Warmth, Beauty and a Salt Cathedral in Bogotá, Colombia

An artist with his work in Bogotá

An artist with his work in Bogotá

Getting to Bogotá with Avianca
The non-stop from Los Angeles International to Bogotá, Colombia, is still considered a new offering from Avianca. It’s an easy seven-hour direct flight, with basic but comfortable economy seating that includes blankets.

Fact: Avianca was started in 1919, making it the second-oldest airline the world. KLM was the first.

One of the perks of choosing Avianca to get you to Colombia is the two-bag allowance plus carry-on, all for free—a rarity in the world of the increasingly annoying additional costs other airlines tack on. Another, out-of-the-box add-on is the last-minute opportunity to buy the seat next to you for a mere $25. (Keep in mind that the service needs to be confirmed at the airport due availability. Click here for information on Avianca’s extra seat policy.)

The food I had was included, but it was about average for airline fare and was a generic chicken dish. I’d like to see Avianca offer Colombian food for meals. That noted, overall the flight was excellent and I got to Bogotá on-time, rested and ready to take in some new travel experiences—like:

 

Open-air market in Bogotá

Open-air market in Bogotá

Shopping—and dancing
There’s a chic atmosphere in many parts of Bogota and if you’re in the mood to shop, head to what the locals call the Andino Centro Comercial, the main shopping hub of the city. You’ll find not only recognizable high-end shops but also stores with local flavor and lively restaurants where the music is Latin and it’s not unusual to dance around the dinner table with friends and strangers alike.

 

Bogotá's Gold Museum

Bogotá’s Gold Museum

A museum of gold
I wasn’t too hyped to see the Gold Museum (Spanish: Museo del Oro) in Bogotá, but I was happily surprised when I realized it offers a fascinating look at Colombian history and pre-history. The pieces were of intricate beauty and the curation was one of the best I’ve seen in some time.

Grab a fresh donut or pastry in the open air market just outside of the museum and then head in to the main hall of the museum to follow up with San Alberto coffee, which is sold in the lobby.

 

Café San Alberto coffee tasting

Café San Alberto coffee tasting

Coffee…in the land of coffee
Colombia’s is the perfect climate for producing coffee beans, making the country one of the biggest exporters of some of the best brands in the world. The oddity is that all the best beans are exported and up until recently, the local coffee was made from the lesser, cheaper beans. San Alberto purveyors of coffee hold coffee tastings in Bogotá and can be found in the Gold Museum foyer and are one of the coffee companies that retain some of the finest beans for consumption in Colombia.

 

Snack buggy in Bogotá's La Candeleria

Snack buggy in Bogotá’s La Candeleria

La Candelaria: a tour through history
The narrow cobbled streets of La Candelaria in Bogotá’s historic district are punctuated with the colorful brilliance of brightly painted murals—and for me, an array of candy for sale on a cart created out of an old stroller and fruit stands where the proprietor will also let you use their phone for a small fee (above). The area is popular with students, as it’s cheaper to live there than in many of the other parts of the city.

The places our guide, Marina, showed us were full of whimsy and folklore all based around history, from the house of Manuelita Saenz (once the lover of a great political figure) that’s now a costume museum to poet Rafael Pombo as a giant children’s character peeping out of a window. There’s art and surprise at every turn, which made me realize there’s no way to take it all in during one visit.

 

View of Bogotá from Monserrate

View of Bogotá from Monserrate

The best view in Bogotá
On a given Sunday, up to 5000 people will make the trek up to Monserrate by cable car or the steep two-mile pathway up the mountain to the cathedral overlooking the vast landscape that is Bogotá—and, for that reason, you should avoid going up on a Sunday. On less busy days, it’s well worth making the small journey. The views are striking, from the verdant rolling hills to the glaring white of holy statues on the opposing hilltop all the way into the sweeping valley that cradles the city.

Take time to eat at Casa Santa Clara restaurant perched on the Monserrate cliffs. Enjoy local food, listen to the live guitarists and take in stunning vistas out of the floor-to-ceiling windows. A perfect afternoon.

Tip: A funky local drink to try is a refajo—a mix of a local-style cream soda and beer. A little sweet with a malty kick and really refreshing.

 

Street art in Bogotá

Street art in Bogotá

Sanctioned street art
Street art can be found around the world, but the movement in Bogotá is hugely popular with the locals, encouraged by professional art dealers and endorsed by the government.

Street art in Bogotá

Street art in Bogotá

One of the lead artists, Juan Garcia, took the time to show us some highlights of the city’s art. Artists have permission to use building exteriors, and what comes of it is an expression of life that speaks through the brilliance and talent of the local artists and breaks away from graffiti aspects that often connote negative impressions.

 

Salt Cathedral of Zipaquirá

Salt Cathedral of Zipaquirá

A cathedral of salt and awe
With Ave Maria piped throughout the cavernous salt mines of the Salt Cathedral of Zipaquirá, it’s an eery feeling to descend into the underworld of worship and one of the most unique churches I’ve ever experienced. The underground cathedral was created in honor of the patron saint of Colombian miners: the Virgen de Guasa.

Salt Cathedral of Zipaquirá

Salt Cathedral of Zipaquirá

As you make your way to the main cathedral (not a short walk), you pass naves that shimmer of fool’s gold in the dim light that reflects off of crucifixes carved into the walls. This is a must-see, but it’s also a difficult trek if you’re claustrophobic. Once you’re down in the heart of the cathedral, it’s a long way back up—so be aware of that if you’re prone to panic in enclosed spaces.

Tip: Have extra batteries for cameras, the nature of the minerals in the mines saps batteries quickly and just when you want to capture the an incredible carving, there’s a chance of your battery going dead.

 

Colombia: full of natural beauty

Colombia: full of natural beauty

Bogotá’s unusual climate
The city is shrouded by rolling mountains often curtained by a sheet of mist and clouds and momentary flashes of brilliant sunshine. The climate in Bogotá is astonishingly the same all year, and dressing in layers is a part of daily life for locals. It’s not unusual for a 20-degree change in temperature at any time of the day, and it’s smart to carry an umbrella, even if the sun is out.

 

"Watch your things..." in Bogotá

“Watch your things…” in Bogotá

The real danger of Bogotá
Bogata is a vivacious, vibrant city full of people harmoniously living daily lives who share a great love for food, art, music, and laughter. There wasn’t a moment I felt threatened or in danger and I believe it’s a lot safer than many cities in the US. As a local told me, “It’s safe. Just don’t give the bad guys your papaya!”—basically meaning don’t be a stupid tourist and leave your purse swinging or your wallet hanging out of your back pocket, don’t wear flashy jewelry and don’t count big wads of money at the ATM machines. And all are things you should keep in mind while traveling anywhere in the world.

"Fire water" in Bogotá

“Fire water” in Bogotá

Tip: The most dangerous thing I came across in Colombia was the tipple, aguardiente, or as the locals call it, guaro. If you have a few shots of that “fire water” you’re in grave danger of dancing like a local and having a nasty hangover the next day.

 

Bogotá

Bogotá

Where to stay: Hilton Bogotá
I recommend a stay at the Hilton Bogotá, with outstanding food, décor, cleanliness, and staff.  I loved the coffee shop just to the right of it; along with outstanding Colombian coffee, it offers local baked goods as well. The Hilton also offers a trendy bar and sitting area that leads to a modern pool and is a great place to have a few drinks and catch up with fellow travelers.

I also suggest finding out when the head chef, Nestor Mesa, is working and take the opportunity to have dinner at the hotel restaurant. The food is an elegant presentation of local flavors by a chef who is invested in your every bite.

For more information on Bogotá and Colombia, visit colombia.travel. More photos:

Cynthia Cunniff

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About the Author

Cynthia Cunniff

Cynthia Cunniff’s writing background spans magazine editorial, travel blogging, marketing and PR. She’s a graduate of the creative writing program at CSU Long Beach and went on to UCLA to further her writing skills. Growing up as a military dependent, she lived in several foreign countries and areas of the US. Post college she returned to international living and resided in London for close to a decade, where she took advantage of proximity to the rest of Europe and traveled extensively. She currently lives in the beautiful South Bay of Los Angeles, and can be found on Twitter and Instagram @localpathworld.

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