Colombia is easily one of the most beautiful and diverse countries in South America. During our stay in Colombia, we visited Bogotá (the country's capital) and Cartagena. Each of these cities have a different flair: Bogotá has the city life, while Cartagena has the beach vibes. You'll enjoy plenty of good food, beautiful views, and rich history when you visit Colombia.
Bogotá's airport is called El Dorado International Airport and it is big and busy, with lots of shops and restaurants to enjoy during your layover (for my coffee lovers, they have a Starbucks and Dunkin Donuts in the airport).
Recommendations for Bogotá:
Bogotá is a high-altitude city, so expect colder temperatures between 50 and 60 degrees Fahrenheit. It also rains a lot, so pack an umbrella or rain jacket to use during the "spot showers."
Where to Stay: Chapinero, La Candelaria, or La Zona Rosa
We booked an Airbnb in a popular area of Bogotá called Chapinero. Located about 20-25 minutes from the airport, this is a safe area. There are also quite a few restaurants to eat at in Chapinero, but if you're looking for late night eats, your options may be a little limited, as most of the restaurants close between 10pm and 11pm.
La Candelaria has a lot of historical flair, from the classic cobblestone streets and historical landmarks. This is easily considered one of the most popular places to stay amongst tourists, especially if you're looking to do a lot of sightseeing in Bogota. There are plenty of Airbnbs, hotels, and hostels to book if you choose to stay in La Candelaria.
La Zona Rosa (also known as Zona T) is known as the entertainment district, with shops and restaurants that go on for miles. If you book your stay at a hotel or Airbnb here, be prepared for the loud music and noise from city traffic that may be an issue at night. Nonetheless, if you want to be close to the action and not have to worry too much about transportation, this would be an ideal place to book a stay while visiting Bogota. You will hear the locals and tourists refer to this area as Zona T, as the streets connect in a T-shape.
La Zona Rosa is where the popular shopping mall, Centro Comercial Andino is located.
Uber is popular in Colombia, as well as taxis. It is easy to call an Uber from pretty much anywhere in Bogotá, however you will likely hear from the drivers that Uber is "illegal" in Colombia, due to strict transportation regulations by their government and police enforcement. However, booking transportation from the Uber app is still accessible from the airport, your hotel/Airbnb, or any restaurant or mall you're visiting. I recommend only calling a taxi from the airport or allowing your hotel to book your taxi for you, should you choose to use taxi services. In the past, tourists have been a target for crimes like mugging, robbery, etc., especially while riding in a taxi. This is why it is not always a good idea to hop in a taxi from just anywhere during your stay in Colombia. During my stay in Colombia, I felt safe each time we were in an Uber or a taxi. The fees are relatively cheap, with an Uber from the Airbnb to the airport costing no more than $6 USD.
In Cartagena, it was easier to call a taxi from the Clocktower/downtown area, as there were plenty of taxis lined up ready to take us back to our Airbnb after our night out. We also had a driver who provided top notch service during our stay in Colombia. Book Eddie as your driver before arriving in Cartagena, you won't regret it! Eddie provided us with round trip service to the airport and he also took us on tours in the Walled City and Palenque. Here is his contact information, tell him that Kamaria sent you!
Travel Tip: Always share your location with a family member or friend while traveling (especially in a foreign country) for safety reasons.
The national currency of Colombia is the Colombian Peso. Colombia Pesos are in increments of thousands and they do not use commas to separate the zeros. A bill with a 10 on it is equal to 10000 Colombian Pesos (COP), a bill with a 50 on it is equal to 50000 COP, etc. For conversion rates, 10000 COP is equal to about 0.00020 USD (not even a whole dollar). $1 USD is equal to about 4968.47 COP. We stayed in Colombia for 4 days and I exchanged about $150 cash or 750000 COP which was enough for our short stay. However, you will likely need to keep your Colombian Pesos to use to tip your driver or make purchases on the street (art, food, souvenirs, etc.). You'll only want to swipe your card at restaurants or in the shopping malls (be mindful of what your bank charges for international transaction fees). Since the US dollar is worth more than the Colombian Peso, try your best to use the local currency during your visit.
Travel Tip: Exchange your money before you go, avoid doing currency exchange at the airport upon arrival to your destination as the exchange rates will be higher than they were in the states. Download the Currency Converter app to help you with money conversions during your stay.
Places to Eat in Bogota
Breakfast & Brunch Options: Le Pain Quotidien - great option for quick bites, sandwiches, and good drinks. There is more than one location, but while you're at the Andino shopping mall, there is one is right across the street from the mall. A lot of the restaurants inside the mall don't open until 11am (some don't open until noon), so if you're in this area, you'll likely have to venture outside and try some of the places that serve breakfast. Check out Le Amis Biscuit for a variety of breakfast/brunch menu items or La Puerta Falsa for traditional Colombian food.
Lunch & Dinner Options: Mala Flor has great options for lunch and it opens at 12pm. The aesthetic is so cool, especially the "whispering statue" out in the front. Orleans House is a great place to go for dinner. They don't open until 4pm, but if you like Creole food and live music, definitely check out this place (the Shrimp Po'Boy is delicious). If you like a good rooftop bar, check out Palenque Tropical House.
Things to do in Bogotá
Plaza de Bolívar (Bolivar Square)
Catedral Primada de Colombia
Museo Nacional de Colombia
Salitre Mágico - amusement park
Andino Shoppping Mall (Centro Comercial Andino)
Travel Tip: Colombian people are very friendly, however many of the locals only speak Spanish. Practice speaking some Spanish before you go, or download a good translator app to use while you're there.
Recommendations for Cartagena:
Cartagena is on the coast with a tropical climate, so pack for hot temperatures between 75 and 80 degrees Fahrenheit. Spot showers are also common here, so you'll likely need to bring your umbrella with you.
The best way to travel from Bogotá to Cartagena is by plane. The flight is about an hour and you can book fairly cheap tickets through some of the local airlines like Avianca (this is who we booked with, tickets were about $60 one way/$120 round trip) or LATAM (Latin American Airlines).
I'll just get right to it: the best part about visiting Cartagena is the culture. We couldn't wait to walk around in the Walled City to explore more of Colombia's authentic culture and history. The Walled City is a popular place amongst tourists and locals alike, because of the many places to eat, tour, and shop. You'll see men pulling horses and carriages, statues and churches with a lot of history, and of course...Palenqueras. (see photo below)
Palenqueras are native to their land of Palenque, which is the first free town in the Americas. The people who are from Palenque are proud of their history, culture, native language, and customs. They are descendants of Africa and you will likely see the women of Palenque, or palenqueras, dressed in their traditional clothing, walking around with large fruit baskets on their heads. Although they reside in Palenque, they travel to the city to take pictures with tourists (for a small fee of course).
The art and history thrives in Cartagena. Standing in the middle of the Walled City was so surreal, because of all the rich history that was born here. Cartagena is surrounded by 11 kilometers of fortress walls, which were originally built to protect the city from foreign invasions and pirate attacks.
I just could not get over the myriad of talented artists who sell their work throughout the Walled City. The artwork was simply phenomenal and I will be back to purchase some pieces for my home.
Travel Tip: Although there is much to see and do in the Walled City, be mindful of your surroundings at all times. I want to bust the myth that Colombia is a "dangerous place," because it truly is one of the most beautiful and culturally-rich countries I've traveled to. However, the US dollar is worth a lot more than the Colombian Peso and some locals may target tourists to pickpocket or panhandle.
I felt safe the entire time I was visiting Colombia, speaking Spanish helped me navigate the country a lot better. The Clocktower is in the center of the Walled City and at night, you can come here for the rooftop bars and street food. There are plenty of taxis ready to take you where you need to go right in front of the Clocktower. At night it shines so beautifully, making it a striking landmark in the heart of the city.
Places to Eat
La Casa de Socorro - Popular seafood restaurant in walking distance from the Clocktower (Try the Sea bass, crab claws, and coconut lemonade...thank me later)
La Mulata - Caribbean restaurant
Buena Vida - Catch the dazzling Colombian sunset at this Rooftop Restaurant, reservations recommended
La Cevicheria - Paella is something everyone should try at least once, this place has some of the top rated paella in the city.
Things to Do
Tour the Walled City
Go to the Beach (choose from Hollywood Beach, Palmarito Beach, or Baru Beach...or visit them all)
Go inside the Altar of Iglesia de San Pedro Claver (he was a Spanish Jesuit monk who is known as the "Apostle of the Blacks," has he dedicated his life to advocate for slaves)
Book an all-day boat ride to the many islands of Cartagena
Take a day trip to Palenque: this was a highlight of the trip for sure, an unforgettable experience that taught me so much about the African roots that run deep in Colombia. Palenque is about and hour and a half from Cartagena, but it is worth the drive to experience life inside the first free town in the Americas. This is Black history. Book your day tour to Palenque with Eddie, because he really enjoys taking tourists on this tour and he is very familiar with so much of the Colombian history (I shared his contact information above)
San Basilio de Palenque (better known as Palenque) is a tiny, but mighty town. Traditions are rich and the culture is pure, the people make you feel right at home.
The people of Palenque primarily speak their own language (Palenquero) and it is the only Spanish-based Creole language in Latin America. They made this land their home when their ancestors, who were enslaved at the time, fled the area that was once a primary destination of the slave trade (modern-day Colombia). To protect themselves and find shelter, they built small towns called "palenques," or towns enclosed by wooden sticks or poles.
Many of the homes are still well-preserved and we had the pleasure of touring a small museum in Palenque, which still contains the original walls and roof made of only natural elements from their land. Palenqueros, or the local people of the town, have chosen to detach themselves from the rest of modern-day society and survive on their own small-scale economy. The population of Palenque is less than 5,000 people.
Traditional and herbal medicine is still practiced and Palenqueros prefer to keep it that way, often refraining from traveling into the city for help from hospitals or modern-day medicine.
Palenqueros and Palenqueras (fem.) grow their own food, harvest crops, and raise livestock. Don't be surprised when you see pigs, goats, horses, and donkeys roaming around (there are also plenty of dogs running around looking for food too).
Antonio Cervantes is likely one of the most famous Palenqueros. He is a two-time world champion boxer, and because of his success in the 1970s, his hometown of Palenque was able to officially get electricity after he expressed this as his only wish after his wins.
There are two important statues in Palenque dedicated to Antonio Cervantes and his legacy.
Visiting Palenque should definitely be on your list of things to do while in Cartagena.
Sunsets in Cartagena are breathtaking, definitely be sure to catch one while you're there.
Don't miss out on experiencing the beach vibes while you're in Cartagena, the weather is perfect for a day or night on the beach.
Book a stay at Palmetto Beach in Cartagena for nice rooftop and beachfront views. You can also choose to stay in the Walled City if you want to stay near all the action in the heart of the city.
To say my experience in Colombia was amazing is an understatement. Bogotá and Cartagena each have a flair of their own...but consider this your sign to visit Colombia!