(What a surprise, it’s been ages since our last post! Sorry, again.) As the month of March came to an end so did our time in Costa Rica. For a while now we had been planning to travel for a few months with our friends Chris and Elizabeth and just trying to nail down the when and where, and it turned out that the best (cheapest) country for the four of us to meet was Colombia. Before leaving the country, we spent one last night in San Jose which is where our flight departed from. We took some time to relax, return our beloved Chica Blanca, and obtain the necessary negative Covid tests to travel. With negative test results in hand, we waived goodbye to Central America and headed south to Colombia.
Chris and Elizabeth’s flight had them arriving to Bogota late on April 1st but we arrived a few days before them. While both Emily and I had been to Colombia before, we had never been to the city of Bogota, so we were excited to check out a new location.
As is the case with each new city we really enjoy trying as much of the local cuisine as possible. Our first meal in Bogota was a delicious tamale and hot chocolate with cheese from La Puerta Falsa, a tiny hole in the wall place and one of the oldest restaurants in the city. Emily had read that some locals put the cheese into the hot chocolate, so we tried it and surprisingly enjoyed it. (This won’t be the first time we pair cheese with a surprising food; more on that in our next country.)
After breakfast we did a bit of research to find a place to hang out for the day. Bogota had lots of small local coffee shops that not only offered espresso drinks (more typical than what we know as “coffee” in the US) so we found one and posted up for some cards and coffee. This is arguably the best coffee I’ve ever had.
After enjoying our coffee and a nice quiet afternoon we headed to dinner at another local spot. This time, however, we opted for a more American style dinner and stopped at one of the many burger places we had walked by that day, called Voodoo. There seemed to be a lot of burger places in Bogota, but this one looked great and the guys who worked there were super excited to have us for dinner. It is not an exaggeration to say that they prepared some of the best burgers we’ve ever had, so much so that we returned a second and third time with Chris and Elizabeth once they joined us. Shout out to Pacha for being a great host!
We spent the next few days exploring our neighborhood, La Candelaria, which was a super cool old town with lots of street art and murals and great old cobblestone streets. For lunch we tried another local food, changua, which is a soup typically served at breakfast with a milk base, poached eggs, bread, and cilantro. It sounded a bit funny to us but was delicious. That day Chris and Elizabeth came to meet us we ordered take out for dinner and stayed up until they arrived from the airport around midnight, yay friends!
The weekend they arrived happened to be Holy Week/Easter, which is a big holiday in Colombia. Our first day we ventured through town down a huge road that was closed off to traffic and was lined on each side with vendors selling all kinds of used items, crafts, and foods. This road happened to be a main thoroughfare through the city would turn out to be Chris’ favorite, so we made sure to walk on it at least once a day.
We decided it was worth another trip to La Puerta Falsa so Chris and Elizabeth could try the cheese and hot chocolate for themselves. They took our advice and combined the two and agreed that it was a good albeit strange combination. For the rest of the day we hopped to a few different places for beer and cards, dodging the rain as best we could. After a long first day traveling together we headed back to our Airbnb and found the game “Guess Who” (in Spanish) and ended up playing all night. Highly recommend this as a way to practice Spanish. Later that night I ended up ordering a pizza for the group at a great price, only to have a small personal pizza arrive 45 minutes later. It was tiny. Good, but tiny. Classic mistake.
The next day we signed up for a free bike tour around the city. Before our tour we made an attempt to climb the famed steps up to Monseratte, on a mountain overlooking the city, however the steps were closed and only the funicular was running, which we opted to pass on (foreshadowing – we tried climbing the steps a few more times but they were always closed). After grabbing some coffee and snacks, we headed to the meeting point for the start of our tour.
Our guide met us and took us to his shop to select our bikes, and then we were off on our tour. We started by navigating our way through an extremely packed 7th street with tons of people out and about due to the Holy Week festivities. From there we continued through the city, this time mostly on bike paths, before making a stop in Parque National. Here our guide treated us to samples of four local drinks including our favorite which was made of guayabana.
Our tour continued through the city including a long stretch of graffiti and street art which was really cool. There were surprisingly a lot of nice, well protected bike lanes through the city. The next area we biked through was Santa Fe, a somewhat sketchy area known as Bogotá’s red light district, so we made good time during this portion of the tour. Following Santa Fe our guide led us up the steepest hill in Candelaria which kicked all of our butts, but was fortunately the last hurrah for our tour. It was great to see new parts of the city, learn part of it’s history, and hear the tidbits of information our guide had to offer at each stop we made.
After an exhausting day on the bikes we took it a bit slower the following day and went in search of more good coffee and food. We stopped back at our favorite cafe for some coffee and then found a small restaurant to try another local cuisine on our list, ajiaco. Ajiaco is a chicken soup typically eaten at lunch including corn, potatoes, guacamole, and avocado. It was, of course, delicious.
Our next stop was a day trip to Zipaquira, known for their famous underground salt mine cathedral. After a quick bus ride and breakfast of some delicious street arepas, empanadas, and coffee, we headed to the cathedral to start or tour. I was a really cool experience, as the people in this part of the country had not only mined salt from the earth here but also carved out numerous caverns with the stations of the cross and even an entire cathedral underground.
After completing our tour of the massive underground cave system, we took a tram back out to the surface and found a cafe for some afternoon beers. On the way home (via bus) we accidentally missed our stop so we were forced to get off at the next one, which luckily was a bit closer to our AirBnB. Unluckily, however, we were physically unable to leave the station without purchasing a city bus card and hopping on a city bus. After walking up and down the platform a few times, we eventually figured this out, grabbed a ticket, and took the bus as close to our apartment as possible. A strange situation but an adventure nonetheless.
The next day we packed up our stuff and grabbed a bus to Villa de Leyva, which has turned out to be one of our favorite towns thus far. It was small, quaint town with cobblestone streets and really cool old buildings and plenty of good food options. We spent our first day eating at a few local places and playing cards, and ended up eating a great dinner at a restaurant with an outdoor garden/patio and live music.
Day two in Villa de Leyva was spent hiking up the mountain overlooking town. The hike was straight up hill and ended at Mirador El Santo Sagrada Corazon de Jesus, a small Jesus status perched atop the hill. We spent a bit of time at the top to catch our breath and took off just in time to be rained on for the entire journey down the mountain. As a reward we stopped for some more hot chocolate with cheese and even found a local craft brewery, Cervezeria Hisca for some tasty beer.
One of the best perks of long term travel is flexibility. We typically “plan” the next few days to a week at a time (and by “plan”, we mean have a place to sleep and figure out the rest on the fly). Fortunately, that comes in handy when plans change last minute, which has happened a lot this year. That evening we spent some time researching our next move only to discover that cities in the northern part of Colombia (especially Medellin, one of our planned stops) were going into more strict Covid shut downs due to rising cases. After some time messaging people we know in Colombia and discussing our options, we decided leaving Colombia was our best option. We cancelled our next hostel and got a bus back to Bogota the following morning. To make a long story short, we spent the next few days watching a lot of movies and playing a lot of games (including Monopoly in Spanish) in our Airbnb apartment in Bogota. We also found the next cheapest flight out of the country to a place with much lower Covid numbers and plenty of opportunities for adventure… Ecuador! With negative Covid tests in hand we set off for the airport much earlier than planned, but excited for a new country.