This will be: (1) a Joycean/stream of conscious TR; (2) different, as part of our trip was taken up w/ a local friend and won't be able to be replicated by other travelers.
Arrived Wednesday night to a clean and efficient airport @ 10:30 p.m. Wasn't necessarily surprised here. Was accosted by at least a dozen well-dressed men offer their taxi services. Instead of taking them up on the offer, we went into the "official" taxi line. Not that efficient, but I'd say we got a cab within 20 minutes of walking outside. To those staying at the Hilton: we weren't aware at the time, but I think you can arrange (free?) airport pick up.
Made it to the Hilton around 11:30 p.m. Fantastic hotel (minus a few design flaws I wrote in the Hilton review). One of the better Hiltons I've ever stayed at. Driving to the Hilton we were a little concerned though, as the area looked absolutely dead. Waking up was quite another story. Beautiful views, tons of good street-food within walking distance, and very close to nice walking neighborhoods.
Thursday morning my grandfather (went with my grandfather + dad) gave the concierge a $10 USD bill and a name and asked the concierge to locate an old friend he hadn't seen in 40 years. Big task and really a shot in the dark. We had zero expectations a hotel concierge would: (a) care and (b) find someone based one a single name. In the meantime, we took a cab to La Candelaria and walked all over. Went to the Museo del Oro. I wasn't as impressed as I was with the museo in Lima....but it was a nice way to take a break//kill some time after walking the hectic streets of Bogotá. For lunch: had a fantastic chicken arepa near the entrance ($2 USD). My grandfather (88 years old) was having trouble with the altitude, so my dad and I got him a cab back to the hotel.
We then walked to Montseratte. We too the cable car up (20 minute wait). Fantastic views and a great experience. The views at the top were amazing, but unfortunately were cloudy and I couldn't get a good picture. Did not visit any of the attractions at the top, instead deciding to use the next 1.5 hours to walk down the side of the mountain! It seemed like a good idea at the time, but in retrospect: do not do this! First off, our knees were in such bad condition by the time we got to the bottom we were in absolute pain. Secondly, I found out after the fact that you should not walk the pedestrian trail as their may be robbers. Anyways, we got to the bottom and there was a man serving arroz con leche off the back of his motorcycle. Amazing! Best I've ever had.
Cab back to hotel. Ends up concierge found the man my grandfather was looking for! Absolutely amazing. The last name was pretty generic and he found the guy without a half day. We took a cab provided by the Hilton to have dinner at his house. Reading other reviews on the Hilton, you'd think you should avoid the Hilton cars and walk across the street for non-Hilton cabs. We found the convenience of the Hilton provided cabs outweighed going to another place for a local cab. 1) You can charge the Hilton cab to your room, and (2) the cost was not that much higher than a yellow cab. The ride to our friends house (all the way on Calle 127) from the Hilton took 1.5 hours in traffic (and on the way back, it took 14 minutes!!). Had a nice dinner, rejoiced and told stories from 40 years past, and when dinner was over our host's son called a service called Uber. Uber is new to Bogotá (I think) and is very popular in the states. After using his iPhone app to get Uber, we had a private car ($15 USD) within 3 minutes! Quick, efficient, amazing...and I'd recommend this service to anyone.
The next day my grandfather flew home because he was experiencing too much altitude sickness and didn't want to risk it. My dad and I took a cab to Macarena around 10 a.m., walked around, and couldn't find anything worth seeing. I think this is more our fault than the area's fault. I had read a New York Times article on the revival of La Macarena neighborhood. But, when we got there, I had left the article at the hotel w/ all the addresses! So, the cab driver dropped us off "en el centro de La Macarena"...suffice to say: we had no idea where to go and got bored quite quickly.
From here we walked to La Candelaria. We wanted to get a second look at the area because we feel like we missed a lot the day before. Very interesting walk. Long, but worth it, as I feel like we saw areas of Bogotá you wouldn't see via taxi. By the time we got to La Candelaria, we were exhausted, but we pushed on. It was worth it, as we saw areas we missed the day before. We went to the Colombian military museum (not worth going unless you're a Colombian military history buff). At least it was free. Then we walked to Plaza de Bolivar and sat for awhile to watch a protest camping out in the square. Also found it interesting people paid money to have pigeons land all over them! In the States (and Europe) people would call this "gross"...I found it quite charming and unique to Bogotá.
From here we walked downtown (I think that's the neighborhood). It was packed. Hadn't seen a city this crowded since Madrid or Tokyo. Tons of vendors selling everything from arroz con pollo to lechona (amazing!) to baby toys and pool toys and shirts and shoes and text books. The list is endless. It was shopping mayhem. Had great food here and it was some of the best South American people watching I've seen. Unfortunately, at this point we were tired, and took a cab back (late afternoon).
After that, we had dinner at Harry Sasson. Great meal! Not only great, but not as expensive as I'd heard. For 2 entrees and 3 appetizers it was $120 USD. In the states our meal would have cost 2-3x as much. Portions were big and well done. I'd go back, but I'd probably want to explore some of Bogotá's other dining establishments first. Funny: we went walking at 3:30 pm to look for the restaurant and walk around. Figured maybe they'd be able to take us early, and we wanted to know where the restaurant was just in case we found something else to do and backtrack. We walked until 6:15 and still hadn't found the place!!! Ended up being 2 blocks from our hotel! We were glad of the error though as we got to see a whole new side of Bogotá. We saw where Andres D.C. was, we saw the high-end shopping, and we got to see how the "other half" lived. Very eye opening...lots of money, cars, and glitz/glam. We usually don't want to see things we could see in the States (all the stores we had at home), but again it was interested to see how the wealthier Bogotá citizens lived.
The next day, Saturday, was our final day. (We only had 3 whole days..coming in on Wednesday night and leaving Sunday morning.) Today is the hardest day to replicate for a potential visitor because we spent the whole day with our friends that the concierge connected us with. We took the Hilton cab to their apartment on Calle 127. From there they took us to the Bogotá Country Club, the oldest country club in the country. We had coffee and sandwiches here, walked around the club, etc. It was beautiful! Some of the prettiest scenery I had seen so far. Yes it was manufactured. Yes it was elitist. But, it was very, very interesting. What was even more interesting was hearing what the upper class felt about US politics, Colombian politics, and the state of the world. This is why I love to travel...to hear others perspectives. I myself am quite a "leftist," so I disagreed with much of what was being said (members of the Bogotá Country Club are obviously quite capitalist), but it was probably one of the most eye-opening conversations I'd ever heard.
From here our hosts drove us an hour plus outside of the city to the Salt Cathedral. Loved the town the Salt Mines were situated in. Unfortunately I didn't get to explore as we went straight into the Cathedral. We took the Spanish tour, got pretty bored, and jumped ahead to walk around by ourselves. Not going to lie here: we were quite bored. I think it was a combination of having extremely high expectations (the reviews for this place are amazing) and having seen bigger/more complex Salt Mines in Poland the preceding May. Even our Colombian hosts, who hadn't been here in 25 years weren't impressed and were itching to leave. I'm glad I did it, but I wouldn't go back. From here we drove to friends of our host outside Bogotá. They lived on a golf course. One of their servants (I don't know what else to call them? Domestic help?) made us a smoothie/drink of the Lulo fruit. It was one of the most mind-blowing tasting smoothies I've ever had. Bitter, sour, sweet...all of it!
From here we drove to Andres Carne de Res. Wow. I'm going to keep this short: there is no physical, mental, psychological way to explain this restaurant. It literally must be seen to be believed. I will say this: it's amazing that they can produce such quality food with 3,000 seats! In the United States, restaurants are intentionally small for quality control reasons. Andres blew those perceptions out of the water.
We were too full to have dinner after Andres, so we went back to the hotel. From there we just walked our neighborhood, bought some aguardiente to bring back to the states, and went to bed. Sunday we flew out. The ride to the airport on Sunday: hardly saw 5 cars!
1) With the exception of one time walking downtown, I felt extremely safe in Bogotá. I think I felt a little more worried walking around parts of Madrid than I did Bogotá.
2) The Spanish spoken here is some of the cleanest I've ever heard. Easy to understand, beautiful pronunciation, just gorgeous. Makes me want to brush up on my Spanish (I'm a conversational speaker, can get from A to B, order food and ask questions...but I wouldn't call myself fluent).
3) It helps to speak Spanish here. Not a lot of Spanish is spoken outside of hotels/internationally acclaimed restaurants. The language barrier is more than Europe or other parts of South America.
4) Some of the friendliest people I've ever met. From our hosts, to the hotel, to people on the streets...very nice!
5) Taxis won't take you to the Hilton/JW Marriott (whatever that area of town is) from La Candelaria if they're heading in the wrong direction. Not sure if they were saying "these places are too far" or if they were just going the wrong way on a one way street. Took us 4 tries to get back from La Candelaria both days we were there.
More to come (if I can think of it!!).
Great trip, great city, loved it. Will come back soon!