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Old Bogotá, beautiful capital of Colombia

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Trip End Ongoing

Flag of Colombia  ,
Friday, August 30, 2013

What first struck me about Bogotá was how cheap everything was.  10 dlls ride form the airport to my hotel was as cheap as it gets.   On the way to the hotel, I noticed most of the buildings where old and looked dated.   Downtown Bogotá reminded me of Mexico City in the early 90's.   As I got closer to old town La Candelaria, I started noticing some of the charm that is missing in some big city centers.  Colorful yet a little bit unsafe, La Candelaria has a style that you can't easily forget.  Even if Cartagena looks much more romantic and is better preserved, there's something about the old capital center that brings it near the top of my list of favorite places that I visited.   Walking all the way to Plaza de Bolivar and getting to see the hectic Colombian life was something to behold.  We quickly grabbed our first bite, a cheap meal for two for about the price of what I get for one in any other place in the world.  It wasn't that good but it did the job.  We then proceeded to grab our first zip of Colombian Coffee. To say that I was unimpressed throughout my trip is an understatement considering the hype and excitement surrounding this.   Juan Valdez Coffee would be the best, but still far from some coffee shops here in my hometown.  

On my second day in Bogotá, we visited Monserrate. I love the panoramic views and this one didn't disappoint.   It was way too crowded though, but I guess that was a good thing considering what everybody was telling me.   During the week, not many venture in to this part of town making it an easy area to target tourists and steal from them.  I went on a Sunday and enjoyed it a lot.   We proceeded to visit Museo Botero, a highlight of our trip.  It's an excellent museum that should rank as a priority if you ever visit this wonderful country.    Fernando Botero is a local celebrity and a world wide acclaimed artist.   He donated most of the work exhibited in this place.   There are three museums in this complex, including the Museo de la Moneda and the Art Museum which features works by Picasso and Monet.  

Our third day saw us visit the northern part of town, a more trendy higher class section that included fancier restaurants and cleaner modern looking buildings. Usaquén has the charm of an old town that got outgunned by the city's growth.   It's cleaner than la Candelaria, but lacks its colorful vibrant scene.    We decided to go to the overhyped Andres Carne de Res in Chia, but once on the bus we learned that the Salt Cathedral in Zipaquirá was pretty close so we decided to get that out of the way.   It's a really impressive place that shouldn't be missed.  It's quite a hassle to get out of Bogotá though.   It took at least an hour to get out of town.    The town of Zipaquirá is also a very beautiful colonial place.   We met a Spanish lady who's been living in Paraguay for a few months and can't stand it anymore.  She's a journalist and after visiting Colombia wants to move over there.  She told us Asunción is about the most boring town she's ever lived in.   She sounded annoyed, but nevertheless, she was a nice chat during our trip to Zipaquirá.  She's very knowledgeable and well traveled.  Recommended Uzbekistan and Armenia very much.  

As we came back to Andres Carne de Res, we took a taxi in Chia that took about 30 minutes to get to the place.  It wasn't because it was far away, but more for the traffic.  Colombia in general seems to have a real problem with it's roads. They are toll roads and don't look anything near a toll road.   Police is very hard with the 80 km/h speed limit, which makes every trip way longer that it should've been.   25 mile ride to Zipaquirá took almost an hour.  Villa de leyva's 110 miles from Bogota took 5 hours.    Well, going back to Andres, it was closed, so we decided to try out an express restaurant in front of the bigger building called Andres Express.  Wow!  It sure is a funky place with excellent food (a little expensive for Colombia, yet cheap by american standards).   The Arepa de Carne Desmechada was one of the culinary highlights of my trip.  

Late at night my girlfriend told me we should wake up early and catch the bus to Villa de Leyva. It was probably the best place around Bogotá.   The town just screams pictures!  Its so beautiful, I would've loved to stay at least one night there.  its a romantic well preserved colonial town that looks like it hasn't changed in 400 years.  I got in to a fight with my girl there that almost spoiled my visit, but we managed to get over it and enjoy the scenery.   Villa de Leyva totally lives up to the hype.   When we got back we were spent and went directly to bed.  

Our fifth day was quite a journey.  A good friend of mine who lives in Bogotá offered to take us to Guatavita, the place where the El Dorado tale supposedly happened.   It didn't sound that exciting in the travel book, but since she's an expert on the theme and really loves the lake and what it represents, she managed to make the whole experience something else.   Guatavita can be something of a bore if you don't know what you're going to see.  Bringing a guide is a must, and trust me, knowing what happened there makes the trip much more enjoyable.  The road to this wonderful place is in the country side and man, the scenery is truly amazing!    

When we got back we learned that Andres Carne de Res has a restaurant in Bogotá, which supposedly lacks the charm of the one in Chia but is almost the same as the original.  So we decided to try it.   Man!!! WOW, I can't imagine how the original must be because this place was incredible.  The food, wow, delicious.  I got a 600 gms rib eye that ranks up there as one of the best steaks i've ever eaten.  Who would've known?   

Food in Bogotá was a hit or miss.   Colombian food isn't exactly Italian or Mexican food.  It doesn't have anything to cry home about and most of its dishes are uninspired and lame.   Thats not to say I didn't enjoy things here and there.  La Bandeja Paisa near Guatavita was a very simple yet good dish.   Andres Carne de Res was another thing.  More like an international steak house than Colombian style food.      

Bogotá is a surprising city.  It has many little secrets in its alleyways and some of the most beautiful landscapes anywhere I've visited.  Even though some parts of town look stuck in the 70's, it already seems that they're starting to make an effort in modernizing it.    Zona G and Zona T are very modern and look more Rodeo Drive than Colombian Colonial Town.  There's something for everyone, and with 10 million living in this place, I'm sure everybody can find something to look at.  

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