Tuesday, May 9, 2017


Despite never really having heard a positive thing about Bogota, I left myself a full day there at the very end of my time in Colombia. My flight home was from there and, well, why not?

I'm SO GLAD that I had that time. I was so pleasantly surprised by the city. Yes, the weather was its typical (for Bogota) chilly raininess. But honestly, after how hot it was on the north coast, this was kind of a relief. And my time in La Candeleria, admittedly one of the nicest parts of Bogota, was great. The city was way more visually pleasing than I expected.

And the walking tour I took with a local university student made the exploring even better. She took us for chicha in a local place, told us what streets NOT to walk down, and walked with us down the others.

After the walking tour, there was a break in the clouds just long enough to take the cable car up Montserrate and get the view looking down over the vast city.

And when the rain set in again, an amazing lunch of the local specialty (ajiaco) put me into a food coma.

Then I had just enough time to stop at the Gold Museum to round out the day. I'm really not a museum person, but this was an interesting one.

I also got teased with some pieces that reference places in Colombia I didn't make it to on this trip, like the pre-Colombian site of San Agustin.

Really, I could EASILY fill another month here with all the things I would love to have seen and didn't make it to. I would come back here in a second and whole-heartedly recommend it as a travel destination to pretty much anyone (though some rudimentary Spanish is pretty necessary at this point, and I'm sure my trip would have been even richer if I spoke Spanish well enough to really engage with the incredibly friendly people I met on this trip). If you ever have the chance, go!

I'm signing off for now to spend the summer Stateside. In October I'll be headed back down to South America, so I'll see you then with news from Ecuador and Peru. In the meantime, take care!

Monday, May 8, 2017

Valle de Cocora

One of the most iconic Colombian landscapes is the Valle de Cocora...

...and its wax palms--the tallest palm trees in the world, at 70-80m.

I started out hiking with an Aussie at the hostel I was staying at who was heading in the same direction, and as the day progressed, we picked up more and more people, stopping at a hummingbird sanctuary half-way through the 6-hour hike...

...slogging on through the rain, over rivers through the cloud forest...

...and through impressive stretches of mud that made me really glad I sprang for renting galoshes from the hostel.

It was a beautiful, epic walk. And luckily not so draining that we didn't have the energy that night to take our group--by then eleven people--to a nearby bar...

...for a game of tejo. That's the reference to gunpowder. It's a Colombian game kind of like cornhole or horseshoes, where you throw stone discs at a target of clay that has a metal ring in the middle, and little packets of gunpowder are placed on the ring so that if you manage to hit on of them with your stone from a distance, it explodes. Good fun!

Sunday, May 7, 2017

Salento / Zona Cafetera

There's no way I'd be able to pick my favorite part of Colombia, so I'll just say that my latest (and ever-shifting) favorite spot is the colonial town of Salento, in the Zona Cafetera--the coffee-production region of Colombia. Totally picturesque...

...and just an hour's walk to coffee plantations that you can tour...

...and/or just enjoy the incredibly lovely countryside.

Though the town is just as beautiful as the surrounding mountains.

Friday, May 5, 2017

Villa de Leyva

The colonial town of Villa de Leyva--just about four hours by bus north of Bogota--is pretty much exactly what I envisioned Colombia would be like before I got here. Of course it has turned out to be even more, and more diverse, and more wonderful than I imagined, but it was still fun to see the ENORMOUS sky over the main plaza in town...

...eat my umpteenth plate of patacones (smashed plantains)...

...wander among the peaceful, picturesque streets among the friendly locals...

...and basically just chill out during my too-short time there. Sweet stop.

Wednesday, May 3, 2017

Lago di Tota

In addition to wanting to see Mongui and the Paramo, I wanted to check out Sugamuxi because the region has Colombia's largest lake: Lago di Tota.

The pictures are a little bleak-looking, as it was a pretty drizzly morning, but the first sight of the lake coming over the pass really was breathtaking. My first lakeside stop was the town of Aquitania, where it was fun watching the locals wander by and taking a close-up look at the onion farms that abound at the lake's shore.

Moving on from Aquitania, my second lakeside stop was Playa Blanca, one of the highest beaches in the world, sitting at 3015m. Those crazy people swimming were trying to get me to come in the water, which was REALLY COLD. A little wade in up to my knees sufficed.

Then I went to the beachside restaurant and tried some of the freshwater trout that the lake is famous for providing far and wide in Colombia.

From Playa Blanca, a third bus took me away from the lake, through other Sugamuxi villages...

...to the town of Iza, where I took a dip in the Erika hot springs, which were just so cozy and lovely.

Iza is also famous for its meringue desserts, which I may or may have not sampled. Let's just say that if it's true that you are what you eat, I am a little bit Colombian after today.

Tuesday, May 2, 2017

Mongui / the Paramo

I ALMOST skipped this stop because of being short on time, and I'm so glad I didn't. The area of Sugamuxi - "Valley of the Sun" (ironic, since here is where sustained rain found me for the first time in the trip) - is home to an indigenous people called the Muisca.

The most ridiculously picturesque town in the region is (reportedly, and I certainly won't argue) Mongui, with its enchanting stone bridge over a stream running through town.

The rock for the bridge - and the water that still runs under it - both come from high above the town, where there is a very rare type of ecosystem called La Paramo: a glacier-formed tropical moor sitting at 3,000-5,000 meters. With a French tourist I ran into at the Sogamoso hostel where I stayed and our guide Moses, I took a full-day trek through this landscape of such amazing vistas and plants.

Moses cheerfully led us on the soggy slog from 3,000m to a highest altitude of 4,000m (~12,000ft), cheerfully sharing info about the Muisca culture and local environment along the way.

On the way back down out of the moors, Moses took us into a magical chasm that the Muisca have, over the centuries, used as a burial ground for esteemed community members; they carved tombs out of the rock walls that you can still see as you wander through.

Back down in Mongui, Moses also took us to the factory that Mongui is most famous for; here, locals make leather soccer balls that are exported all over Latin America.

Mongui and the Paramo were the first reason for coming to this region. Stay tuned for the next!