Some people think it’s a waste of time and money, but I love going back to the same place twice. The first time you’re so stressed out about doing all the “musts” and seeing all the sights, you don’t really get a chance to absorb the actual vibe of a city. I’ve found that I really enjoy a destination more the second time around – I feel like I know what I’m doing, I have favorite things in mind that I want to see and eat, and the pressure to do anything in particular is off. So in May I jumped at the chance to visit Bogota, Colombia for the second time with my friend Camila, whose family is from the city. While the first time I traveled there with her in 2013 was a whirlwind of sights (the Gold Museum, Monserrate, the Salt Cathedral and the Usaquen Flea Market), round two was slightly more relaxed. As Camila’s mom told me, I was experiencing a typical Colombian weekend.
Colombian food isn’t the most exciting cuisine, but it sure is delicious in a comforting kind of way. There were a few things that I knew I had to eat during my 72 hours in Bogota, part two.
First things first, I could easily become addicted to these creamy paletas. We found them at a local bakery, where they are so popular they are literally kept under lock and key. Apparently these paletas are a classic treat for Colombian kids, and I have to say they sure beat the freeze pops my parents fed me.
The second thing I needed a second helping of was ajiaco, a soup made with chicken, potatos, corn and a Colombian herb called guascas, and served with capers and avocado. The key to the ajiaco flavor is the guascas, which is sadly IMPOSSIBLE to find in Boston or New York City (as if I cook food on a regular basis anyway).
The meat in Colombia is also so flavorful. Obviously steak is a must-have, but one of my favorite things to eat is lechona, a whole roasted pig stuffed with rice, peas, onions and spices. While having someone scrape the innards of a still-intact pig onto my plate initially grossed me out, one bite was enough to convert me into a lechona lover.
Finally, Colombia is home to many delicious forms of carbs. While I could find these baked treats in my old neighborhood in New York (Sunnyside/Woodside), I sadly would have to go very out of my way to eat them in Boston.
Andres Carne de Res is a famous Colombian restaurant located about an hour’s drive outside the city. I’d been hearing about this place for years from Camila, other friends who had visited Colombia and the Colombian students who stayed with my family while they were studying English in the US. They told me tales of wild nights, costumed characters and debauchery so insane that the restaurant employs staff members who will drive your car home for you when you have one too many.
Well, my night at Andres wasn’t very crazy at all, but it was still fun and worth the trek from Bogota. First of all, the actual restaurant itself is interesting to explore. There are all sorts of kitschy decor items hanging from the ceilings and on the walls, even in the bathroom. Second, the menu is huge and designed for sharing, meaning it’s a great way for your group to try a bunch of Colombian dishes over a bottle (or two) of Aguardiente, the local “fire water” that tastes like a little bit like a lighter version of sambuca. You also get to keep the menu, which is more accurately described as a magazine or book, as a souvenir!
After you sit down to eat, the fun begins: a group of waitresses might start a dance routine right next to you, or a band might approach the table and serenade you while giving you sashes, hats and crowns to wear. Apparently things have calmed significantly over the years and it used to be more of a crazy nightlife destination, but to me the night was still a blast.
I love to bike around the different cities I visit because it gives you the chance to see a lot of the area up close, but it’s faster than walking. Bogota isn’t a cycling city at first glance – the streets aren’t exactly designed with cyclists’ safety in mind and the air is polluted. But the city has made several improvements and added new bike paths recently. On Sundays, many of the streets uptown are closed so city residents and their families can come out and ride bikes during Ciclovia. It was fun and there were definitely no other tourists participating, which was pretty cool.
Many Colombian urbanites have a country home that they escape to on weekends. The city is dirty and extremely crowded, so it’s easy to see why people prefer to head out of town to enjoy the beautiful mountain scenery. On Monday, before my flight back to Boston, we took a drive to Camila’s aunt’s farm out in the country. It was so peaceful there and we got to hang out with horses, cows, dogs and best of all, a puppy!
We stayed for dinner, which included an amazing Colombian dish called lomo al trapo. Lomo al trapo consists of only two ingredients: beef and salt. The key to deliciousness is all in the preparation: the beef is generously salted to the point where you’re like woah am I going to die from a salt overdose? and then wrapped and tied tightly in a kitchen towel. The entire bundle is placed in a fire to cook for 10 to 15 minutes before it’s removed, unwrapped, and quickly eaten because it tastes so good. I’m definitely going to try this recipe out next time I’m glamping!
While I didn’t go on any tours or visit a single tourist attraction during my 72 hours in Bogota, I did get a taste of the typical Colombian lifestyle that I didn’t have the chance to experience during my first trip. I went to the gym (personal training for an hour is $11, you guys!), I got my hair done (blowouts are also $11… basically if I lived in Colombia I’d look FLY). It was the perfect mini vacation to help me wind down from a whirlwind two months of moving to a different state and starting a new job. Eating, drinking, bike riding and relaxing in a beautiful setting… what more could you want?
(I couldn’t resist one more puppy pic!)
"We're all wearing spandex unitards, should I buy you one? Oh and we're getting up at 6:00 a.m. on Sunday...