Days spent: 3
Days recommended: not more than 2 (unless you’ve been polishing your dancing shoes for months and can’t wait to sign up for salsa classes)
Where we slept: After more than a week of very shabby accommodations in the Galapagos and a whole night spent on two different buses, both me and Isa felt like paying slightly more to have a double private room at the hip-looking Casa Miraflores, at a 10 minutes walk from San Antonio neighbourhood, was totally ok.
What we ate: yummy veggie meal at the arabic influenced El Buen Alimento, typical Colombian snacks (empanadas, aborrajados – deep fried plantains stuffed with cheese -, marranitas – green plantains balls stuffed with pork belly -), chontaduro with salt and honey, international dishes (London quality, South American portions and prices) at PAO and Crepes & Waffles.
What we drank: lemonada de coco (coconut lemonade, our absolute favourite Colombian drink, cannot even remember how many times we ordered it during our 3 weeks stay!), a lot of beer, shots of agua ardiente (translated as burning water. We thought we did well with 5 shots but it turned out we stopped at a pussy level).
How we travelled: Before crossing the Colombian border by foot we traveled by bus for 6 hours from Quito to Tulcan, then took a short taxi ride to the custom. Once in Colombia we shared another taxi with other backpackers to Ipiales, where we arranged our bus trip to Cali (12 hours, in a bus convoy).
Km walked: 22
How Cali affected our wallets: we immediately felt like the costs were slightly lower than in Ecuador.
Issues we encountered: we encountered none, however, as usual, we’ve been following our Colombian friends’ advice and we played it safe. Safety has increased significantly in Colombia in the last 10 years, which reflects in a much bigger concentration of backpackers. This doesn’t really mean that you can lower your guard. At night, we always took taxis, even for short distances that we could have easily covered in a few minutes walk.
Would we recommend it? For us Cali represented the perfect stopover to recharge our batteries after the quite tight schedules we had in the Galapagos. We chilled at the hostel, which is something quite rare for us, went for hipsterish lunches, which is not very unusual for us… but definitely what made the difference was hanging out with two locals: Kathe and Mario, who made sure we had the most unique experiences, including taking part in a birthday party in Colombian style. Again, if you are a salsa lover, or you’re willing to learn everything about it: this is the place to do so!
What to do:
- Explore the hip San Antonio, a whole neighbourhood of trendy bars, cafes, alternative restaurants, ateliers and small quirky shops, whose crumbly facades are decorated with graffiti and colourful climbing plants. While doing so, you will also burn quite a few calories since you will be strolling around a quite steep hill, towered by San Antonio church. We really had the feeling that, if something had to happen, San Antonio was the place to be, especially at night, when its streets are taken over by the sound of salsa.
- Take a few hours to explore Cali’s city centre. If you’re too lazy to come up with a plan, there’s the option to follow a free walking tour. We personally found it a bit dodgy and not so compelling.
- Let your hips loose and sign up for salsa classes. That’s the main reason why backpackers come here. Finding a class is literally a piece of cake, even hostels have their own private instructors.
- Catch up with locals. If it hadn’t been for our friends we would have totally missed the fun. They know which bars to go to, which food to order, how to go places, and maybe, you will be lucky enough to be around for one of their birthdays… Mario’s 30th birthday party, apart from being good fun, was actually a brilliant insight on Colombian life. Being used for years to celebrate either with my family or with my friends, one of the things that impressed me the most was how the family was involved in the whole party, from the organisation to the celebration, and how well they fit with Mario’s friends. Really heartwarming.
- A day trip to San Cipriano. One of the most off the beaten track experiences we had all over the 4 months of travels and definitely one of the highlights of Colombia. San Cipriano is a small village close to the Pacific coast of Colombia, which can be reached in a few hours drive from Cali. It gives home to a jaw dropping series of waterfalls and cristalline rivers. The village, located in the middle of the jungle, can only be reached on board of brujitas, small flat wooden carts on top of abandoned train tracks, which are pulled by the rusty engine of old motorbikes. The whole day was simply unique. From the crazy ride on the not so stable brujita and the walk around San Cipriano’s friendly streets, to tasting chontaduros (peach palms) for the first time without knowing what to really expect and cooling off by diving in the calm blue waters of the river in the late afternoon.
Things we missed: climbing up the three crosses hill at dawn, listed by many as one of Cali’s highlights. Well, we switched the alarm off when we heard that outside was raining.
Also, we didn’t give salsa a chance to prove us how stiff we are on the dance floor.
Who deserves a big thank you: doubtlessly Kathe and Mario. For being the best guides we could have asked for and for sharing your world with us. Thanks for the inspiring chats, the positive vibes and the familiar attitude. Since the very first night I felt like we had been long time friends. Miss you both.
Days spent: 4
Days recommended: really depends what you’re after. In our case 4 were fine because we were spending time with a friend that was showing us around and took us to quite a few incredible places. If on your own, 3 days are more than enough.
Where we slept: our experience in Bogota, as already mentioned, was really not the typical backpacker experience. We were hosts of our friend Camila’s father, a hospitable and big-hearted advertisement guru, who made sure we had the most comfortable stay we could have ever dreamed of.
What we ate: Bogota offered us some of the yummiest meals we had in Colombia. Starting with crispy Colombian arepas with butter for breakfast and lulo (an exotic fruit with a taste that reminds both lemon and pineapple), a lunch with sopa de ajiaco (chicken, corn and potato soup), ending with a dinner based on posta cartagenera (Colombian style black beef), arroz con coco (coconut rice) and obleas con arequipe as dessert (wafer filled with a caramel-like cream, result of slowly cooking sweetened milk). We also tried out some pretty amazing restaurants, such as: WOK (Asian delicacies), Andrés DC (a proper 360 degrees Colombian experience, with the best traditional food in a funhouse-themed wonderland), La Puerta Falsa (one of the oldest cafes in Bogota, the perfect spot to try out the Colombian answer to the 5PM tea: hot chocolate with cheese chunks)…
What we drank: agua de panela (sugar cane tea) for breakfast, agua de flor de Jamaica (hibiscus cold tea), tamarindo juice, batidos (fruit shakes), lulada (a refreshing drink made with lulo),
How we travelled: we took a night bus from Cali (10 hours). In Bogota we took a lot of taxis and Ubers and got stuck in several nerve-wracking traffic jams. Public transport is literally a joke: unreliable and overcrowded. With a lot of areas not particularly well connected.
Km walked: 30
How Bogota affected our wallets: the prices are slightly higher than in other cities in Colombia, but still not bad at all!
Issues we encountered: the traffic jams were a proper pain, that’s probably the biggest annoyance we came across. As usual, play smart and keep yourself out of trouble. Some areas are an absolute no go, so just avoid them. Weatherwise it really felt similar to London: dump and chilly!
Would we recommend it? Surely, while in some areas Bogota really resembles a typical European capital, in others shows a completely diverse and unique scene
Analogue tips: after the total f***up they did in Quito I was kind of worried to drop my rolls somewhere else. Luckily, after a bit of a hunt, we bumped into Imagen Positiva, where they developed and scanned my Galapagos shots in a very professional way. On the other hand, finding some new films, turned out to be a very tough mission.
What to do:
- Race with busy suited-up business men in the financial district while trying not to spill your takeaway coffee. A bit too similar to London’s city stressful vibes to be fair, but still worth a visit.
- Get stunned at the view of the endless skyline of Bogota from of its highest viewpoint: Monserrate, a more than 3K metres above sea level mountain, reachable either with a cable car or a funicular.
- Don’t miss two of the most impressive museums you will come across in South America: Museo del Oro, the largest collection of gold artefacts of Pre-Colombian origin and Museo Botero, where you will find a great selection of paintings and sculptures from the world-celebrated Colombian artist with a soft spot for curves. Utter treats for the eyes.
- Get a sneaky private tour of Palacio Presidencial, aka Casa de Nariño, the official residence of the Colombian president as well at the seat of Government. Things that happen when your friend is a longtime friend of the current president’s daughter… We really couldn’t believe how lucky we were! I guess that’s one of the few times our backpackers’ outfit made us feel a bit out of place…
- Walk the colonial/baroque streets of the old city, La Candelaria, at sunset (starting from 6 PM), right in time to witness how the colours change and make the vibes so magical.
- Explore Bogota’s incredible graffiti scenario and don’t be silly like us trying to do it yourself: some of them are in very shady neighbourhoods where the last thing you want is to actually get lost. There are proper graffiti tours that take you straight to the best ones. Something that we feel quite regretful about.
- Get away from the city buzz and chill in the residential Usaquén, a foodie hotspot, also famous for its weekend flea market.
- Get to know you Colombian family. In his youth, my grandfather visited Colombia with his cousin. Following a quite typical trend of those years, my “uncle” decided to settled down there. After few years we lost track of that part of the family and everybody went on with their lives. When I told my father I had plans to visit Colombia, he, a proper facebook geek, managed to track down some of the Vivenzi descendants and put us in touch. Getting to know my cousin, the artist Lalula, and her beautiful family was one of the most surreal and heart warming moments of the trip. Two generations after.
Things we missed: a day trip to the Salt Cathedral of Zipaquirá and a graffiti tour.
Who deserves a big thank you: our dear friend Camila, our ex-neighbour in London, and her amazing father, Christian. For making sure we got spoilt rotten from the very beginning until the very end of our stay and for sharing with us some memorable experiences.
Valentina, for showing us Usaquén and doing the impossible to fill our tummies with Colombian delicacies.
Last but not least, the loving Vivenzi family. For proving that distance doesn’t count when you’re made of the same blood!
Olympus OM-1, Agfa CT Precisa 100 (35)
Canon EOS 300, Fuji Pro 200 (35)
24/02/2017-02/03/2017, Cali & Bogota (Colombia)