Have you had a chance to check out one of the newest online design magazines? It's called Highgloss and I am happy to share that I have just written a travel story (with my photos too) of my trip to Colombia earlier this year. Congratulations to Highgloss for your wonderful second issue. Again, if you haven't checked it out, I highly suggest popping over to highglossmagazine.com not only to check out my story but also great interior design and fashionable features.
Destination Style: COLOMBIA
COLOMBIA for Highgloss:
I have to be honest: when I first told people that I had just booked my latest vacation to Colombia, I got quite a few looks, none of which were positive. I was asked if I needed a body guard. Was it safe? There were the obvious wisecracks about smuggling drugs back to the United States. Colombia has come a long way over the last decade. The years of a bad reputation are certainly no longer applicable.
On the personal side, it’s not like I exactly blend in traveling to South America particularly well. At 6 foot 4 with light-freckled skin and blonde hair, I got a few looks walking around. The first night upon arriving in Colombia, I was nervous. Like everyone who questioned my decision to travel to Colombia, my perspective had been influenced by years of media coverage in which the only mention of Colombia concerned drug-related violence. But my experience could not have been more positive. I had some of the best adventures and meals of my life. I left excited to schedule a return trip in the future.
When you mention Cartagena, the first thing that seems to come to people’s minds is Kathleen Turner (as romance novelist Joan Wilder) alongside Michael Douglas and their ridiculous adventure trying to cross Colombia to Cartagena. I have to admit that I watched the 1980’s film to prepare myself for the trip. To be really honest, after watching the movie, I wasn’t really sure what to expect.
I can’t believe that it was just a few months ago that I was enjoying relaxing days of the warm Caribbean air while strolling the cobbled streets. Old men push creaky carts laden with fresh fruit and halved coconuts. Charming hole-in-the-wall restaurants serve fresh fish and ceviches caught just hours before.
The vibrant seaside 16th century walled city (which the Spanish founded in 1533) is filled with some of the most beautiful and untouched colorful architecture. Perhaps this is why Gabriel Garcia Marquez maintains his ocean front property just off the Plaza San Diego (one of the most charming, residential squares in Cartagena).
I absolutely fell in love with the Palenque woman who wear multicolored outfits and walk around selling fruit (which they put in a large bowl and carry on their heads!)
Perhaps this untouched gem is going to be the next HOT place? Especially since Martha Stewart and Vice President Biden were also in town during my visit for Cartagena’s annual classical music festival. Additionally, The New York Times named Colombia as one of THE places to visit in 2011. Colombia’s reputation is deservedly changing.
If you are looking for a great vacation spot, I can’t suggest Cartagena enough. It is worth noting that it is just a two-hour flight from Miami, but there is hardly an American to be found strolling through this enchanting city.
List of hot spots and highlights of Cartagena:
1. Stroll around the Old City: No specific destination is required while strolling around the old city. The brightly colored architecture is breathtaking. There is fantastic food around the city, but try the delicious ceviches at La Cevicheria or Juan Del Mar, located adjacently by the Plaza de San Diego.
2. Dine at Restaurante La Vitrola: This Cuban restaurant is considered a classic in Cartagena, with live music and Cuban comfort cuisine. It conjures images of pre-Revolutionary Havana.
3. Have a cocktail on the ancient wall at the Café Del Mar: This bar is set atop the stone wall, with views of the old city as well as Cartagena’s modern city, Bocagrande.
4. Islas Del Rosario: The beaches surrounding Cartagena are not the most beautiful, but the white sand beaches of Islas Del Rosario are a short boat ride away. The serious beach bum can stay on spend days staying on the islands, but for the restless among us, be forewarned that there is little to do other than seriously relax.
5. Castilo San Felipe De Barajas: This Spanish fortress was originally built in 1536. It is strategically located to dominate the view of any potential invader approaching the city.
While less known than other capitals in South America, Bogota is often called “the Athens of South America” owing its prominent intellectual tradition. This sprawling metropolis contains over 9 million inhabitants. Set at an elevation of over 8000 feet in the Andes, Bogota’s mild climate (average highs around 65 degrees year round) and frequent afternoon showers translate into a lush, verdant landscape.
The city is beginning to develop a modern public transportation infrastructure, but I hired a car-and-driver during the day (around $65 for an eight-hour day.) In the evenings, the city’s taxis proved very reliable and affordable. Although I was warned that taxis may try to overcharge a tourist, this was not my experience. Large hotels often have private cabs services for hotel patrons.
The cuisine in Bogota is as varied as can be found in most U.S. cities. It is clear that residents take good food seriously. In addition to Colombian cuisine, try Asian fusion, Peruvian, and Italian cuisine (I never expected to have such good pizza in Colombia). On the lighter side, I was surprised to find that Juan Valdez is actually a major commercial figure in Colombia - Café Juan Valdez is the Colombian equivalent of Starbucks.
List of hot spots and highlights of Bogota:
1. View the architecture and museums of La Candelaria: This old neighborhood contains beautiful ancient architecture, as well as some the city’s best museums. The Gold Museum (Museo del Oro) contains stunning examples of indigenous pre-Columbian gold work. The Casa de Moneda once served as a mint, but now contains several fantastic museums, including the Museo Botero and the art collection of the Banco de la Republica. In addition to the museums, the building itself is worth a visit. Try lunch at the Hotel de la Opera for fantastic views of La Candelaria’s architecture.
2. Centro Andino and the T-Zone: If there is any question whether American-style consumerism is successfully invading Colombia, look no further than this shopping and restaurant district. While a shopping mall may not seem to be an obvious tourist destination, Centro Andino is noteworthy for its vibrant nightlife and culinary destinations. Try the stellar Asian fusion at Wok (some of the only vegetables I had during my trip) or a hearty steak at Taurus.
3. View the architecture of the Plaza Bolivar: This area contains the Catedral Primada and the main buildings of the Colombian government, including the Palaco de Justicio, the location of 1985 terrorist invasion that provided the inspiration for the novel Bel Canto.
4. Enjoy classic Colombia fare at Restaurante Club Colombia: This restaurant seems a Colombian equivalent of an clubby American steakhouse. Try the classic Colombian potato soup ajiaco. The merengon for dessert is indescribably fantastic.
5. Try every kind of juice you can get your hands on: You’ll encounter new fruit juices on nearly every menu. Some favorites that are worth a try are the maracuya (a type of passionfruit), lulo, and guanabana.