busier towards the end of the week.
Alquimico Bar: Well-thought out cocktails in an impressive, old, colonial building. If you’re feeling hungry, they also do a delicious Posta Negra dish, though it’s more of a sandwich than a simple steak.
Chivas Tour: Book your spot on a three-hour “chiva” bus tour any night of the week and prepare to party with locals and drink lots of Aguardiente, a popular Colombian Schnapps. The rustic chiva buses were once used in urban cities as public transportation — and still are in rural areas. Now, retired urban chivas are being repurposed as party buses, and each tour comes with a live band, squished seating, and lots of alcohol. On any given evening you can find chivas cruising along the Bocagrande and outside of Old Town, pumping music and inspiring a good time.
Blue Apple Beach: Make a reservation online and head here for the day to enjoy hammock naps, ocean views and piña colada’s by the pool. A boat will pick you up at around 10am from Bocagrande and drop you back at 5 or 6pm. Important things to note: the boat costs $25 round trip and the resort club has a minimum spend of 25$ (which you can easily spend on lunch or a massage (30$). I highly recommend choosing the steak smothered in bleu cheese sauce or the ribs with homemade BBQ sauce. www.blueapplebeach.com
The Movich Hotel: Has great wifi, great service and a great menu. Walk in here like you’re a paying guest and head straight to the top floor for sweeping views of Old and New town. There’s regular seating on the rooftop, as well as little cabanas. The staff here also don’t seem to mind how long you stay, as long as you’re eating and drinking something.