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Headed to Bogota and Villa de Leyva next week!

Headed to Bogota and Villa de Leyva next week!

Old Jan 21st, 2015, 03:01 PM
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Headed to Bogota and Villa de Leyva next week!

Grabbed a last minute sale fare on Spirit (I know, I know) which can get me from LAX to Bogota for under $400 r/t. In retrospect I should have booked Spirit only to get to FLL and then taken JetBlue.

I will spend a few nights in Florida visiting my BF from High School in Miami and maybe a bit of birdwatching.

Then fly to Bogota on a Weds, arriving 2 pm-ish. Departing the following Weds, around 3 pm-ish.

I have so far a room at Hotel Augusta in La Candelaria (near the Gold Museum) for two nights (allowing a full day of sightseeing, museum whore that I am). The listing is here, http://hotelaugusta.com.co/ but I reserved through booking.com . I came across a reference to TurisBog bus, seems to be a HOHO bus, similar to the one in Quito which I enjoyed. So I may do that as a way to orient myself if I am not wrapped up in Gold and Botero all day. http://www.turisbog.com/index_eng.php

Then on to Villa de Lleyva, Hotel El Solar booked through Hostelworld for three nights.

Returning to Bogota on a Monday (which seems to be a "closed" day) for two more nights, probably will try one of the northern locations although not booked yet.

I plan on taking the bus one way but I may try to arrange a tour/transfer one way.

I will try to make contact with the agency Columbian Highlands in VdL and see if they can arrange that for me and/or a half day of bird watching.

I have read glovers reports as well as Susan in Toronto,

I have a few questions now,

Any comments on these two hotels? I can still cancel and pick something else.

Which bus company (or not) to use between VdL and Bogota?

What streets would you say are the "no go" boundaries around La Candelaria?

Did you go to Salt Cathedral of Zipaquira and would you recommend that given my limited time?

And btw crellston I downloaded the internet version of Rough Guide, but it is pretty sketchy.. no choice at this late date. The Moon Guide looks good so I may either buy or download that.

This posting will also be my trip report!
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Old Jan 21st, 2015, 05:41 PM
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No comments, I'm just envious. The Gold Museum is really first rate, and we also really enjoyed the Botero Museum.
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Old Jan 21st, 2015, 05:57 PM
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Thanks for leading the way to Colombia with glover. Now that I have gotten into researching things, I think this may be the first trip of many. I just need a housesitter!
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Old Jan 23rd, 2015, 03:21 AM
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Re Guides. I downloaded Rough Guides for my IPad for Vietnam and just can't get on with them!! Maybe it's an age thing? I am currently in Ho Chi Minh City trying to find ANY guide for Korea - impossible! RG apparently are only issuing new guides in e format.

Really looking forward to reading about your trip. Make sure to include lots of detail!
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Old Jan 23rd, 2015, 08:08 AM
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I may look for the Moon Guide at the airport in Florida.

I have changed the first hotel in Bogota to the Abadia Colonial. The street in front of the first one looked like it got too little pedestrian traffic (Google street view).

I am afraid my length of stay will be nothing like your typical one, crellston. Just a week.
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Old Jan 31st, 2015, 03:32 AM
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I will start with arrival in Bogotá, big modern airport. Arrival, immigration and customs go smoothly when you have only a smalI will start with arrival in Bogotá, big modern airport. Arrival, immigration and customs go smoothly when you have only a small pack (16x12x14inches). There is a Cambio before immigration with lousy rates, I just changed $40 as I did not want to travel into town with unnecessary wads of cash. Departures are upstairs with more ATM choices (including Citibank). There is a small tourism office at the airport. They have a nice free paper map. They also have directions for the rapid transit system to La Candelaria. However if you have any difficulty with altitude, or map reading, or arrive during commute times a taxi is likely a better option although not necessarily faster. Taxis are outside to the left at an official paradero. About $15. I took the Transmilenio, after the free shuttle, buy your tap card at the main station ticket window (cash). The card and a few rides should cost 10,000 COP.
Arriving safely to my hotel after about a 15 minute walk from Universidad (Las Aguas), They don't have my reservation! Somehow booking.com reservations are in a big heap that they don't log into their records. Luckily there are two undesirable rooms that they keep unbooked. Note this hotel insists they charge for noshows but apparently those who reserve ahead don't have their room choices honored. I was not the only person with "issues". In compensation they are able to switch me to a very nice room the second night, at my booked rate.

Amapola is the 130000 COP basic single. Avoid it. It is a hostel room with lipstick. Pros: gets wifi in room. Good light during the day. Has room safe. Space in armoire and in front of window is adequate for single. Decent hot water. Cons: TV is too high so that picture is not visible from bed, bed is very hard, room is miniscule ( I have never had a smaller room, ever). As a bonus the wooden walkway outside the room is noisy!

Clave was the second room, fairly spacious and quiet with shower and tub although not so sure about hot water for the latter . Furnished with console table, chair and bedside tables, in addition to armoire. Better bed, wifi ok, big tv at good viewing height, masonry walkway. Cons dark unless doors are open, light seeps in at night, regular price 220000 Cop.

Common issues beside total disorganization, are limited English, no sink popup lever, no free tea, coffee or water in room (although a minibar), but desk says its ok to drink tap. Rooms are cold, space heater may not suffice. Breakfast service upstairs varies in quality, unsweetened juice in water, chef choice fresh fruit, arepa, bread (jam butter if waiter remembers), coffee or choc, eggs w ham cheese or tomato. Roma is their onsite restaurant with space heater, it is okay. But hotel has excellent location, quiet, no street noise, lovely decor, clean, fast wifi near lobby, several interior patios, views upstairs , guest computer. Owner often on site.

That evening I managed several hours at the Botero museum and and collections (do not miss "La Violencia" painting, ask for dirctions as the exhibits wander. They closed at 7pm. Walked back to hotel and stopped along the way for a good salad with at a cafe on the corner on Calle 11 /Kr 3, De Una Travel Bar. They stay open til 10 pm, so a good option after 7pm and the salad with pieces of chicken, avocado, mushrooms etc was good.
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Old Jan 31st, 2015, 03:38 AM
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A full day in Bogotá
After breakfast chaos and a room change, I return to take photos of my faves at Botero museum. Yes I was that person! (But the prior evening I closed them down sans camera). Across the street is the big library and attached an excellent bookstore ( no Moon Guide but they have the Movil one). ATM downstairs, able to WD $300USD worth.
On to Plaza Bolivar, cathedral and chapel. But neither impressed, after having visited Quito and Ayacucho recently. I preferred Tercero Orden, with mahogany carvings, near the gold museum. Found the artcraft museum, liked the hat display. Nearby famous café, La Puerta Falsa. This was on the Bourdain episode.The tamale is huge, yellow rice around a chicken leg (or wing ?). All portions in SA seem supersized. Also bought some sweets including "marquesa", a mini-empanada with coconut, a roll of dulce de leche (arequipe) covered with guava paste. A few windows down has sweets are labeled with their names, I added a tamarind ball.
Next headed to Museo de Oro thru slightly sketchier 'hood. (jewelry district). It was free for 60+, Photos allowed and displays have English translations. Was there a few hours, the show on the top floor is worthwhile. Two churches are nearby, including 3rd Order worth a peek. I found a fruit cart selling mangosteens! Foodies in northern climates eat your hearts out, 2000 COP for a small bag.
Next headed for the archaeology museum. I enjoyed the casa with mural fragments more than the collection. Even more the friendly guard who said I was "well conserved" when I asked about the discount. Not far away the President's palace and San Augustine cloisters now also a museum of social issues. While inside I heard group shouting. Given my record of always being in a church or museum when protests start I was concerned. I was informed it was the changing of the guard!!! Another lol.
I walked back to my hotel and since it was clear decided to go up to Cerro Monserrate. It was about 5 pm, It took a while for a taxi to arrive (5000 COP) . But I just made it onto the tram in time to see sunset (18000 COP) . At the return, there are "secure"minivans which charge 8000 COP to the Centro for private service. I got back to Calle 11 just after 7 pm which meant missing Quinua y Amarante. I opted to try dinner at Roma, the hotel restaurant. It was grilled beef and a side, with limonada tax and tip less than 28000 COP. Okay, not great. They also have inexpensive Chianti by the glass.
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Old Jan 31st, 2015, 03:41 AM
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Off to Villa de Leyva.
A bit delayed as I chatted at breakfast with a Canadian couple who travel 6 months at a time, she is an avid birder and he the SOB.
At about 9:30 I checked out and took a radio taxi to Terminal de Transporte for 14000 COP.
Inside are ticket windows. My research was poor and bought a ticket with Flota Valle de Tenza. Stay away from these guys...10 minutes, 10 minutes. Then I looked at the ticket and it was timed for 11:30!
I sacrificed the $10 and bought another ticket on a big bus to Tunja (18000 COP) after seeing the destination flashing (company Cotrans). Left on the 10:30 bus at 10:40 am. About an hour out they stop near the Transmilenio Portal Norte where it is also recommended to catch a Tunja bus (take the bridge out of the station toward the Exito store, turn right and look for the fruit carts maybe 100 meters south.) Many more people got on here at about 11:30 am , where you buy tickets on the bus. You only need to have memorized pasaport number not to show actual PP .

After another hour toward Tunja, the view is typical rolling cattle country. In Tunja, you get off alongside the highway (just past the police station) and cross the street to the bus station (mustard yellow building uphill). I was directed up the ramp to the top floor, walk left through the building to a parking area for minivans. Someone asked where I was going and I got on a 20- seater, fairly nice seats. . Prices should be posted inside (6.500 COP, less than $3). After making several stops you pay the conductor and head on out through moderately scenic countryside. We summit a ridge (with obras) and drop a passenger at Sáchica. Arrive about 3:15 pm at bus station, walk about 4 blocks to hotel El Solar at 3:30 pm. Calle 10.5 is a street between 10 and 11, around the corner from the police station. Several other hotels/hostals are on this street which has no through traffic. Nice ensuite room with view, small TV wifi and large bed was 50.000 COP per night through hostelworld.com. Seems like noise carries up the courtyard. Dog and human noises lessen but I break out the earplugs.

A brief descanso after check-in, then walked gingerly along the huge cobblestones 2 blocks to the immense plaza which is the town's claim to fame. Lots of boutiques, pastelerias, dogs and restaurants. Restaurant Savia seemed closed, perhaps breaktime as they were open later around 7 pm (today is Friday). I settled on Tartas y Tortas de la Villa, with a view of the church across the plaza. In addition to desserts they offer humongous sandwiches and fresh juices. Recommended at about 18.000 COP ($7). A block down on the same side of Kra 10 is Cacao Heladería, with oddball flavors for 3.000 a scoop (I tried lychee and aloe). I think these were "healthy" low fat or yogurt ice creams, just as well given the size of my sandwich.
To be continued...
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Old Jan 31st, 2015, 01:52 PM
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Am enjoying reading about your Colombia travels mlgb. Please continue.

LOL at avid birder and "SOB". Would that be significant other birder?

Hope VDL isn't jammed now as it was when we visited 3 years ago in January. surely Colombians are back at work now after long holiday break....
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Old Jan 31st, 2015, 04:46 PM
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I wasn't sure what "SOB" was!
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Old Feb 1st, 2015, 02:46 PM
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Fantastic stuff mlgb. Keep it coming. Sorry to hear you have had some hotel issues but relieved to learn am not the only one!

"It is a hostel room with lipstick" Classic!!! I wish I had said that ( and probably will now!)
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Old Feb 1st, 2015, 06:58 PM
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SOB is spouse of birder. v town is not too crazy. I think holidays run from mid December to mid January. Saturday I went to the weekly market, just bought some fruit and browsed, it is really a produce local market not many tourist crafts. I went to the Acuña Museum, good for a short browse. I walked several kilometers in and around town looking at building and birds. (Summer Tanager, Yellow-backed oriole, maybe a Black-crested warbler). Had lunch of "Mazamorra Chiquita" at Bachue, good but seems I was their only client, locals consider it too expensive for typical cuisine and tourists seem to want Italian. Dinner is apparently at 7 pm sharp, when everyone shows up at once. Tip: go 10 minutes before that. Savia was quite good although a limited menu, excellent salad and you can order half portions. of course more ice cream for dessert (feijoa). I asked Marta about arranging a tour of the area for the next day, her friend was available to take me. Since she knew I had interest in birds, we went to the Valle Escondido and an interesting property used as a retreat. Arrived a bit late for much action but a lovely spot where we spent afew hours. We drove past several of the tourist trail sites such as the fossil, the Muisca observatory blue pools. Then it was 1 pm and Tbe Terracotta house wasclosed til 2pm, so we had !unch. The Casa de Barro was great, worth while at 7000 cop. If I were to do it again I would just walk from town to the Casa and skip the rest. we finished our tour at Santa Lucia for ice cream, fantastic! Price for the day was $20 but I suspect it varies. I had a Milojas for a snack (not optional!) At 6,000 it cost about the same as a typical local menu, illustrating the two Co!umbias. Typical dinners are soup beans rice potato meat, tiny sa!ad, and what I call "juice water". The two I had were fine if not exciting.

Tomorrow I return to Bogota, probably traveling with the other guest from today's tour.
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Old Feb 1st, 2015, 07:02 PM
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crellston there are also horses here for you!
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Old Feb 1st, 2015, 10:32 PM
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No thanks mlgb. Believe it or not I am just recovering from going over the handlebars of a bike and through a cactus hedge here in Vietnam! I am no longer allowed on anything with four legs or two wheels!
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Old Feb 2nd, 2015, 03:25 AM
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Ouch, double indignity! I hope you are up to full speed soon. The list has another addition.
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Old Feb 2nd, 2015, 04:35 AM
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Yikes. I went over the handlebars in Peru. Hard ground suddenly sounds like a nice landing spot.
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Old Feb 2nd, 2015, 04:33 PM
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Back to Bogotá today. After coffee, toast, macerated berries and a pitaya supplement it was time to leave Hotel El Salar and the lovely Marta. Caution, she is a big-time hugger. Her friend Mario, who seems to know everyone and everything, came by to give us a lift. I had wanted to buy a croissant from Patisserie Francesca, Mario warned me they were closed, but offered to swing by just to prove he knew better than Marta. Yep, off til the end of February. It didn't take more than 5 minutes to set off in a full minivan to Tunja. It seemed a slightly different route and took 1.5 hours but there was no construction. The two other tourists got off in Sáchica (they had a guidebook?) Scenery was wooded patches interspersed with small farms, onions, mustard, the ever present cattle. At the Tunja station we reversed my previous path thru the station ..down the hallway and stairs (helped along by some locals recruiting upstairs). There was a big Libertadores bus leaving at about 11am so we traveled in luxury with a/c and wifi. Fare was 7.500 for the minivan and 20.000 for Libertadores. My new friend from the hotel gave me a recs on places visit around Bahía should I ever make it to Brazil, and we exchanged info so she could access my photos of the Casa del Barro. Shortly after leaving Tunja we went higher into a cold foggy zone but it abated reaching Bogotá's outskirts. In 2 hours we were at Portal del Norte. A long walk and confusion about how to enter the station (my green Transmilenio card was no good). Not even sure I did it correctly, got on a bus going north, crossed over to the opposite side, took an express bus to Pepe Sierra and then a local to Virrey, and what seemed like a three block walk just to cross the highway, then about 7 blocks through pleasant Park Virrey to Hotel B3 Virrey. For fans of modern "Ikea style" hotels a good choice. The room is soundproofed! Nice toiletries, large TV with even CNN, room safe, all day coffee and even a nice hot peach and herb tea, excellent waterfall shower, good location near Park 93, etc. I took the suggestion of the desk clerk for dinner (Jaramillo Pescadería) but was disappointed. Totally overcooked and dry congrío although the sauce was excellent. At least the gelato from Michelle was superb. (Calle 93b #11a-84). It is at the entrance to Centro de Diseño Portobelo. Zona K looks promising for a meal if I don't get around to doing advance research.
Tomorrow may involve shopping.
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Old Feb 4th, 2015, 10:41 AM
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Waiting at the airport to board...

After a decent night's sleep on the best bed of the trip, I descended to partake of the extensive buffet. Mini arepas, cheese, ham, fresh fruits including "uchuva", papaya, piña, melons and/or a tropical salad mix. Small pastries, some hot items including eggs to order, chocolate and coffee, yogurt, fresh juice and even soy milk. I think this hotel is a pretty good value, even at rack rate 180.000 COP.

Took the Transmilenio to Las Aguas. Unfortunately the green colored card doesn't let you get on at all stops. Pay the cashier, get a temorary blue card, get chased after for not
returning it. Wandered a bit around the starion area. A branch of one of the expensive artesania shops is nearby, nice explanations on the p tags. Some good puestos on the area. Not in a shopping mood. Will wait til Cartagena in April. Suddenly it is noon and I am in front of a pink semi Mexican restaurant near La Quinta de Bolivar which is my goal. Still smarting over the mediocre dinner the prior night, I opt for a lulo juice and coupe of palmito and shrimp ceviche (Mexican style). Better but I think I've been spoiled by Patricia's at home. The other platos look quite good and in 20 minutes the place is packed with upscale University types.
La Quinta de Bolivar is also free for adultos mayores! I love thehistoric gardens and even enjoy watching a few battling house wrens, and play a bit of hide and seek with a masked flowerpiercer. Allow about an hour or two.
Chaotic entry ontoTransmilenio about 2:30, people block the doors and won't let others on (or especially off). Also to use the green card, I have to walk up to Universidades and then back to Las Aguas to get the right bus. Fortunately I get on a relatively uncrowded express bus. Off at Heroes and looking around the upscale malls. Meh. Decided to get a haircut, style, well done for 20,
000 Cop. Stopped at hotel to drop stuff and head toward Park 93 for dinner. Businesses seem to close at 7pm and there are people around til at least 8 pm. I just missed Michelles icecream, rats! But Crepes and Waffles is nearby. I had enjoyed their salad bar in Quito, this one is better, and only $4 for a large portion. Also had a good chicken in tomatillo crepe, and no room for dessert. Too full for packing. Early to bed ..,,.
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Old Feb 4th, 2015, 05:53 PM
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The desk suggested leaving at 10:30 to reach the airport at noon...yikes! Actual time about 40 minutes (taxi is 40.000 Cop includes optional tip) . Spirit Airlines Checkin is complicated. First visit Aeronautica Civil desk with passport for a piece of paper. Return to Spirit checkin, get a smiley face on Pp. Continue to desk, answer security questions (English spoken). Receive seat assignment and boarding pass. Even able to request window seat, no charge. Done! at 11:40 am. My flight leaves at 3pm!
The airport is modern, the domestic side is before security, basically a shopping center with banks, travel agencies, all type of shops, restaurants. There is even McD with Colombian crispy fried chicken, or a happy meal with a penguin toy...tempting. Across is Katio's, with scrolling photos of their menu. A visual education on Colombian food. It looks good, especially the steaks.. much juicier (and bigger) than what I had at Abadia Colonial. If arriving late in the day not a bad option to dine here (or even takeaway) vs searching for something in Candelaria which is limited after about 7 pm.
However I head for Crepes and Waffles again. The elevator goes directly into C&W. Pay the cashier first, take the receipt to the freezer case. Two flavors in a cone for less than 5,000. I ordered Arequipe (like dulce de leche) and coconut. But! the friendly server offers a taste of a special flavor combining both...so I can have another flavor. Many admiring glances in the elevator back down, speculation... is it mora?
Security /immigration screening is fast. Quick passport check, brief patdown and wanding, scan bags, laptop out, jackets off, pockets empty, shoes can remain on. Briefly saw my friend from Villa de Leyva, also on her way home.

1 pm, more time to kill. Gate has wifi and recharge station. A few stores, including a bookstore with both Moon and LP guidebooks.... but I'm leaving! The Moon is dated August 2014, first edition, marked up to $38 USD. I think I will wait.

Boarding is ontime. As we prepare for departure I realize I have won the seat lotto, vacant center seat!! To celebrate, I spring for a $2 coffee.

Adios Colombia, I hope to return and spend MUCH more time...ala glover!
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Old Feb 5th, 2015, 06:24 PM
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So glad you've had a great time in Colombia. I would love to go back again. This year we're going to Peru, so it won't be this year. But maybe next year ..... OTOH, I'm keen on the idea of Iceland. Too many places to visit and not enough time and money
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