Our 3 weeks and 5 destinations in Colombia had many highlights, and discovering Bogota certainly was one of them.
Before arriving, Mike and I didn’t know much about the city and questioned whether 5 days there might be too many, but instead, it turned out to be not enough!
There were countless veggie restaurants left un-visited, a major museum missed (Museo del Oro, a must-see, I hear), and day after day of blue skies and 70-degree temperatures that I didn’t want to leave.
We were there over New Year’s Eve, which had pros & cons. Most Colombians ring in the New Year at home with their extended families, and it’s also a popular time of year to vacation at the coastal cities, leaving Bogota somewhat deserted. On the ‘pro’-side, we got a great rate at a top-notch hotel (including the breakfast buffet & 2 massages!), and the city, which I hear is often very congested, didn’t seem to be so at all. On the ‘con’-side, many restaurants and businesses were closed – some just for the holiday, and others for the whole week (saddest of all, we missed out on Felipan Chocolateria!).
But before I begin the travel re-cap, I have a lesson to share with anyone who loves to take photos. Half-way through our trip, when deleting a single photo from my camera, the camera froze and instead deleted hundreds of photos. I shed a few tears, then agreed to set that camera a side and move forward using Mike’s camera, since he thought our chances for recovering the photos would be greater if we didn’t use my memory card anymore.
Honestly, I didn’t even know photo recovery was possible, but Mike was right! Weeks later, once we were home, Mike googled our memorycard maker and their website had a free tool for restoring deleted items. Several of the photos were corrupted (like the ones immediately below), but more than 70% of them came out perfectly clear and are the ones you’ll see throughout this post.
So thanks to Mike for making this blog-post possible. Oh yeah, and thanks to him for marrying me and planning our adventurous honeymoon too
I have so much to say about Bogota, but for the sake of your time, I’ll try to limit myself to my Top 5 Highlights:
1. Cooking with Doña Elsa
One of the best experiences of our entire trip was our cooking class with Doña Elsa, as recommended by Janet @ The Taste Space. Doña Elsa, while not Vegan or Vegetarian herself, is always happy to tailor her classes to her students. While our meal was more modest than the feast that Janet had, for me, this class taught me so much more than cooking.
Doña Elsa only speaks Spanish and Mike and I speak very little. While we could have hired a translator from the company we booked the class through, they thought we’d be fine since cooking is mostly show & tell. Much to my surprise, we actually were more than fine. Our class was on our first day of our trip, and neither Mike nor I had spoken our limited Spanish in years, but Doña Elsa was so patient with us that it was fun to try.
Our class started out with a trip to the market that Doña Elsa shops at ‘todos los dias’ (every day), just a 5 minute walk from her house. Everything we needed for our meal was bought fresh for just a couple of dollars.
Seeing her home was also an amazing experience for Mike & I. She lived in what seemed to be a typical home in the midst of the bustling La Candelaria neighborhood. It was very simply furnished, but the living room (which had only 3 walls) opened onto a beautiful courtyard, full of plants, trees, chickens, and a cat that didn’t seem to bother them at all. Her grown kids and grandchildren lived upstairs.
My Spanish was very broken, and I used Google Translate like a crutch, but as we prepared the food, we managed to have a real conversation. When Doña Elsa asked, I was even able to give a very elementary explanation of why I limit my consumption of eat Eggs and Dairy – that back home, the animals are kept in very small cages and are taken away from their mothers while they are still babies.
Mike and I shelled some fresh beans and peas, cut some potatoes and then sat back as her Pressure Cooker did most of the work.
We also helped peel the Lulo fruits, a sour citrus fruit that Doña Elsa blended with water & sugar, then strained, to make Lulada. It reminded me of a frothy cross between Orange Juice and Lemonade.
The output of the Pressure Cooker was this beautiful Sancocho, a traditional soup of potatoes, plantains, pumpkin, peas, and beans. We found it interesting that no seasonings were needed to make this classic soup. It was topped with fresh cilantro and a few optional shakes of hot sauce, but other than that, the only flavors in this soup are those of the vegetables (or more traditionally, the meats).
I loved how fresh and simple this soup was. I had two bowls and thought it was the perfect healthy yet hearty lunch!
I also left Doña Elsa’s house with a snack for later – a bag of “Uchuva” or “Ground Cherries” that she treated me to at the market, since I was curious. These are a lot like cherry tomatoes, but a little bit sweeter & tarter.
2. Naturalmente Restaurante Vegetariano
Lunch was one of my favorite things in Colombia – we had so many multi-course vegetarian meals for $5 or less throughout the country, but Naturalmente’s was, in my opinion, the best!
The restaurant serves a set menu that changes every day and is only open for lunch (12-3) Monday – Saturday. Rika recommended arriving before 12:15 to beat the crowds and we were so glad we followed her advice. When we first arrived, we were the only customers in the downstairs dining room, but as we were served our meal, we watched the room fill up. Most of the diners appeared to be workers from the nearby office buildings and it made me wish I had a place to get a healthy, quick meal like this every day near my office!
The standard lunch includes juice, fruit, soup, a main course, and a small dessert. The day we dined there, the menu was:
- Juice: Choice of Blackberry (Mora) or Papaya Juice
- Fruit: Apple or Banana
- Soup: Ajiaco (a traditional soup that includes 3 kinds of potatoes)
- Main Course: Salad, Rice, and Peruvian Tacu Tacu (which reminded me of a lentil-loaf)
- Dessert: a Quinoa dessert (a lot like rice-pudding)
We definitely would have dined there a couple more times if they weren’t closed for the New Years holiday!
3. Museo Botero
Before our trip, I had never heard of the artist Fernando Botero but now I consider him to be one of my favorite artists. He sculpts & paints a variety of subjects (people, animals, food, buildings, etc) all to a large scale. According to Wikipedia, he does this to show political criticism or humor, depending on the piece.
Most of all, I love the whimsical feel of his paintings with their bright pastels and cartoonish feel. The museum of his works made for a very fun afternoon.
His version of Mona Lisa definitely made me smile.
My other favorites include this perfect Pear…
… and this apple tree (from the Museo Nacional).
And of course I loved the next painting, since it kinda looks like Mike!
Best of all, Museo Botero is completely FREE of charge to visit since he donated his art works to the museum.
4. Monserrate & Serra
On New Year’s Day since so many museums and businesses were closed, we headed to Monserrate, a mountain overlooking the city of Bogota.
There is a church at the top of the mountain and so locals often make the pilgrimage to the top, especially on Sundays and Holidays.
There is an aerial tramway and also a funicular railway that goes up to the top, but Mike and I decided to take the stairs.
The concierge at our hotel thought the hike up might take us 45 minutes, but I think it was actually closer to two hours before we reached the top. It was TOUGH!
Not only was it a steep climb of more than 1,000 steps… by the time we reached the top, we were at an altitude of over 10,000 feet! (Oh yeah, I forgot to mention, the city of Bogota is even higher than the city of Denver!)
Luckily, we had company along the way. At the very start of the hike, I paused to take a picture of this sweet black dog, before she trotted ahead.
Before long, I started noticing that despite the many rest breaks I was taking, I kept catching up to her. It turns out, she was taking rest breaks whenever I did, and when I’d pass her again, she’d trot ahead once more. This went on for the entire 2-hour hike up the hill, the hike back down, and even deep into the city, until Mike and I had to get on the city bus.
Even after all that exercise, she wouldn’t take food from us, she seemed to just want the companionship.
Softie that I am, I gave her a name – Serra, after the mountain Monserrate that she knew so well.
There were hundreds of people hiking the hill that day (many who I saw even give her a friendly pat), but she chose us.
And it broke my heart.
I wish she had chosen a local who could have brought her home with them. If I had met her in Chicago, I certainly would have.
Serra left an even bigger impression on me than this breathtaking view did.
5. Festival-like atmosphere on the streets
Lastly, I loved the Festival-like atmosphere of the streets. Mike and I spent the majority of each day simply walking around with no particular objective.
Below is Bolivar Square which houses not only the city’s primary Cathedral, but also the seat of their government including the Colombian Congress and Supreme Court.
Happiness was everywhere.
A few more glimpses
While those were my top 5 highlights, I’ll leave you with a few more quick glimpses of our time in Bogota.
Not sweet like North American corn, this grilled corn was a starchy, savory treat.
Riding the Transmilenio bus system.
Another beautiful square.
Most streets throughout the city are closed Sunday mornings for bikers & joggers.
Our Hotel’s Breakfast Buffet (complete with Leche de Soya for my coffee!). If anyone knows the name of the sweet, mushy, and very very seedy fruit in the right-hand photo, please let me know
I’d love to hear from you!
What’s your favorite exotic fruit?
What’s your favorite place to climb to?