Part II is dedicated to the practical side of trekking to the Lost City. But before we get to what you should wear and what to pack, let’s take a moment to discuss whether or not you should plan a visit at all.
Because, when we returned to Bogotá and were excitedly chatting about our trip and showing pictures, we were met with a few mumbles of huh,that’s it? These conversations led me to feel that a little setting of expectations is in order for anyone considering this particular trek.
Who wouldn’t want to see a recently rediscovered ancient city? Bygone civilizations, ruins, and abandoned places have always captured people’s attention—just think of ancient Rome’s obsession with the pyramids or the excavation and tourism of Pompeii and Herculaneum in the mid-18th century. Relatively speaking Colombia’s Ciudad Perdida is a new kid on the block, which is why we found ourselves in the middle of the jungle over the long Easter weekend.
Karen Attman, journalist and creator of the Flavors of Bogota foodie website, has a new love: Colombian coffee. I shouldn’t say the fascination is new, per se, because she’s lived in Colombia for many years.
Nonetheless, it was Karen’s deep appreciation of Colombian beans and a curiosity as to what made them unique which resulted in the Flavors of Bogotá Coffee Shop Tour, an experience that should be added to the list of tourists and locals alike.
This past week my friend Tiffany and I had the pleasure of spending a couple of hours with Karen and learning about Colombian coffee from the ground up. Over the course of the morning, we visited three different craft coffee houses in Bogotá’s chic restaurant district, trying a different variety of bean and method of brewing at each.
In between tastings—in addition to letting our caffeine buzz wear off slightly—we heard about the history of Colombian coffee, the specific conditions which make it the best in the world, and why craft houses like the ones we’re visiting are only just now becoming popular.
Keep reading for a few cool moments from the tour.
When planning a trip anywhere new, I inevitably do some googling about what to wear. While I know there’s no way to completely avoid looking like a tourist, my goal is always to land somewhere in the middle of the spectrum between the locals and those wearing fanny packs and American flag t-shirts.
Recently I’ve gotten a couple of reader questions about what to wear while visiting Bogotá, which makes me think that you all think I know what I’m talking about…at least a little bit. Part of that is true: after about two years in this city I can pick out tourists in a snap and know how to dress based on an invite’s time and location.
When you think of Colombia, Bogotá is kind of in a category of its own. For one thing, it’s location at about 8,500 feet above sea level means that it’s much cooler than the rest of the country. Temperatures don’t vary greatly and for the most part, hover around the low fifties. That said, there are afternoons when the sun can bring the temps to the low seventies, and chilly evenings where it can sink as low as the forties. December and January are the warm, dry months and April/May and October/November are quite wet. Another way that Bogotá differs is that as the capital and center of business, dressing seems more formal and sophisticated than the rest of the country.
Keep reading for a few of my ideas of what to bring—or leave behind—on a trip to Colombia’s capital city.
You know how they say that pets resemble their owners or couples who’ve been married for years start to look alike? Well, the same can be said when you live in a foreign country—it’s inevitable that you’ll pick up a few new mannerisms and cultural quirks from your newly adopted home. It’s been no different for me in Bogotá!
Keep reading for the little ways I’ll be taking Bogotá with me when we leave.
It’s a strange thing to fall in love with a place—you want to tell everyone, but you’re also aware that popularity may be the harbinger of death for the thing you love. Because, it’s inevitable that the more visitors a place has, the more it will change to accommodate those visitors and chances are, the quirky, charming bits that attracted you in the first place will be among the first to go.
My mouth is saying no thanks, but my tone isn’t quite serious because this woman’s fingertips have somehow found a magic spot in my shoulder that is rendering me incapable of shooing her away.
Knowing better, I cave and ask how much.
Apparently, a half hour massage on Isla Baru will run you 150 000COP. At today’s exchange rate that’s about $45 USD, the same price you’d pay at a fancy hotel spa—complete with ambiance and a legitimate massage oil—for an hour massage. Inwardly wagging a finger at myself, I try and negotiate a price more along the lines of those I’ve seen at the spa/salon combos lining the streets of Bogotá (around 30 000COP) before giving my no thanks more gusto and trying to untangle myself from her tranquilizing grip.
Baru is an island just off Cartagena’s coast and is touted as having some of the best beaches in the country. But—as you’ll find upon the teeniest bit of research—reports are polarizing. I had heard it’s a must-visit in Colombia, beautiful with a stunning beach; I’d also heard that it was crowded, dirty, and filled with aggressive vendors. It would be one thing if it were just Cody and I making this decision, but we were in Cartagena for Christmas and were showing his parents a bit of Colombia outside of Bogotá.
In the end, it was street vendor Edgar Forever (yes, last name Forever) who convinced us that we should give Baru a chance. Edgar, as it turns out, was born and raised on Baru. According to him, Christmas morning is usually spent at home while the adults are recovering from the previous night’s festivities and would be a perfect time to enjoy the beaches, sans the masses.
Between the opinions of Cody (repeating suggestions from colleagues that we must visit) and myself (repeating every horror story I’d read on TripAdvisor), his poor parents were imparted with high hopes and low expectations. And so, the plan was set.
Between the quiet and the warm, dry smell of earth and pine trees in the sunshine, I didn’t feel like I was in Bogotá. I haven’t lived in Oregon for years, but smelling the evergreen trees growing in the José Celestino Mutis Botanical Garden, I was taken back to summers walking in Portland’s Laurelhurst Park with my dad.
Because of the skyscrapers and cloud cover, Bogotá can be a pretty gray place. Multiple people have recommended I visit and I’d been meaning to go for months, but if you know anything about traffic in this city, then you know how your excitement to venture out can be quickly tempered by the time of day and direction of your destination. Thankfully, Bogotá empties the week after Christmas and the visiting in-laws and I were able to make an easy afternoon visit.
One needn’t go far to find a good time in Colombia, but there is one thing that has become synonymous with a party in this country: the chiva bus.
A couple of things every gringo should know about the chiva experience:
Don’t wear nice shoes, because as you bump over and around the ubiquitous potholes that mark the roads of Bogotá, you’ll be sprinkled with more sloshing beer and spilled aguardiente than you’d like.
You won’t think you’re drinking a lot, but you are. Even though the 100 tiny plastic cups of aguardiente passed around are only half full, they’ll quickly add up…
I’m sorry if you’re tall. Chiva ceilings are about 5’7″, meaning that even if you’re lucky and don’t knock your noggin on one of the steel roof supports, you’ll still spend the night dancing with your neck at a comfortable forty-five-degree angle.
When we moved to Bogotá, I relied heavily on Tripadvisor and a guidebook about Colombia for advice on the must-sees and must-eats of my new city. However, when you find yourself actually living in a new city—especially in a foreign country—you quickly realize travel guides are made for travelers and will only take you so far. Living in Bogotá: A Practical Guide by Expats and Locals for Expats picks up where TripAdvisor and LonelyPlanet drop off: with all of the day-to-day info you need to settle in.