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Best of the Trans-Americas Journey 2015 – Best Adventures & Activities

This post is part 1 of 4 in the series Best of 2015

Welcome to Part 1 in our Best of the Trans-Americas Journey 2015 series of posts. Part 1 is all about the Best Adventures & Activities of the past year of travel on our little road trip through the Americas including cruising the Amazon River in Peru (in luxury and in a hammock), playing with gunpowder in a bar in Colombia and sky biking through the treetops in Ecuador (don’t miss our Amazon drone footage). Part 2 covers the Best Food & Beverages of 2015, Part 3 covers the Best Hotels of the year and Part 4 tells you all about our Travel Gear of the Year.

In 2015, the Trans-Americas Journey explored Colombia, Ecuador and Peru and we drove 7,210 miles (11,603 km) doing it. Want more geeky road trip numbers like how much money we’ve spent on gas and how many borders we’ve driven over? Check out the Trip Facts & Figures page on our website.

And now, in no particular order, here are the…

10 Best Adventures & Activities of 2015

 

Best walk through the tree tops: It’s more than a third of a mile (500 meters) long and up to 115 feet (35 meters) above the ground. It sways and creaks as it connects more than a dozen different platforms. It’s supported by enormous rain forest trees and there’s nothing else like it in the Peruvian Amazon basin. We’re talking about the Ceiba Tops Canopy Walkway at Explorama Lodge from which you can see toucans, tree frogs, monkeys and more all at eye level. Check out our Amazon drone footage from above the Canopy Walkway, above.

 

Caceria del Zorro horse race - Ibarra, Ecuador

Best insane horse race: Every October the town of Ibarra in northern Ecuador hosts a race that includes hundreds of horses and riders who parade around town, then leap down a series of steep cliffs (see above) before taking part in a track race in pursuit of a rider dressed as Zorro. Yes, that Zorro. It is breathtaking in more ways than one. Learn more about the annual Caceria del Zorro in our story about Ecuador’s craziest horse race for Afar.

 

Cock-of-Rock

Best cock sighting: The national bird of Peru is called the Cock of the Rock. It is a crazy looking thing, but not how you’re thinking (check it out, above). It’s also pretty rare and seeing one is not a guarantee. Seeing five in one day without a guide is pretty extraordinary, but that’s exactly what happened when we hiked the trail to the Gocta Waterfall in northern Peru. Just after reaching the 4km mark on the 5km trail we heard a really weird noise–like alien frogs. We stopped and looked around and soon saw a bright red flash in the rain forest. We hung around and looked and listened some more and then we saw three male Cock of the Rocks in the same tree just off the trail. They hung around for more than five minutes before flying off. On our way back out we saw another Cock of the Rock alone in a tree around the 3km trail marker. Our advice is to keep your eyes and your ears open on this trail. And even if you don’t see any Cock of the Rocks the waterfall is worth is. At 2,530 feet (771 meters) Gocta Waterfall is one of the tallest free-falling waterfalls in the world.

 

Amazon Ferry Iquitos Peru Hammock

Best bare bones Amazon River trip: At an average up river speed of less than 10 miles (15 km) per hour, it takes more than three days to travel up the Amazon River by cargo ferry from Iquitos to Yurimaguas, Peru (you can hack off a day or so going downstream in the other direction). We slept on the deck in hammocks (Karen is demonstrating, above), spent a lot of hours spotting blue and yellow macaws and pink river dolphins with our binoculars and generally slowed down to river time. It was like taking a multi-day trip on the Mississippi but with rarer wildlife.

 

Aria Amazon river boat  - Iquitos, Peru

Best super luxe Amazon River trip: On the extreme other end of the Peruvian Amazon River Trip experience scale you will find the Aria Amazon river boat. This floating luxury hotel and fine dining restaurant lived up to the substantial hype with some of the best food we’ve had in Peru so far (the menu was created by Executive Chef Pedro Miguel Schiaffino who runs the award-winning Malabar restaurant in Lima), exceptional service, chic rooms with floor to ceiling windows, great guides and, of course, all that Amazon. Did we mention the air conditioning and the hot tub?

 

Playin Tejo - Salento, Colombia

Best explosive bar game: It’s called tejo and it involves a heavy metal disc (called a tejo) which you toss underhand toward an angled board covered in wet clay. Your goal is to hit pieces of paper stuffed with gun powder which are arranged around a metal ring pressed into the clay. You know you’re doing it right when the reaction between your tossed tejo, the gun powder and the metal ring causes an explosion. We played it in the otherwise tranquil mountain town of Salento, Colombia at the Los Amigos bar where they have a massive open air tejo area set up in the back. Pay 1,000 COP (about US$0.40) per person, grab a cold beer for 3,000 COP (about US$1.00), choose one of the half dozen or so tejo set ups and start tossing. You earn one point for the tejo which lands closest to ring. You get three points for an explosion. You get six points for landing in the center of the metal ring and causing an explosion. You get nine points for landing in center of metal ring without causing an explosion. The first person who racks up 25 points first wins. Though Karen hates loud noises, she somehow won anyway. Check out her winning form, above.

 

Masphi Eco Lodge sky baike jungle canopy

Best place to bicycle through the air: Masphi Eco Lodge in Ecuador is remarkable for a number of reasons, including top luxury deep in the rain forest and breathtaking architecture. Mashpi is also home to the only sky bike in the country. What is a sky bike? It’s an ingenious contraption that allows you to pedal your way across a taught line high above the ground (above). Think of it as horizontal zip lining on a bike. At Mashpi they’ve installed their sky bike through a particularly lovely patch of cloud forest and a leisurely round trip between two platforms gives sky bikers eye level views of the tree tops and the flowers and critters that live there.

 

 

Best death road: There are two ways to travel between Macoa to Pasto in Colombia: via a normal highway or via something called the Trampoline of Death. Guess which one we chose…To assuage her nerves, Karen crushed the pre-drive to do list. Water bottles were filled. Tire pressure was checked. The oil level was monitored. We were ready for the steep grades, blind corners, narrow stretches where two vehicles can’t possibly pass, potholes, rock slides and whatever else something called the Trampoline of Death might have in store. What we weren’t ready for was a recently graded surface, helpful safety signs and guardrails. Guardrails? We still had fun on the road and it is still challenging and requires even more concentration then usual, but the moral of this adventure is: don’t judge a road by its nickname. Check out the time lapse video from our death road drive, above.

 

Animals of Cuyabeno Wildlife Reserve, Ecuador

Best Amazon adventure destination in Ecuador: Ecuador is blessed with a number of different areas from which travelers can access the Amazon Basin. We spent weeks exploring the Amazon along the Napo River out of a town called Coca which is the most popular gateway. Then we visited the Cuyabeno Wildlife Reserve in the Amazon Basin and it blew our minds. The waterways in the Cuyabeno area of Ecuador are much smaller and they flood and recede throughout the year. There are also far fewer lodging options in the Cuyabeno area then there are along the Napo which means fewer humans. This means the animals are more common and much easier to see. In three days we saw pink river dolphins, the smallest monkey in the world (the pygmy marmoset), huge tracts of primary rainforest, toucans, a pygmy potoo (look it up) and more. We saw so many animals we had to make a wildlife montage for you, above. Lodges in the Cuyabeno area of the Amazon Basin are fairly basic with varying degrees of electricity, hot water, etc. We recommend Tapir Lodge where the food is great, the solar and generator electricity is reliable and the private rooms are clean and comfortable. The biggest asset at Tapir Lodge is Kurt the owner. He is passionate about his slice of paradise and works hard to make sure his guests fall in love with it too.

 

Kuelap Fortress archaeological site - Chachapoyas, Peru

Best first Incan archaeological site: During the course of our Trans-Americas Journey we’ve explored more than 100 archaeological sites through the US, Mexico, Belize, Guatemala, Honduras and El Salvador. None of them have been Incan sites, however, until we crossed into Peru and headed straight for the Kuelap Fortress, which is actually a pre-Incan site that was built by the Chachapoyas people in 1500s. The massive stone wall that encloses this site is nearly 2,000 feet (600 meters) long by nearly 400 feet (119 meters) wide. In places the wall is 62 feet (19 meters) high (check it out, above). Kuelap held thousands of people at it’s peak in distinctive round stone houses with thatch roofs. Despite its name, some archaeologists believe that Kuelap probably wasn’t a fortress at all but more of a sacred area used for ceremonies and rituals. Visiting Keulap is about to get even more adventurous. In late 2015 work began on a massive cable car system, the first in Peru, which will transport visitors from the village of Tingo Nuevo to the Kuelap site covering 2.5 miles (4 km) and rising more than 2,400 feet (730 meters) in 20 minutes. The new Kuelap cable car is expected to be finished in 2017.

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Where to Drink in Bogotá Right Now – Bogotá, Colombia

The food scene in Bogotá is on fire (we tell you where to eat right now in our Bogotá Dining Guide) and the drinking and bar scene isn’t too far behind with craft beers, and lovingly made cocktails served in bars to suite anyone’s style. Our guide to watering holes in the Colombian capital will tell you where to drink in Bogotá right now.

Where to drink in Bogotá right now

Bar Enano – The Spanish word enano loosely translates to dwarf in English and everything about Bar Enano, off the main dining room at Bistro el Bandido (which nails the French Bistro vibe and menu – order the coq au vin), is small. The handful of tables are tiny. The menu offers small bites. The antique tableware, exquisitely sourced from antique shops and estate sales in Medellin, is almost doll size. The cocktails, on the other hand, pack a big, big punch. The throwback issues of Playboy magazine are the icing on the cake at this intimate, retro spot.

Bar Enano Bogota

Bar Enano, a new place to get a serious cocktail in an intimate space.

Black Bear – This place is so full of craft cocktails and the hipsters who love them that you may think you’ve teleported from Bogotá to Portland. There’s food here too but it’s the serious mixology that keeps this place packed.

Black Bear bar Bogota

At Black Bear it’s hard to tell who’s more serious about mixology: the bartenders or the patrons.

Bar 8 1/4  – This six stool watering hole is helmed by Ronnie Schneider, a Venezuelan who calls himself a “Slow Drink Tender”. Armed with a cabinet full of homemade infusions and bitters he experiments boldly, fails rarely and delights his patrons with classy (but never pretentious) presentation with surprises in every sip. Whatever you do, don’t order a boring old beer. Located at Carrera 14 #86A-12 on the first floor of a house that’s been turned into a culinary and retail space. You will need to be buzzed into the front door which just adds to the speakeasy vibe.

Bar 8 1/4 Bogoat

Ronnie Schneider works his magic at Bar 8 1/4.

Apache Burger Bar – Created and operated by Chef Felipe Arizabaleta of Bistro el Bandido, Bar Enano and Bruto fame, this place is a hip watering hole on the roof of the even hipper Click Clack Hotel. Casual, sexy and straightforward, you can get a beer, good wine or a cocktail while enjoying a DJ and epic views of the city below. Food (salads, sandwiches, Chicago style hot dogs and, of course, burgers) is also available.

Apache Burger Bar Bogota

Locals flock to Apache Burger Bar for rooftop views, a DJ and great drinks.

Bogotá Beer Company – Lovingly referred to as just “BBC”, this is the biggest little craft brewery in Colombia (in 2015 BBC was purchased by Ambev, the Brazilian affiliate of Anheuser-Busch Imbev, but nothing has changed on the ground). There are nearly 30 BBC pubs across Colombia where a range of craft beers on tap and in bottles can be enjoyed along with food and music. Happy hour prices are offered Monday to Friday between noon and 7 pm which means you can enjoy a pint of world-class craft beer for about US$2.25 including tax and tip. Really.

Bogota Beer Company

Bogotá Beer Company, the biggest little beer maker in Colombia.

Statua Rota – BBC is the big boy of Colombian craft beers, but there are many small producers doing good work as well. We recommend a visit to Statua Rota (Broken Statue) in the Chapinero neighborhood where a house has been converted into a brew pub that feels like a frat house but with better kegs. Two brothers and a friend started the brewery and despite their youth and heavy metal wardrobes they’re very serious about what they do. Their European style beers are solid and include a wheat beer brewed with lulo (a sweet/tart fruit) and coriander seeds and a bock beer called Michael Jackson because, according to the brew master, it has a white soul but it looks black. A grill in the courtyard turns out well-priced kebabs, sausages and burgers too.

Cerveceria La Estatua Rota Bogota

Serious beer in a frat house atmosphere at the Statua Rota brew pub.

Xarcuteria – The best happy hour in Bogotá, by far, is at Xarcuteria where cocktails are half price and wine and beer (including craft beer) is 30% off every day from 4:30 to 7:30 and again from 10:30 to closing time. Happy hour is not offered on Sundays, but you’ll need a day to recover anyway.

Gordo Brooklyn Bar & Restaurant –  Colombian chef Daniel Castaño worked with Mario Batali in New York City for nearly a decade. When he returned to Colombia to begin opening restaurants of his own he missed the bars he used to visit near his home in Brooklyn, so he created a Brooklyn bar in Bogotá. Unlike many places in the capital, the bar at Gordo is huge and inviting. There are couches and areas to simply hang out in. There’s even a pressed tin ceiling that came straight from Brooklyn. The bar tender is skilled, they make their own tonic water and vermouth and, if you’re lucky, Daniel might be on the bar stool next to you. The menu is fabulous too (including a burger made with a hand ground beef patty served on a homemade brioche bun), so come hungry. Read more about how Daniel created a Brooklyn bar in Bogotá in our piece about Gordo for TheLatinKitchen.com.

Gordo Brooklyn Bar & Restaurant Bogota

Gordo, a Brooklyn neighborhood bar in Bogotá.

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Is this Latin America’s Next Capital of Cuisine? – Bogotá, Colombia

Look out Lima. The restaurant, chef and food scene in Bogotá, Colombia is booming. So, is this Latin America’s next capital of cuisine? You be the judge. Our guide to the best restaurants in Bogotá, developed after spending weeks eating our way through more than 30 places around the capital city, tells you where to eat in Bogotá right now (don’t miss our guide to bars and drinking in Bogotá too).

Bogotá restaurant guide: past, present, future

Colombia’s original celebrity chef started his rise in Bogotá decades ago. Today, Harry Sasson is acknowledged as the grand daddy of Colombian cuisine and he’s still going strong with his swanky eponymous restaurant in Bogotá, a few side projects and a new restaurant in Cartagena. Read more about Colombia’s first celebrity chef in this piece we did about Harry Sasson for TheLatinKitchen.com.

Harry Sasson restaurant Bogota

The gorgeous dining room at Harry Sasson, an iconic restaurant within the booming Bogotá food scene.

Other stars of the old guard of Bogotá fine dining include the Rausch brothers with their French-influenced cuisine and polished restaurants including Criterion in Bogotá. Read more in our story about the Rausch brothers for TheLatinKitchen.com.

Rauch Criterion  restaurant Bogota

French inflected cuisine is served at Criterion restaurant from the Rausch brothers.

Restaurants from Sasson and the Rausch brothers are on the elite list of Latin America’s 50 Best Restaurants. So is Restaurante Leo from Chef Leonor Espinosa. She’s one of the new guard shaping Bogotá’s food future with her commitment to saving and re-interpreting core Colombian ingredients and techniques in elegant, unexpected ways. Read more about her always surprising cuisine in our piece about Leonor Espinosa for TheLatinKitchen.com.

But it’s not all fancy place settings and tasting menus in Bogotá. You can eat well in hotels in Bogotá (at least at these five hotel restaurants that we recommend) and it’s now easy to find mac n cheese and pastrami sandwiches after a North American comfort food trend took the city by storm.

Things are moving so fast in Bogotá right now that by the time we hit “publish” on this post there are sure to be even more fantastic eating and drinking options in Colombia’s cosmopolitan capital. Now, here are more of our favorite places to eat in Bogotá right now.

Where to eat in Bogotá right now

Restaurante Leo – Choose one of the tasting menus (there are two) rather than ordering off the a la carte menu to really experience Chef Leonor Espinosa’s passion for and reinterpretation of Colombian cuisine. Tasting menus, including wine, are around US$60 per person and worth every peso.

Leo Cocina y Cava restaurant Bogota

This salad is just one course on an amazing tasting menu at Restaurante Leo in Bogotá.

Nueve – Located inside a two-story house that’s been converted into the home of small shops and restaurants, this 32 seat temple to inventive tapas also has more than 160 wines to choose from, all available by the glass. Owner, chef and sommelier Pedro Escobar offers delectable and complex small plates that perfectly support the wine.

Nueve restaurant Bogota

Tuna tartare, Nueve style.

80 Sillas – We still think about the salmon tartar with avocado, pomelo, black sea salt and clipped verbena that we had at this two level space with a menu heavy on all things that come from the water. Seafood is never frozen and it’s located in the heart of the historic and hip Usaquen neighborhood.

80 sillas restaurant Bogota

Seafood is never frozen at 80 Sillas in Bogotá.

La Fama Barbecue – With a Colombian pit master trained by professionals from the US, this place looks, smells and tastes like real Southern BBQ because it is real Southern BBQ. Don’t miss the recently added pastrami sandwich.

La Fama Barbecue restaurant Bogota

Karen enjoying the heck out of the pastrami sandwich at La Fama Barbecue in Bogotá.

Gordo Brooklyn Bar & Restaurant – A bit of Brooklyn in Bogotá and by that we mean an inviting bar with expertly prepared cocktails, a satisfying menu of solid standards, couches for longing and even a pressed tin ceiling. Get more enticing details in our story about Gordo for TheLatinKitchen.com

Gordo Brooklyn Bar & Restaurant Bogota

Gordo, a little bit of Brooklyn in Bogotá.

Salvo Patria – Everything about this place is great. It’s located in the hip Chapinero Alto neighborhood, it’s got a homey setting with mismatched chairs, shared tables and romantic nooks. The wine list is fantastic, the prices are more than reasonable and the fare, turned out by Chef Alejandro Gutiérrez, makes the most of Colombian ingredients. Order up a rich pork belly sandwich, tender grilled octopus, rabbit ragu or anything else on the stylish menu. Every dish is a winner. Their daily set lunch meal is a gourmet bargain. Insider tip: there’s a private chef’s table for special reservations just off the kitchen.

Salvo Patria restaurant Bogota

A dessert that’s almost too good to eat from Salvo Patria. Almost.

Masa  – European style bread is hard to find in Latin America. This bakery delivers the crusty goodness in many shapes, sizes and varieties. But don’t stop there. The doughnuts and other sweet treats are just as delightful. They also offer a full cafe menu (sandwiches, salads, etc) but we’ve never gotten past the carbs.

Ugly American Bar & Grill – The name is tongue in cheek but the food is deadly serious at this ode to North American comfort foods (wings, mac n cheese, ribs, beignettes, and a burger that locals can’t get enough of). The bar is massive and inviting and brunch is an event.

Ugly American Bar & Grill  restaurant Bogota

The name is a joke. The food (and drink) is serious.

Bruto – This place is a multi-story bohemian space with a Spanish-inspired menu and live music. The food is fantastic and built to share. Best with friends whether you come for a full meal or just for drinks at the large, lively bar.

Bistro El Bandido – Opened in 2009, this beloved place nails the French bistro menu, the French bistro vibe and the French bistro look but at a fraction of the price you’d pay in Paris. The coq au vin is to die for.

Bistro El Bandido restaurant Bogota

Bistro el Bandido nails French bistro fare. Don’t miss the coq au vin.

Pizzeria Julia – Created by a Colombian chef who worked with Mario Batali in New York for years, this micro chain has classic recipes, real wood burning ovens and a nice wine list. Don’t bother with the many pizza pretenders in Bogotá.

Pizzeria Julia restaurant Julia

Pizza made with traditional ingredients in a wood burning oven from a chef who spent nearly a decade with Mario Batali. THIS is pizza in Bogotá.

Min Mal – The dining room is pleasingly haphazard and casual (tin plates, mismatched chairs) but the food is serious and digs deep to surprise. Biche (fermented sugarcane juice typical in coastal Colombia) is used to make a margarita, stingrays are smoked with coconut husks and herbs then stewed to perfection (ask for the Calzado de Raya if you don’t see it on the menu). After more than 14 years in the business the owners’ enthusiasm shows no sign of flagging.

Mini Mal restaurant Bogota

Executive chef Antonuela Ariza works his magic at Min Mal.

Tabula & Donostia – Thank goodness being a musician doesn’t pay. Colombian chef (and bass player) Tomas Rueda started cooking to make money to support his music career (he’s still in a band). He found that he loved it enough to study the culinary arts around the world and work hard to develop his own perspective on cuisine. Essentially, that perspective revolves around his fear of boredom. The good news for diners is that they’re never bored either. Donostia, a minimalist, sexy restaurant, opened more than a decade ago, offers polished but approachable plates (trout cooked in jungle leaves, for example). A few years later Rueda opened Tabula, Donostia’s more raucous sibling, right next door. Order the remolacha (beet) served warm and drizzled with yogurt and honey to experience a dish that Chef Rueda believe encapsulates his culinary ambitions.

Tabula restaurant Bogota

Oso bucco at Tabula.

Diana Garcia – Most hotels in Colombia include at least a rudimentary breakfast in room rates. Do yourself a favor and duck out for a restaurant breakfast at either of the two restaurants opened by caterer Diana Garcia. She only serves breakfast and lunch and the breakfast menu is expansive, including North American favorites and a litany of Colombia’s most beloved breakfast options. Bottomless coffee too.

Diana Garcia restaurant Bogota

Gourmet versions of Colombian (and international) breakfast favorites are the calling card of Diana Garcia.

Abasto Market – Breakfast and brunch at Abasto is a Bogota ritual, but for our money the smart move is to skip the lines (and sometimes surly service) at the various Abasto cafes around the city in favor of Abasto Market in the Usaquen neighborhood. Part restaurant/part market, this place is just as delicious without the hassle and you can pick up a fresh bread or other treats on your way out.

Abasto restaurant Bogota

Brunch at Abasto draws a crowd.

Andres Carne de Res – Skip the newer locations within the city limits and head to the original in the nearby city of Chia to see why this enormous restaurant attracts thousands of meat and party lovers every week. It looks like a chic junk yard, tons of meat are consumed (along with gallons of booze) and if you don’t have a festive time here there’s something wrong with you. We’re not saying it’s the best restaurant in Bogotá, but it is the most extreme. Learn how to survive Colombia’s craziest restaurant in our story about Andres Carne de Res for TheLatinKitchen.com.

Andres Carne de Res restaurant Bogota

Art. Live music. Plenty of meat. Even more booze. That’s the recipe for fun and food at Andres Carne de Res.

El Comedor Comfort Food – As the name would imply, it’s all about comfort food at this homey restaurant including a wide range of soups, spaghetti with oven roasted tomatoes, hamburgers, chocolate lava cake and more. The star dish is the slow cooked, salt encrusted whole chicken which is served with roasted potatoes and avocado salad (must be ordered in advance).

El Comedor restaurant Bogota

Homey food in a homey atmosphere at El Comedor Comfort Food.

Cinegramos – Located inside the Click Clack Hotel (the hippest boutique hotel in the city), this restaurant serves creative, satisfying dishes in 100 gram (3.5 ounce) portions that encourage guests to share. The lengthy menu includes sandwiches, risottos (including inventive takes like a dish called Ciebeles which features cubes of tender beef and strawberries), meat dishes and plenty of seafood (including salmon marinated for 14 hours in sake and soy). Don’t miss the Vieja al Centro de la Tierra which is a combination of light potato salad, seasonal vegetables and octopus served in a ceramic flower pot then dusted on top with mushroom crumbs that resemble soil and spiked with pea shoots which suggest a sprouting plant.

Cinegramos restaurant Click Clack Hotel Bogota

Ciengramos is the ambitious anchor restaurant of the Click Clack, the hippest hotel in the city.

Osaki – There are a few of these Asian-inspired restaurants around the city. There are two menus, one for sushi and another listing all kinds of other types of Asian food including build-your-own ramen bowls. Do not miss the succulent and enormous Kampai Wings. Use your hands.

Osaki restaurant Bogota

Kampai Wings at Osaki, a delicious ode to all things Asian.

Horacio Barbato – If you like meat–particularly pork–this is the place for you. The excellent chorizo sausages are made in-house. A wood burning oven is always stoked and is used to cook nearly everything on the menu. And the soundtrack (Bill Withers, Nina Simone) is fantastic.

Horacio Barbato restaurant Bogota

Prime cuts, home made sausage and more all cooked in a wood-fired oven at Horacio Barbato.

La Creameria Italiano – Premium homemade gelato made from scratch by an Italian on imported machinery in 18 flavors. Got it?

La Creameria Italiano best ice cream Bogota

18 flavors of gelatto made by an Italian using imported machines.

 Best new restaurants in Bogotá

Tomodachi Ramen Bar – Opened in late 2015, this is the fourth restaurant in Bogotá for Colombian chef Daniel Castano who spent weeks eating Ramen throughout Japan as part of his pre-opening research. He returned to Bogotá with a Japanese woman who trained his Colombian chef before Tomodachi opened. It’s a tiny, classic space with a menu to match.

Tomodachi Ramen Bar Bogota

Tomodachi Ramen, a tiny, traditional and tasty newcomer.

La Condesa Cocina y Mercado Artisenal – This place has been a neighborhood favorite in the Soledad/Teusaquillo area of the city since 2012. In late 2015 a second location opened in Zona T (Carrera 85 # 12-81). Both locations serve up simple, classic Italian trattoria food at wonderful prices. The setting is simple and showcases the owner’s woodworking skills including handmade tables and chairs. Pastas are homemade (except the macaroni and the bow tie pasta), the beef carpaccio was melt-in-your mouth tender, the lime pie was light and fresh and Colombian craft beers and a nice selection of wines are available.

La Condesa Cocina y Mercado Artisenal restaurant Bogota

La Condesa Cocina y Mercado Artisenal has expanded from one lovely Italian trattoria to two.

Hippie – We’d love Hippie, opened in mid 2015, even if we weren’t friends with chef/owner Paula Silva. Located in a renovated 2 level home, Hippie is a welcoming temple to artfully prepared “pure food” made with whole, local and organic ingredients whenever possible and seasoned with no refined sugar (just honey and panela) and no refined salt (just sea salt). Dishes are ambitious and delicious and though vegetables are lovingly represented on the menu, meat and seafood lovers will be satisfied as well. Get more details in our story about Hippie for the Bogotá Post.

Hippie Restaurant Bogota

The gourmet cuisine at Hippie will make you forget all about tofu and granola.

Mil 9 – The Cordon Bleu trained Colombian chef is 25 years old. It’s his first restaurant. He kind of blew our socks off with dishes like shrimp in passion fruit bitters with peas and shaved coconut. You should go.

Mil 9 restaurant Bogota

Complexity and creativity from a 25-year-old chef/owner at Mil 9.

Misia – Colombia’s most unpredictable chef, Leonor Espinosa, knows that her anthropological approach to saving and re-inventing Colombian ingredients and techniques at her lauded restaurant Restaurante Leo (#33 on the 2015 list of Latin America’s 50 Best Restaurants) is off-putting to some local diners. After all, she offers not one but two tasting menus (as well as a la carte) in a country where tasting menus are still rare. In 2015 she opened Misia for the timid, offering meticulously made but casually presented plates of Colombia’s most beloved every day foods like bandeja paisa and empanadas (located at Transversal 6 #27-50). Get full details in our story about Misia for TheLatinKitchen.com.

Misia restaurant Bogota

Diners now have Misia, a more casual way to enjoy the cuisine of Colombian chef Leo Espinosa.

Cantina y Punto – The most newsworthy newcomer in Bogotá is this authentic Mexican restaurant which opened in September of 2015. The place is helmed by Mexican Chef Roberto Ruiz from Punto MX in Madrid which is the only Mexican restaurant in Europe with a Michelin star. Tortillas are all made by hand, his guacamole recipe is a secret, he’s getting Mexican chilies from a Mexican farmer near Medellin and he’s turning out high-end creatively authentic Mexican food including tuna chicharron tacos. The restaurant bar is also slowly amassing the city’s best selection of mezcals and tequilas which you can enjoy under a retractable roof.

Cantina y Punto restaurant Bogota

Cantina y Punto, from a Michelin-starred chef, has brought inventive yet authentic Mexican cusine to the city.

The ones that got away

Despite our best intentions we simply ran out of time to get to the following restaurants in Bogotá. Tell us what you think after you eat here.

El Cielo – Sadly, chef Juan Manuel Barrientos’ celebrated Bogotá eatery, #30 on the 2015 list of Latin America’s Best Restaurants, remains a mystery to us.

Flor de Loto – More than one chef recommended this cash only Indian restaurant.

El Chato – One more good reason for us to return to Bogotá…

Rafael, El Mercado and La Dispensa – Peruvian celeb chef Rafael Osterling has three places in Bogotá. Somehow we never made it to any of them.

Astrid & Gastón – Opened in 2005 by Peruvian chef Gastón Acurio who is credited with helping to propel Lima to its current standing as a South American culinary hot spot.

EL Ciervo y El Oso – This place offers two menus, one for vegetarians (el ciervo, the deer) and one for meat eaters (el oso, the bear).

The one big disappointment

Trattoria de la Plaza – This place, located on the second floor of a building near the sprawling 7 de Agusto market, was enjoying serious buzz when we were in Bogotá as a great place to get authentic Italian food at decent prices. Wrong and wrong. The artichoke hearts ala Romana were out of a can, the ravioli (the ONLY pasta on the menu that was homemade) was so under cooked it was almost inedible and the side of spaghetti that came with the mediocre chicken parm was so salty it was inedible. Just skip it.

If you really want to get into the Bogotá food scene plan to be at the annual Bogotá Wine & Food Festival, which just keeps getting bigger and better. It will be held in the April in 2016. And check out our overall post about travel in Bogotá including hotels and attractions. The city’s bars and restaurants eventually close so you’ve got to sleep someplace, and you may even want to do something other than eat while you’re in town. Maybe.

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Photo Essay: Highlights of the Gold Museum in Bogotá, Colombia

We found many things to love about Bogotá, Colombia but a real stunner was the city’s Museo de Oro (Gold Museum), which was one of the best museums we’ve ever visited (3,000 COP/about US$1.25, free for all on Sunday, tours available in English). The exhibits are fantastic with descriptions in Spanish and English, the collection is breathtaking and the guides are passionate and knowledgeable. There are thousands of gold items created by the different pre-Hispanic cultures in Colombia on display in the Gold Museum in Bogotá. Here are just a few highlights.

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Colombia’s Cosmopolitan Capital – Bogotá, Colombia

Every time we travel to Bogotá we invariably hit a stand-still traffic jam the second we reach the “Welcome to Bogotá” sign at the edge of the city. The traffic in this town of nearly eight million people (and seemingly as many cars) is epic. Also, the 8,600 foot (2,640 meter) altitude demands to be heard (bring a sweater and walk slowly) and the general pace and sprawl of the place can boggle city novices. Despite all of that, we braved Bogotá on three separate occasions for a total of nearly two months in the city. We drove away loving Colombia’s cosmopolitan capital (but still cursing the traffic).

Bogota traffic

Traffic grinds to a halt with spectacular regularity at this “Welcome to Bogotá” sign marking the northern entrance to the city. The city center itself is still miles away.

The New York City of Colombia

In many ways Bogotá reminds us of our last known permanent address: New York City. It’s full of chic people (no matter how you define “chic”) as well as fringey, arty folks and a contagious energy. It’s also full of distinct neighborhoods, just like NYC.

Bogota street performer

A street busker working his intersection in Bogotá, Colombia.

Chapinero Alto is an exciting mix of bohemians and high-rise apartment buildings. The Candelaria neighborhood has an edgy, student vibe. The Zona G area is where many of the best restaurants are clustered (don’t make a reservation until you read our epic list of the best restaurants in Bogotá) then there’s Usaquen, which was a separate town but has been incorporated into the sprawl of Bogotá. Then there’s Parque 93 and, well, the list goes on and on.

Rainbow over Bogota

Bogotá under a rainbow from the Galerias neighborhood of the city.

While not quite on the level of New York City, there is an incredible (and growing) restaurant scene throughout Bogotá which we will be covering in our next post and you can use Uber and Uber X in Bogotá which we often found to be cheaper than taxis plus we liked the added security of having the Uber record of booking rather than just flagging down a random taxi on the street. Colombia is much, much safer than it’s been in decades, but it’s still smart to use your common sense.

Congresso de la Republica - Plaza Bolivar Candelaria Bogota

Plaza Bolivar in the Candelaria neighborhood is where the main governmental buildings are located, including the National Congress building pictured here.

We never did figure out Bogotá’s much ballyhooed Transmillenio bus system and after getting bad advice which led to getting really lost on the system during our first visit to the city we gave up. Because…Uber X.

Things to do in Bogota

Besides just soaking up the big city vibe, we recommend that you take some time to enjoy the following:

The Museo de Oro (Gold Museum) in Bogotá is one of the best museums we’ve visited (3,000 COP/about US$1.25, free for all on Sunday, tours available in English). The exhibits are fantastic with descriptions in Spanish and English, the collection is breathtaking and the guides (some tours are available in English) are passionate and knowledgeable. Check out 15 hand picked favorite items in our photos essay from Bogotá’s Gold Museum. An interactive, rotating display on the third floor called “The Offering” brings the importance of these gold objects to life with an audio track of shamans chanting and a mesmerizing video display. The museum also has a very classy gift shop so get your souvenirs and presents here.

Bogota Gold Museum

One of the thousands and thousands of treasures in the excellent Gold Museum in Bogotá.

The Swedish-built cable car system (called a teleferico in Colombia) that travels from the city up to Cerro de Monserrate whisks riders up to 10,500 feet (3,200 meters) in less than five minutes. You can also take a funicular (look it up), but that only runs in the morning. Up on top of Monserrate you can visit a church that was built in 1657, enjoy the views, get a snack or even eat a decent meal at a decent French restaurant. Tickets for the cable car or the funicular cost 17,000COP/about US$5.80 round trip or 10,000COP/about US$3.50 on Sundays. Or you can walk up.

Cable car ascending Monserrate Bogota

Heading up, up, up on the teleferico cable car to the top of Monserrate hill in Bogotá.

Panorama of Bogota from Monserrate

Click here to see a larger version of this panoramic image from the top of Monserrate.

Colombian artist Fernando Botero was born near Medellin, so it’s no surprise that the Museo de Antioquia on Medellin has a more impressive collection of art by their native son, including 23 of his signature bronze sculptures installed in front of the museum in Botero Plaza. However, the Botero Museum in Bogotá is worth a visit. Located in a renovated building, the museum includes galleries filled with work by modern masters (Miro, Calder, Klimt, Picasso) donated from Botero’s private collection along with works by Botero himself. Admission is free.

Botero Museum Bogota

A painting depicting ‘Colombian artist Fernando Botero painting a Botero from the Botero Museum in Bogotá.

We are not guided tour people, but when we heard about 5Bogota tours we were intrigued. The owners goal is to present Bogotá through the five sense (sound, touch, taste, smell, hearing). You can embark on a tour that includes all 5 senses, or choose just the senses/activities that most interest you. We chose taste and sight and that’s how we ended up learning how to make empanadas and got our first glimpse of Bogotá’s vibrant street art and graffiti scene (more on graffiti in Bogotá in an upcoming post). The 5Bogota website is in English and is really fun to use as a tour planning tool and we had great guides and a lot of fun.

Making empanadas with 5Bogota

Karen learning to make empanadas during a 5Bogota tour of the city.

Graffiti tour with Bogota street artist Kochino

Graffiti artist Kochino in front of one of his own works as he lead us through a tour of street art in Bogotá.

The Museum of Modern Art Bogotá (aka MAMBO, 4,000COP/about US$1.40) offers two floors of exhibits which rotate regularly to showcase all types of modern art. It’s a small but very hip museum. On the other end of the spectrum is the sprawling Colombian National Museum (free admission). Located in an imposing stone building that used to be a prison, this place has a bit of everything.

It’s hard to believe, but there’s a fantastic hiking trail right in the heart of Bogotá. The Quebrada la Vieja (Old Creek) trail starts amidst swanky high rise apartment buildings on the edge of the city (free to enter, open from 5:30 am to 10:00 am) and winds through lush forest, past babbling brooks and over challenging trail with steep inclines, water crossings, slippery slopes and rocks. We spent two hours round trip on the trail which is just shy of two miles (3.2 km) each way from the trail head gaining 1,000 feet (300 meters) before reaching a fairy tale pine forest then a monument to the Virgin Mary and sweeping views of Bogota below. More than 1,000 people entered the area the Saturday morning we hiked there but the trail is much less crowded on weekday mornings.

Quebrada de la Vieja trail Bogota

Karen on the fantastic Quebrade de Vieja hiking trail which starts right from the city of Bogotá.

Museo Iglesia Santa Clara in the Candelaria neighborhood across from the Presidential Palace presents a small but jam-packed collection of religious art inside a church which itself is a work of art. Built in the early 1600s, the church it’s one of the oldest in Bogotá though it’s no longer used for worship. The opulent nave is filled with paintings, sculptures and religious artifacts. There’s gold leaf everywhere. In contrast to all that antiquity, a high-tech touch-screen system delivers information about each piece (Spanish and English, 3,000COP/about US$1 to enter).

Museum Iglesia Santa Clara Church Bogota

The Santa Clara church was turned into a museum and its opulent nave is now crammed with religious art.

We regret that somehow we never visited the Center of Peace and Reconciliation in Bogotá where the government and artists have collaborated to recreate he city’s Central Cemetery. Opened in 2012 after thousands of bodies were exhumed and moved, the idea behind the project was to create a space where the violence and loss of the past could be recognized and honored in a way that allowed everyone to move closer to peace.

Artists created installations incorporating now-vacant mausoleums. New strikingly modern buildings were constructed (the project was overseen by Colombian architect Juan Pablo Ortiz). Thousands of test tubes of earth from massacre sites around Colombia were installed. The location itself is powerful even without those enhancements because the Central Cemetery is where victims of the revolt of June 9, 1948, regarded as the beginning of decades of violence in Colombia, were taken. This excellent article from Architectural Review will tell you more.

Centro-de-Memoria-paz-reconciliation-bogota

Part of the innovative and moving Center for Peace and Reconciliation.

Bogotá hosts many annual events as well. Every December the many parks and plazas in the city get dressed up in Christmas finery creating a city-wide spectacle they call the Ruta de la Navidad. The annual Bogota Wine & Food Festival (which will be held in early April in 2016) brings out local chefs and attracts talent from around the world. And there are many arts and theater festivals in the city too.

Hotels in Bogotá

There’s something for everyone in Bogotá, from party hostels to a handful of boutique hotels and not one but two Four Seasons hotels.

At 170,000COP/about US$60 for a small room with a double bed for two including breakfast, Casa Platypus is far from the cheapest option in the city, but this stylish, serene place fills a mid-range void and the Candelaria neighborhood location is great. Parking and all-day coffee are also available and the owner and his staff are great sources of information. There’s also a spotless kitchen that guests can use, but you won’t want to. Did we mention the fabulous food scene in Bogotá?

Hotel B.O.G. is the city’s most luxurious boutique hotel. There’s a rooftop pool and bar, rooms feature the best showers in the city and the hotel restaurant unveiled a new restaurant called FROM Ramon Freiza helmed by Spanish chef Ramon Freixa. Find out more in our feature about the B.O.G. Hotel for Luxe Beat Magazine.

bar BOG hotel Bogota

The lobby of the B.O.G. Hotel in Bogotá.

84DC Hotel would be a standard mid-range business class hotel except for it’s energetic design and apartment-like feel. It’s got a great location too near Zona T, Parque 93 and Rosales but with a gentler price tag than many hotels in that area (from $150 double including breakfast).

Bogotá has many international chain hotels (Four Seasons, JW Marriott, Hilton, Sofitel, etc) but the most interesting is the W Hotel Bogota in the Usaquen neighborhood. The hotel manages to be part of a huge international chain but also give a sense of place and it’s a great base for exploring the city and, in particular, getting to know the reinvigorated Usaquen neighborhood. Read more in our review of the W Hotel Bogota for LuxuryLatinAmerica.com.

W Hotel Bogota

Our room at the W Hotel in Bogotá. The pillow on the bed says “Gold Digger.”

The hippest hotel in Bogotá is the Click Clack Hotel where rooms come in XS, S, M, L or XL, room service is delivered in picnic baskets and the innovative owners are always looking for new ways to undo the hotel rules. They plan to open a second Click Clack in Cartagena in 2017.

Bogotá is bursting with hostels too. The only one we stayed at was La Pinta Hostel in the Chapinero neighborhood. It was funky, clean, laid back and quiet. The bilingual staff were helpful and they’ve got a sister hostel in Cali (La Pinta Boogaloo which has a pool) and an apartment rental in Cartagena and in Santa Marta.

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Music, Mountains and Much More to Come

In April, after years of pain, failed attempts at non-surgical remedies and increasingly bad arthritis, Karen had hip replacement surgery in California. Prior to getting her artificial hip (pictured below), dancing and hiking were utterly out of the question. We are happy to report that Karen’s brand new hip, made of titanium, plastic and ceramic and implanted using the less invasive anterior method, has been a game changer. Here’s how music and mountains have played a major role in her new mobility with so much more to come.

Karen's artificial hip replacement surgery

Karen’s actual new right hip.

Letting the music take control

Four days after surgery Karen started physical therapy. A week after surgery Karen ditched her walker (though we liked the racy colors and the fact that it was called Drive). A few weeks after that she was ready to do some dancing.

Karen and her Drive walker

Karen coming home not even 26 hours after hip replacement surgery.

Just in time, the Tedeschi Trucks Band (aka, Susan Tedeschi and Derek Trucks) and Sharon Jones & the Dap Kings rolled into town to perform some live music at the Vina Robles Ampitheatre, an outdoor venue at a winery in Paso Robles, California. Live music from musicians we love AND wine AND a good hip? Hell yes.

Tedeschi Trucks Band with Sharon Jones & the Dap Kings

Left to right: Derek Trucks, Susan Tedeschi, Sharon Jones performing at the Vina Robles Ampitheatre.

This was not only an opportunity to break in the hip, so to speak, but a real return to something that we both love to do: dancing to live music. The Vina Robles Ampitheatre is located in beautiful Paso Robles wine country. It’s spacious and comfortable and the sound and sight lines were great (we later learned that a friend who’s now a head honcho at Knitting Factory Entertainment was involved in its design, so, duh).

Vina Robles Amphitheater Paso Robles California

Vina Robles Ampitheater in Paso Robles, California.

The wine from the Vina Robles winery was really good too and we recommend splurging on the VIP tickets when you go to the ampitheatre because they get you access to a small outdoor wine and beer garden and great prices ($10 off bottles of wine and $5 beers including local microbrews) in the hours leading up to the start of live music. The ribs they were selling ($15 per plate with a big array of sides) also looked awesome and they have terrific plastic carafes and plastic stemless wine glasses so you can pour any undrunk wine into the carafe and take it to your seat with you.

Heading to the mountains on her new hip

Within a few months of surgery Karen was taking walks of up to six miles (3.2 km) with Eric’s mom (though we suspect she slowed down for Karen). However, Karen hadn’t yet strayed off the pavement. We got the chance to go off-roading in, of all places, Bogota, Colombia.The busting capital city of the country is mostly an urban concrete jungle but it’s got a secret.

Quebrada la Vieja hike Bogota

Karen heading to the mountains with her new hip on the Quebrada la Vieja trail in Bogota, Colombia.

The trail head for the Quebrada la Vieja trail (free, open from 5:30 am to 10:00 am, no dogs allowed) is located in the midst of a swanky neighborhood of fancy apartment buildings on the edge of the city. It immediately plunges hikers into verdant, lush mountain terrain complete with a babbling brook, wooded hillsides and a challenging trail with steep inclines, water crossings, uneven terrain and, on weekends, a lot of other hikers. More than 1,000 people entered the area the Saturday morning we hiked there (TIP: the trail is MUCH less crowded on weekday mornings).

Bogota view Alto de la Virgin Quebrada la Vieja hike Bogota

A view of Bogota from the Quebrada la Vieja trail in the mountains above Colombia’s capital city.

We spent two hours round trip on the trail with our friend Chef Paula Silva who was taking a nature break before returning to work at her Hippie restaurant. It’s just shy of two miles (3.2 km) one way from the trail head up steep inclines that gain 1,000 feet (300 meters) and take hikers over rocks, creeks, mud and a fairytale pine forest before reaching the Alto de la Virgin monument to the Virgin Marry and a vista that offers sweeping views of Bogota below.

It was hard to believe we were surrounded by nature yet so close to so much concrete.

Quebrada la Vieja trail Bogota

Karen putting her new hip through its paces on the Quebrada la Vieja trail in Bogota, Colombia.

While no one would accuse Karen of breaking any land speed records, she did accomplish the ascents, descents and terrain with no walking stick and, most importantly, no limping and no pain.

That clearly called for a celebration, so we headed to Julia Pizzeria to try the best pizza in Bogota — cooked in a wood fired oven and everything.

Julia pizza Bogota

Post-hike celebration pizza at the totally legit Julia Pizzeria in Bogota.

As Karen continues to get stronger and more and more mobile (Machu Pichu here we come!), we want to send our thanks to Dr. Daniel Woods of Central Coast Orthopedic in San Luis Obispo, California for the care and expertise he employed before, during and after Karen’s hip replacement surgery along with his medical assistant, Jill, for her responsiveness and endless patience and helpfulness.

 

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