International TravelWining/Dining

COLOMBIA

What are the things that immediately come to mind when one is traveling to Colombia?  Drug cartels?  Sofia Vergara? Kidnappings?  Well, none of those were encountered in the recent stay there during the last leg of three weeks in South America.  There was a time in the recent past when this most northwest corner of the continent was not so safe for travel or, for that matter, living. Fortunately that is not the case today.  We opted to leave the traffic and elevation of Quito (see previous post) a day ahead of schedule for pure R & R in Cartagena, on the beautiful Caribbean waters, to just sit poolside for a few days and soak in all the travel.

 




For the next couple of days, it was a matter of going back and forth to the pool and planning where to eat. That was it and it was a welcome break. Cartagena is a vacation hotspot, serviced with direct flights on JetBlue out of NY and Florida. It is easy to see why the locale is so desirable. The older portion of Cartagena is surrounded by a fort-like wall, inside of which are many shops, restaurants, and street vendors, and it is completely safe for walking day and night. The weather was very warm and a bit humid with periodic rains, but so what…? And, if you’re of the male species interested in viewing women in very tiny swimsuits (not photographed!), this place is for you!   

Mateo, self-designated hotel mascot.

 

And a few words from Mateo …

 

Guilty pleasure, Colombian style … 

We had an absolutely top-rate dinner at the restaurant 1621, located at the Hotel Santa Clara (Sofitel) where we stayed. The hotel property was originally a convent founded in — you guessed it — 1621; hence the restaurant’s name.  The French-born chef did an excellent job with the menu in an absolutely beautiful setting.  It was a wonderful evening all around.

Ceviche made to order tableside

 

Perfect Fruit Tart
Communal Table

 

1621 Wine Cellar













 

Loved this Cartagena store selling frozen treats —
the flavors were endless and delicious!


After enriching the Cartagena economy a bit with some last-minute shopping, it was off to Bogota on the last “internal” flight of this trip, our final stop prior to returning home. There is no question that of the three countries visited, Colombia is the most modern, with a vibrant economy.  Bogota, with nine million inhabitants, also has a happening dining scene (three restaurants in Bogota make the list of the Top 50 in South America), as well as some very upscale malls we perused close to our hotel. Regrettably (from my perspective), the prices were very high so therefore most purchases just didn’t make sense.  I say “regrettably” because shopping is always looked forward to on these vacations. I particularly like bringing back something decorative for the house which provides memories of places visited.

 

With our new friends.
Restauranteur Daniel Kaplan (far right)

In the spirit of “it is not what you know, but who you know,” we connected with a gentleman in Bogota with whom we have a mutual friend at home and enjoyed chatting over an excellent lunch of bar-b-que. And I mean authentic “Q” — as good as anywhere you would find in the U.S.  I had read about La Fama in an issue of Travel & Leisure, brought the article with and followed up on going there. In most cases, advance research pays off in a big way once at the destination. We met one of the principals who runs this restaurant (in addition to others), and got the inside scoop on restaurants in Bogota.  We also learned that it is common practice in South America for many of the really good restaurants to be part of a larger group — maybe 15 or so under one “umbrella” brand.  It reminds us of the fantastic Chicago operation called “Lettuce Entertain You,” where you get top quality but very different dining experiences and foods provided by one operator.

Vibrant lunch scene at La Fama 

 

 

Absolutely first-rate bbq in Bogota 


And, as is typical at the tail-end of these extended vacations, the wish to go all day and see sights becomes less and the desire to just play it by ear becomes more.   The end is in sight and thoughts return to responsibilities at home.  

Our last day literally took us to the top of the city. Monseratte, at more than 3,000 meters (10,000+ feet), provides spectacular views. Remarkably,  riding up and down the very steep funicular was a fine, safe, and not-scary-at-all experience …  



 

Bogota is a large, sprawling city!
The fake bill passed to us by the seemingly nice cab driver — about $10 USD.
Times Square?  Nope, Bogota mall ..


For the final evening, a last-minute plan change (due to torrential rains) worked out really well. Not only did new restaurant Primi have a vibrant scene and excellent food, but it was across the street from the hotel.  The couple sitting next to us confirmed what we had heard before, that many Colombians who had moved to the States have since returned to this booming economy and safer environment. 

Buying great leather in So. America is a must ..!


With the final purchases made and final meal enjoyed, it was time to head back home with nothing but great memories of this wonderful trip …