What not to wear in Bogota

what to wear in Bogota Colombia
Don’t. Just don’t.

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.

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La Isla Baru: A few tips for a great trip

Isla Baru - Playa Blanca
Christmas morning off the coast of Cartagena, on Isla Baru

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.

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A perfect wedding in paradise.

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As we were asked us to turn off our phones, tuck them away and simply be present in the moment, I thought oh dang—I sat up a little straighter as the light bulb flicked on and it really sunk in that I was about to witness something serious…that was immediately followed by an equal measure of wonder and gratitude that we had been included in such a special occasion.

Perhaps we weren’t the only ones marveling at our inclusion, as technically we’d spent only a handful of days with the bride and groom since having met at a language school in Antigua, Guatemala early last year. Our paths crossed again as they traveled through Bogotá a few months later, and then again when we all happened to be in San Diego last August. That was when they asked us if we’d like to come to Bali for their wedding.

The amazing thing about travel is that when you’re untethered and drifting, you’re opened up to connecting with people in ways you’d never do when you’re at home, hurrying to work with your nose buried in your iPhone. Traveling is also a kind of personality litmus test because it’s impossible not to form impressions of people based on their travel style: what kind of places they stay, if they prefer to do things on their own as opposed to tours or if they plan or fly by the seat of their pants. Sometimes you meet people that you’ll hang out with because you’re going in the same direction for a bit, and sometimes you meet people that you just click with and wished lived in your town because you know you’d be great friends. Rich and Carly are the latter.

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Five days, four friends and one World Wonder: Our trip to Machu Picchu

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The only thing that turns people into “photographers” faster than their own newborn babies is traveling…even more so if you’re visiting one of those must-see places like Machu Picchu.  A couple of short weeks ago we shouldered our bags and did this ourselves as we took a quick trip to Cusco and Aguas Calientes with our best friends.

Much like my post about our trip through Argentina and Uruguay this past Christmas, keep scrolling for a gratuitous display of what we did with a few tips thrown in by way of providing some text.

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Palomino – Perfection

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Jamaica, the Bahamas, Antigua, Cancún…I’ve been to a few gorgeous beaches touched by Caribbean waters but Palomino is by far my favorite.  A half hour past the entrance to Parque Tayrona, Palomino has everything we loved about Colombia’s most famous national park (see my previous post here), only without the crowds, fees and sweaty hikes.  We spent three fantastically serene days there alternating between walking in the waves and swinging in hammocks.

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Villa de Leyva: A great weekend away

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Charlie in Villa de Leyva’s main square

While Cody’s parents were visiting us for a couple of weeks (and coincidentally over Easter) we thought it was a the perfect time to visit this sweet little town that we’d heard so much about.   Villa de Leyva was named a national monument in 1954 and its whitewashed colonial buildings and cobble stone streets have been practically perfectly preserved.  Apparently, the nice weather and lovely surroundings have always been a draw since it was founded as a retreat for military officers, clergy and nobility in the late 16th century.  There are so many things to do in Villa de Leyva that it warrants a return trip or two—I can totally understand why it’s such a popular weekend getaway for people living in Bogotá.  However, we chose to go the way of Villa de Leyva’s former settlers, wandering around the charming streets and enjoying the warm weather.

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A weekend in Santa Marta and Tayrona National Park

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One of the first coastal views as you begin hiking towards the Tayrona beaches

I’ve missed my blog the past two weeks and I’m sorry there wasn’t anything new to read!  We are in the midst of a much welcomed marathon of visitors and this past week we were lucky to host one of Cody’s best friends, David, and his girlfriend, Jessi.  **Just to note, my posts will continue to be sporadic over the next couple of weeks.  Please bear with me as I enjoy myself!**  They spent a lovely ten or so days with us and we started off the visit by exploring a place we hadn’t yet had a chance to visit, Santa Marta and Tayrona National Park.

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A weekend in Salento

salento colombia
View from the main house at La Serrana

While we were in Argentina this past December, Cody and I chatted with travelers and found that Colombia didn’t seem to be on most people’s must-see list. Of course, this provided an opportunity for us to bombard them with all the things they must do, but our conversations uncovered the one big reason I think people should visit Colombia ASAP: it’s a place still relatively untouched by the touristic hoards.

If you do a little research, you’ll see that the common fears and misconceptions about Colombia are no longer founded. Because of that, they are experiencing record increases in tourism each year. This is great for the economy, but it’s inevitable that the move toward accommodating tourism will change the feel of a place. For example, our hike in the páramo would have been completely different if 1,000 people were visiting each day.

If you’ve traveled much in South America you have probably noticed how touristy and ‘Americanized’ many places are—you see the popular U.S. brands, there are aggressive vendors and skewed pricing for visitors. Besides Cartagena, I haven’t seen much of this in Colombia. But, the first Starbucks stores are opening in Bogotá and the fast food chains are creeping in. Still, the feel is noticeably different from that of other South American countries. I encourage you to put Colombia on your destination list before the booming tourism industry has an impact.

Our recent weekend in Salento totally embodied this feeling. It’s one of those places so perfect that you want to shout from the rooftops and at the same time keep a secret so it doesn’t change. This is the favorite place we’ve been, so keep reading for a recap of our trip and photos of the amazing landscape.

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Colombia’s Páramos

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This weekend some friends invited us to go hiking with them. We didn’t know what to expect, only that we’d be seeing a special type of landscape that exists only in Latin America (and principally Colombia) called the páramo. We had a guide with us since hiking is just now becoming popular in Colombia and many of the trails are accessed through farms or private property and the ‘trails’ aren’t exactly maintained.

Hiking is just now becoming popular in Colombia and many of the trails are accessed through farms or private property, so we had a guide leading us that day. He explained that páramo ecosystems exist in elevations above 3,000 meters and within the latitudes of 11°N and 8°S. This narrow strip around the equator provides a special climate that allows vegetation to thrive because outside of these latitudes there is little to no vegetation, only bare rock or snow.

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