Colombia – To Bogota

There are a couple of popular beach spots on the Caribbean coast, but I decide that I have had enough of hot weather for awhile and it’s time to head to the mountains.

The highways are pretty good, although the main highway south to Bogota is under construction everywhere. It’s being expanded from a 2 lane highway to a 4 lane divided highway, so at some points I’m on the new section with a passing lane, other times all traffic is on the old two lane section, or all traffic on the new section. It constantly changes and if there’s not a lot of traffic I have to really pay attention to figure out where I should be driving. Also paid the first of many tolls to come.

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Stayed one night in a truck stop hotel near Bosconia, where the highway from Cartagena meets highway 45 south to Bogota, then another night in Aguachica.

This guy has a chihuahua riding on his shoulder like a parrot, propped up by his passenger. It looked pretty happy.

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Stopped for lunch outside Bucaramanga, great meal of steak with more steak. A big change from the usual meals in Central America.

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Arrived in San Gil. Not quite the mountains yet but much better weather. San Gil is famous for white water rafting trips, climbing, and caving.

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Then on to Barichara. It’s an old colonial town up in the hills, founded in 1705. Very picturesque and a great walking town. It’s a favorite location for filming telenovelas and movies, and has a lot of upscale homes hidden behind those white walls.  Somewhat touristy but not over the top.

I spend a week here in a cozy family hotel just a block off the central square. Start each morning sitting on the square with a coffee and snack. Plenty of very good restaurants for dinner each day, I think my favorite was 7 Tigres Pizza

Then on to Villa de Leyva. Founded in 1572, it’s much larger and more touristy than Barichara, but still quite nice to walk around. The main square is huge, the largest in Colombia. It gets pretty crowded on the weekends but during the week it’s quiet and peaceful. I wanted to drive my Land Cruiser into the center and get a picture, but they have barriers and police there to keep it limited to pedestrians only.

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Will and Cate are staying at the same little hostel/campground on the edge of town. One day we sign up for the Jeep tour of Villa de Leyva. It turns out that the tour does not actually include the entrance to any of the sites, just driving us from place to place then saying “OK go buy your ticket and go inside.” We visit the Fossil of Villa de Leyva, a monastery built using fossils, a winery, and the mirador which is just a small hill above the town. With all of the wine going back and forth it ended up being a fun afternoon.

As with the main square, quiet during the week but filled with tourists on the weekends.

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Tons of great restaurants. Colombian tapas, grilled chorizo with spicy salsa.

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Chihuahuas south of the US have been very friendly and happy.

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On to Zipaquira, about and hour outside Bogota. The major attraction here is the Salt Cathedral.  They have been mining salt here for hundreds of years, and at some point the miners started carving a cathedral into the salt. The original cathedral was closed several years ago due to safety, so they have created a while new cathedral along with the stations of the cross in a new section of the mine 180m underground.

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With the exception of the railings and lights, everything is carved from salt. The guides encourage you to lick any part of the walls (but not the statues) to test the saltiness.

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Each section was done by its own group of salt miners. Some of the intricate statues took over a year to complete.

The cathedral is a popular place for weddings. There is a road tunnel going down into the salt mine to allow the wedding party to drive right up to the cathedral in a limo.

Finally, into Bogota the capital city of Colombia. It’s very modern and easy to get around.

The Museo Nacional was originally a prison in the 1800’s,  now an art and history museum. The Juan Valdez cafe in the courtyard garden is a good place to sit back and enjoy some Colombian coffee.

I have a week at an Airbnb in the Chapinero Alto neighborhood. It’s a downstairs apartment in the back of a house with its own entrance. The neighborhood is quiet and safe and my hosts are super nice and helpful. Like any big city, Bogota has a range of neighborhoods and safety, with some areas fine during the day but best avoided after dark, others that you shouldn’t enter at all. Once I figure out how to buy a transit card it’s really easy to get around on the big express buses.

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The Gold Museum is one of the biggest tourist stops in Bogota. It has the largest collection of gold artifacts in the world.

I meet up with Will and Cate for a street art tour in downtown Bogota. Very interesting with lots of details on the various artists, the types of art and crews involved, the etiquette and protocols that have developed over time.

Bogota sits at 2640m, so the weather is much more pleasant the the heat of Cartagena. I actually have to put on a jacket for the first time in quite awhile. Also a bit of rain here and there so I also have to dig out my umbrella. All in all a good place to spend a week.

 

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