Fine dining, gorgeous architecture, stylish locals, natural beauty, history and culture; it sounds like I am describing France doesn't it? What if I told you that this describes one of South America's top destinations for 2017? I bet you'd guess Argentina, or maybe Brazil, but there is another country that has emerged as one of the top destinations to visit: Colombia.
Now let's be honest, when I was a kid, and someone mentioned the word Colombia, I thought about two things: coffee, and cocaine.
The reality of Colombia nowadays is not the drug-war ridden country of yesteryear. Its drug problem is no better or worse than any other country. Actually, I take that back. Because of its history with drug violence, Colombia has well-established procedures for dealing with abusers of drugs and narcotics, and it could be well poised to wipe out drugs faster than other countries in the Americas. But for the purposes of this blog, who cares? Colombia has moved past that, and after being there, I have too. From five star hotels to starry nights in the coffee triangle, the Colombia of today offers something for virtually every taste and budget.
Colombia has what I call the triple threat: a big modern city, a historic colonial town, and tremendous natural beauty in the coffee triangle as well as its stunning beaches. In a week, you can easily experience it all, which is what I recommend. However, if I could go to only one place in Colombia it would definitely be Cartagena.
I love small colonial towns, and Cartagena's "Old Town" does not disappoint. In fact, once you're in the old town, you forget that you're actually in a large city with over 1 million people. In 10 minutes you can be in the downtown area with skyscrapers and luxury high rises--but why would you? The Old Town is so much fun and you never run out of fun things to do. Plus, it offers stylish, interesting, luxurious hotels residing in former colonial buildings, including old convents and mansions. The city’s reasonable prices mean you can treat yourself to a gourmet degustation menu at one the best restaurants in town, without breaking the bank. Of course, this is after closing the day at Cafe Del Mar.
If you need to take a break from shopping, dining, and sunset cocktailing in Cartagena, you can take a speed boat to the Rosario Islands, just 30 minutes from town. Visit dozens of tiny islands where you can swim, snorkel, have lunch, or just enjoy the day boating on clear Caribbean waters. When you come back to shore, there is still time to learn to dance salsa, or how to create some of the delicious dishes you've been experiencing around town.
Colombian food, in general, is sensational, and some of the best restaurants are in Cartagena, and of course, Bogota. However, one of my favorite meals was in an unimpressive looking restaurant, not far from the road in the coffee triangle. It served up huge steaks and traditional favorites from the region that were out of this world. Colombia is full of surprises like this. Colombian cuisine is a cross between Argentinian and Peruvian. Essentially, you can get great steaks and livestock products, but also wonderful flavors influenced and created by a variety of cultures, techniques, and tropical ingredients. The only thing lacking would be wine, but thanks to its neighbors, Chile and Argentina, you get great wines all throughout Colombia.
After a great meal it's nice to come home to a wonderful hotel, and Colombia (especially its larger cities) has many to choose from. The new W Bogota is especially stylish, which is the perfect place to stay in this sophisticated city, teeming with great restaurants, nightlife and art.
Of course, for the gay community, one of the most notable aspects of Bogota is the gay club, Theatron, the largest gay dance club in South America. This place is massive. Yes, I have seen gay parties with this many people for a specific event, but this place packs thousands and thousands every weekend, and it is just fun. There are 12 rooms, and each has different music and DJs in style. The crowd is definitely younger, but when I was there, they were really nice, and none of the older guys whom I was with felt uncomfortable. I could have stayed at this club all night, but we (my Zoom Vacations group) had a flight the next day to the coffee triangle, and I was really excited for it.
Once you visit the coffee triangle, having a cup of coffee will never be the same again. Take my word for it, and enjoy one of the many fine coffee plantation tours. They are not cheesy, and you will learn so much about this thing (coffee) that is been such a big part of our lives and culture. They really make it into a science and an art form at the same time. And the one where I visited, we enjoyed our freshly brewed coffee overlooking one of the greenest, most beautiful valleys I have ever seen in my life. It was so pretty... like model.
And of course, while you are in Colombia, you must indeed buy a bag or two of coffee to bring home, and remember your trip every time you make a cup. When you run out of coffee, I guess it is just time to return to Colombia.