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Just Back from Bogota May 2010

Harlingen, TX
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Just Back from Bogota May 2010

Hi, Friends -

Here is my trip report regarding my April 30 to May 8 vacation to Bogota, Colombia. I hope this information assists anyone planning on visiting the city:

1) Airport Arrival: You may be loaded onto a bus and driven a short distance to the terminal when you exit your airplane. Proceed through Customs, which may X-ray your carry-on luggage. The exit doors immediately past Customs will be crowded with well-dressed individuals who work for hotels and will attempt to convince you to stay at the hotel they represent. Walk past these people and hail a yellow taxi about 50 feet away. Ignore ANYONE (taxi driver, hotel representative, etc.) who tells you that La Candelaria is "muy peligroso" (very dangerous) and insists on taking you to a hotel of their choice. Remember, these people lie in order to get a kickback from the hotel!

2) Airport Departure: Arrive at the airport two hours in advance of your departing flight. A taxi ride from my hotel to the airport was 20,000 Colombian Pesos (about $10 American).

3) Hotel: I stayed eight nights at Hotel Casa Deco in the La Candelaria area. My very positive review will be posted by TripAdvisor shortly.

4) Scams: Most of the scams I encountered occurred along Av. Jimenez and Carrera 7. First, on three seperate occasions, a man walked up to me, unwrapped a folded piece of paper, and showed me what appeared to be emeralds. An emerald expert in Bogota told me that these "emeralds" were likely cut green glass. Second, a man in his mid-20s offered me two pieces of candy from an open bag. I'm not sure where this scam would have led, but I learned a long time ago not to accept candy from strangers! Third, in front of the Iglesia de San Francisco, a well-dressed elderly man walked up to me and asked me a question. When I asked him to repeat himself (I speak a little Spanish), another man quickly walked up and said "He asked you where the Casa de Cambio is." These two men shook hands and acted like they didn't know each other. The elderly man said he was from Bolivia and the other said he from Colombia. As the elderly man stepped back a little, the other man quickly flashed an identification card that had Police printed on it. He then rambled something off in Spanish about "cocaine" and "false papers" and "problems," then attempted to escort me down a vacant alley and away from the church and the busy street. When I said no, the man said "okay," shook my hand, and then both men melted into the crowd.

5) Sidewalks: Watch out for random piles of dog doo, as well as holes made from missing natural gas and water covers. And, when the bricks get wet from rain or any other moisture, they are VERY slippery.

6) Restaurants: The following restuarants were so good, I ate at them two or three times:

- L'Jaim: Carrera 3, #14-79. Try the tres mixto shawarma and, for dessert, the baklava.

- Sanalejo: Av Jimenez, #3-73. Try the ceviche or champinones al gratin for an appetizer, the baby beef for the main course, and then finish it off with a hot cup of canelazo.

- Restaurante La Pola: Calle 19, #1-85. Try the ajiaco with a side of arroz. CAUTION: There are a lot of restaurants in the area with the name La Pola in it. The Restaurante La Pola has an inner courtyard with ivy growing in it, and is directly beside the Trotamundos business.

- Hamburgesas El Corral: Calle 11, #2-16, with several other locations around Bogota. Okay, YES, it IS a $10 fast-food meal, but the locals love the food and it IS delicious.

- Crepes and Waffles: Av. Jimenez between Carrera 4 and 5. Delicious crepes and ice cream sundaes. The street-level part of the restaurant is for take-away orders only. Go inside the restaurant and go down the stairs for the basement-level part of the restaurant with the waitresses.

One final word about restaurants: I visited Andres Carnes de Res, the new location in Bogota (not Chia) across from the Andino Mall, and left very disappointed. Although the atmosphere was nice, my sirloin was tough, even though it was cooked medium rare. I had a much better cut of meat (twice) with the baby beef at Sanalejo.

7) Sights: Be sure to visit Monserrate, Museo Botero, Arte Coleccion, Museo Historico Policia, Museo del Oro, and the 46th floor of the Colpatria Tower.

The Museo del 20 de Julio is closed for renovation.

Paris, France
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1. Re: Just Back from Bogota May 2010

I am glad to hear that the yellow cab from the airport worked OK for you. Really, however, it is safer to go to the official taxi queue where they take your name before you get into the taxi. Bogota is much safer today than it had been in the past, but there are still very real risks jumping into those yellow cabs when traveling alone.

Sorry you were disappointed with Andres Carne de Res (ACR) but it is really about the atmosphere. If you didn't go to the ACR in Chia you didn't get anything close to the ACR experience.

Harlingen, TX
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2. Re: Just Back from Bogota May 2010

Elgato9 -

No, the yellow cab from the airport DIDN'T work ok for me at all. I arrived in Bogota late in the evening. Tired and confused by the crowd, I ended up hiring a private taxi that charged me 40,000 Colombian Pesos to travel from the airport to La Candelaria. The driver was actually a hotel representative that kept telling me "muy peligroso" when he asked me half a dozen times where my hotel reservation was, and my reply to him was La Candelaria. My thinking is that I wasn't overcharged too much, as it was Friday and it was at night. And I NEVER saw the official taxi queue that you spoke of.

Atmosphere at a restaurant is nice, but in the end what matters is the food and the quality of it. After hearing so many people here on TripAdvisor and in Bogota rave about the quality of the beef at ACR, it was shocking to get a sirloin that was tough to cut when only cooked medium-rare. I don't think everyone who visits ACR in the future will have my same experience, and ACR definitely won't suffer due to my so-so review.

Fort Lauderdale...
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3. Re: Just Back from Bogota May 2010

Thanks for the info. We are staying at Casa Deco in June. I read your review (and the one that said it was noisy) and it sounds really nice. Are the restaurants you mentioned within walking distance? Also, did you have any trouble with the altitude? I worry about that as I've even had trouble in Denver which isn't nearly as high. Thanks

Harlingen, TX
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4. Re: Just Back from Bogota May 2010

Hi, FortLauderdale15 -

I have taken seven vacations over the past two years, and EVERY hotel I've stayed in had at least SOME noise. Hotel Casa Deco was no different. Some street noise occasionally filtered in, but the majority of the noise was made by other guests by talking loudly, slamming doors, etc.

Hotel Casa Deco IS really nice. The staff is genuinely warm and friendly, and some of them (Gian Paolo, Lina, Cesar) speak excellent English.

All of the restaurants that I mentioned, except Andres Carnes de Res, are a short walk from Hotel Casa Deco. The taxi fare to and from Andres, I think, was about 12,000 Colombian Pesos ($6 American) both ways.

For altitude sickness, my doctor prescribed six tablets of Acetazolamide, also known as Diamox. The main side effect I had with the medication was carbonated beverages (Coke Zero) tasted NASTY! Once I finished with the medication, this quickly went away. I did have a slight headache for my first couple of days in Bogota, but that may been because my caffeine intake was thrown out of kilter.

Here are a few more tips I forgot to mention in my original post:

1) Leave your laptop at home. There are MANY Internet cafes in Bogota. Most charge about 1,000 Colombian Pesos (50 cents American) per hour to use their computers.

2) You WILL be approached by panhandlers and homeless people looking for a donation. Some are more aggressive than others. Just shake your head, don't make eye contact, and keep walking, and they'll quickly leave you alone.

3) Visit the Plazoleta Rosario and Parque Santander (both across the street from each other) any day during the week. A lot of street food vendors set up in these open areas. A piece of chorizo (sausage) wrapped in an arepa was only 1,000 Colombian Pesos, and made for a quick and delicious snack.

4) The 46th Floor of the Colpatria Tower, I think, is only open on Saturday and Sunday.

5) There is a small supermarket on Av. Jimenez almost directly across from the Crepes and Waffles. It's named Olimpico, and you can buy every toiletry there (deodorant, soap, toothpaste, etc.) that you find in the United States.

Oakland, California
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5. Re: Just Back from Bogota May 2010

Thanks for your post and all the information. Any reservations about staying in La Candelaria? I'll be visiting Bogota in June and there's an awful lot of conflicting information out there.

- Carl

Harlingen, TX
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6. Re: Just Back from Bogota May 2010

Hi, acek (Carl) -

My thoughts on Bogota can be summarized in two points:

1) If your intentions while in Bogota are to drink and chase skirts, then you will want to stay in the Zona Rosa/Parque 93 area, which is safer, more upscale, and of course, more expensive. You'll easily pay $200 to $400 a night for a hotel, and you'll get a very generic and whitewashed vacation experience.

2) If your intentions while in Bogota are to visit museums, old churches, and eat like the locals do, then you will want to stay in the La Candelaria area, which is a little grittier, much less upscale, and much less expensive. A hotel will cost $100 to $150 a night, and you'll get a very genuine experience in a city that was once one of the most violent in the world.

If I had to return to Bogota tomorrow, I would again stay in La Candelaria. While there, I kept my passport and the bulk of my cash in the safe in the room, taking only about 50,000 Colombian Pesos (about $25 American) with me each day for expenses. But, I openly carried my Bogota travel guide and camera in public, which probably explains why I was approached so much and asked to buy emeralds, asked for money by panhandlers, etc. And even when I left those two items in my room late in the day just to sit in a nearby park and "people watch," I STILL got approached, even though I'm 6 feet tall, weigh 230 pounds, and have been told that with my haircut, I look like a military sniper (LOL).

My advice: Just go, don't worry. Practice basic safety precautions and you'll be fine. If you stumble drunk out of bar at 3am in a dark area of La Candelaria wearing a Rolex watch, YES you probably WILL have problems!

Seattle
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7. Re: Just Back from Bogota May 2010

Thanks for the trip report! I'm headed to Colombia on May 21st and am starting to get excited. This is kind of a random trip for me and I'm not quite sure what to expect. This is also my first trip to South America. Have you been to any other South American countries? How does Colombia differentiate from other SA countries? Any unique things to do there that might not be in the guide books? Thanks!!

Harlingen, TX
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8. Re: Just Back from Bogota May 2010

Hi, Mateo1974 -

I visited Cartagena, Colombia in June 2009 and Buenos Aires, Argentina in October 2009. I had a blast in Cartagena: Great historic sites, delicious food, wonderful people. Buenos Aires wasn't nearly as fun: A lot of the museums and historic sites were being renovated, and the city was a little on the dirty and crowded side. But the people were very friendly and the hotel I stayed in (Lola House) is an AMAZING place.

It's difficult to compare Colombia to other countries in South America since my travel in that continent is pretty limited so far. Personally, though, I like Colombia. The architecture and sites date back hundreds and hundreds of years, even before the arrival of the Spanish. And as a single man, okay, yeah, I'll be blunt: Colombian women are GORGEOUS and most have a very pleasant personality and attitude. I'm hoping my future wife will be a Colombiana! ;-)

I have used the Lonely Planet guides for my travels in Argentina and Colombia. They have been very reliable so far as far as sites and restaurants are concerned. However, the hotels I stayed in for Cartagena, Buenos Aires, and Bogota were not in any guidebook; I found them here on TripAdvisor.

My advice is to make sure you schedule some "down time" each day. Find a bench at a shady park and just sit and people watch. The Plaza de Bolivar in Cartagena and Parque Santander in Bogota are excellent for that. Buy some street food from a vendor and just listen to the hum of the city as the locals go about their daily lives and routines. You'll never get that kind of experience from any guidebook.

Toronto, Canada
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9. Re: Just Back from Bogota May 2010

Thanks for posting. We are likely going to Ecuador next year (February or March 2011) for a couple of weeks. I looked at the flights and it seems that we could stop off in Bogota for a night without any extra cost. As well as getting to see a little of Bogota, we wouldn't be arriving in Quito around midnight. I don't especially like arriving somewhere new so late. So now I'm looking at a night in Bogota. La Candelaria appeals to me and Hotel Casa Deco looks great. Thanks again.

10. Re: Just Back from Bogota May 2010

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