Backpacking Colombia: Part One (From Bogota to Salento)
Friday, July 13th
After boarding our 3AM flight, we've finally made it to Colombia and what a colorful place it is! This is literally one of the most colorful places we've ever been. Around every corner you can find a myriad of vibrant colors and murals painted by various street artists/graffiti writers. We are so excited to be here.
We arrived to the airport around 7AM, changed some money into Colombian Pesos, and took a taxi to our hostel. We are staying in Botonico Hostel, located in the popular neighborhood of La Candelaria. Check in in this hostel was not until 2PM, so we chilled for a second and had a cup of coffee and then headed out into the town of La Candelaria.
Our first stop was to grab a coffee and a small pastry before heading to the Museo de Oro (Gold Museum). This museum is full of gold, silver, and copper artifacts. This museum was pretty cool but I have to admit, after staying up all night and flying for 3 hours, I was wiped. I just remember seeing a lot of shiny things that could pay my bills foreva but that's about it.
Michael really liked the museum and would highly recommend visiting it.
After the Gold Museum, we went to grab lunch at La Puerta Falsa. This is the oldest restaurant in Bogota, founded in 1816. It is the tiniest of tiny restaurants. We were lucky to get a table upstairs. We ordered very traditional Colombian dishes--a tamale, an arepa without cheese, and a Chocolate Completo (a dish of hot chocolate, buttered bread, and cheese). Eating here amongst the locals was such a cool experience that we both really enjoyed.
It still wasn't time to check into our hostel yet, so we decided to hit up another museum that we wanted to visit while in Bogota. The Botero Museum is a collection of quirky art pieces by Fernado Botero (and other famous artists like Matisse, Picasso, and more.) We had a good laugh touring this free museum.
After our very interesting museum visit, we finally checked into our hostel and took a much needed nap! Our hostel is nice and comfortable so we had no problems falling right to sleep! We woke and then searched for dinner. We decided on a pretty fancy steak restaurant for dinner. The restaurant was called T Bone and the reviews for this place were pretty good so we thought we'd try it out and we are so freaking glad we did. This was SUCH an amazing meal. We had wine, two beautiful steaks, salads, house made potato chips, and the most delicious dessert ever! It was nice to #treatourselves and we had a blast.
Saturday, July 14th
We woke up early this morning, had breakfast provided by our hostel, and headed up to Monserrate. Monserrate is at the top of a mountain that overlooks the entire city of Bogota. At the top, there is a church and a small market. We took the Funicular (small train) up to the top and then spent awhile walking around and taking in the sights.
After a very successful trip up to Monserrate, we headed back to our hostel for a brief rest before our next adventure. Luckily our private room also had a private balcony with a hammock!
After resting, we headed to one of the best tours we've ever done, the Bogota Graffiti Tour. Our tour guide was Anna (a graffiti writer herself) and she did a phenomenal job explaining the history of graffiti/street art in the city of Bogota, telling us about the most famous artists, and she helped us to understand the political/deeper meanings behind some of the murals we saw. I could not recommend this tour enough! Street art has always been so fascinating to me. I believe street art tells the stories of a country's success and struggle.
After our amazing graffiti tour we popped into the oldest house in Bogota, built in the 1500’s for traditional Colombian drinks of Canelazo (made with fire water liquor, sugarcane, cinnamon, and lime and served warm).
We headed back to our hostel, which happened to be celebrating their anniversary with a huge party (DJ, live local music, BBQ, drinks, and more). It was super convenient for us because we could eat, drink, and dance all in the safety of our hostel. We had a blast drinking delicious Passion Fruit Mojitos.
Sunday, July 15th
We woke to a beautiful but slightly drizzly morning in Bogota. After getting packed and ready to check out of our hostel, we stayed in and watched the World Cup Final (viva Francia!) and I tried to catch up on blogging.
We started getting pretty hungry so we headed out for some very traditional Colombian food, Ramen. Just kidding, Ramen is most definitely not traditional Colombian food and I’m sure you knew that, but Bogota has such an eclectic mix of food here and we were excited to see a Ramen House just a few blocks from our hostel. I got the Miso Ramen and Michael got their specialty Naruto Ramen. Both were delicious and super filling, giving us energy to walk around La Candelaria one last time.
We walked all over, even getting a bit lost at times, just exploring the colorful streets. On Sunday, most things are closed and the streets aren’t too crowded which is great for capturing photos of this colorful neighborhood.
We’re catching an overnight bus from Bogota to Armenia at 9PM, which should take about 9 hours and then we have to catch another bus in Armenia to Salento, which should take about 45 minutes to an hour.
Monday, July 16th
We made it to Salento, land of the coffee (my second favorite thing in the world, next to food)! Our bus journey took less time than expected due to the fast driving of our driver. We both slept okay on the bus, it’s obviously never the same as sleeping in a bed but it helps save us travel days, so we’ll do it!
When we arrived (around 7AM), we found an awesome breakfast spot named the Brunch Diner, run by a guy from Oregon who was so helpful with suggestions on what to do while in Salento. We had some French Toast and coffee and set off on our way towards our hostel.
We originally only booked two nights in this hostel, with the idea to camp our first night in Salento amongst the coffee trees on a coffee farm. However, the coffee farm had tents and nothing else (sleeping bags, etc.) and we didn’t come prepared, so we scrapped that idea and added an extra night stay in our hostel. Luckily they had it available! We’re staying at the Plantation House Hostel, the first hostel in Salento and an old coffee plantation house that’s over 100 years old.
The big thing to do in Salento besides hiking Valle de Cocora, which we’re doing tomorrow, is to do a coffee tour. Local farmers take tourists on 3-4 hour tours of their farms and show them how the operation works. Because our hostel sits on an operational coffee farm, we took a coffee tour through the owner! It was super convenient and really informative.
He started the tour with an explanation of the two biggest types of coffee, Arabica and Robust, and continued with an explanation of the largest coffee producers in the world (Colombian is third, with Brazil being first and Vietnam being second).
We continued our tour by walking down towards his farm (about a 15-20 minute walk). His farm sits on a slope where we saw some locals he employs preparing the land for more planting by using machetes.
After our brief walk, we slipt into two groups and the owner explained the process of growing, harvesting, soaking, drying, roasting, and grinding the coffee (a lot goes into one cup!)
Then we went with the second group where we walked around the farm and saw their bamboo forest, pineapple plants, and fresh blackberries, and ended back at the top ready to taste some coffee!
We tasted two types of coffee at three types of roast (light, medium, and dark). We were super fancy and used spoons to slurp the coffee, also known as “cupping” it. All were delicious but the dark roast coffee was my favorite.
We then watched the local workers roast the green bean coffee to a medium roast and then grind it. We each enjoyed two really strong cups of coffee before setting back into town to eat lunch. This tour was really awesome and really anything to do with coffee is my favorite.
We got our lunch recommendation from the local who roasted the coffee. He sent us to a restaurant just off the main square called Donde Laurita, where we were told to eat any form of trout on the menu. Trout is a big deal here in Salento, due to the popular trout farm just outside of town.
I had a dish that’s very popular to locals, but not on the menu and Michael had trout in a garlic sauce. Both were spectacular!
We then walked around the main street here in Salento called Calle Real, filled with the most colorful building and shops where a lot of tourist spend their money on trinkets, knick knacks, jewelry and more.
After our overnight bus, coffee tour, big ass lunch, and shopping, we desperately needed a nap. We headed back to our hostel, laid down and fell right asleep!
Tuesday, July 17th
Today we started pretty early (around 6:30) and headed up to the main square in Salento to catch a Willy (4x4 Jeep) to the trail head of Valle de Cocora. The Willy holds about 9 people comfortably and 14 people Colombian style. We held onto the back of the Willy while driving 30 minutes to the trail head (not really safe but super fun!)
Valle de Cocora is a valley full of beautiful scenery including the famous Wax Palms that can grow up to 200ft. There are two hiking options for the valley. The first is a shorter option, which can last 60-90 minutes but you'll see the Wax Palms. The longer option can last 5-6 hours and you'll see errthang (the Wax Palms, Acaime--a place for a break, snack, and to see some beautiful hummingbirds, and more).
We opted for the longer version and it took us about 6 hours (including our many breaks and lunch). We saw so many gorgeous sights and had so much fun! The hike was tough at times but overall, it was a moderate hike.
After our hike, we headed back to town and walked around a bit more before heading back to our hostel to rest our legs.
For dinner we had traditional Colombian dishes of Trucha (trout) and superpatcon (fried plantain).
Wednesday, July 18th
We slept in today! My body definitely needed it after hiking 8 miles yesterday!
For breakfast we headed back to Brunch Diner for coffee and French Toast and after breakfast we just wandered around town, hiking the short 20 minutes up to the Mirador (lookout) and strolling along Calle Real (the very popular and colorful street with shops, restaurants, and cafes.
We headed back to our hostel for a roasting class led by the owner of our hostel and the man who did our coffee farm tour, Tim.
We were able to roast the coffee beans of our choice! This was such a fun experience and something I'm definitely going to try when I get home. It's super easy. All you need is green coffee beans (beans that have the skins removed but have not been roasted), a large pan (NOT nonstick--something similar to a cast iron), and a wooden spoon.
We put the green beans into the pan and used the wooden spoon to keep the beans moving around. It's that simple! How long you roast them depends on how dark you want the roast to be.
We roasted to about a medium-dark roast, and let me tell you, nothing smells as good as fresh roasted coffee beans!
After roasting, we set off to do another very typical Colombian thing--playing Tejo! Tejo is an indigenous game involving throwing rocks at explosives. It's similar to playing Cornhole, as your aim is to make it in the center of the horseshoe. If you make it in the center, you get 6 points. If you happen to make an explosion and make it in the center, you get 9 points. If no one makes it in the center and no one makes an explosion, the person closest to the ring gets 1 point. The person who gets to 21 points first wins.
It took a bit of time to get the hang of it, but once we did we were good to go! There's nothing like throwing rocks in a room full of people who are aiming to blow shit up!
Here's where I leave you until next time! We're headed to Jardin tomorrow and it's the place I've been looking forward to the most! Keep following along as we finish out our time in Colombia!