On my arrival in Bogotá my dear friend Donna was waiting for me at the airport. It was my first visit of the city (and also Colombia) so she wanted to be sure I safely get to the hostel. On the way we tried to find a nice bar or café where we could have a drink and make some plans for the time of my visit of Bogotá. Mitho Café seemed a good choice.
It's somehow different from other places in La Candelaria (though most of them are very original). It has hospitable atmosphere: a big fireplace in the middle (believe me, this is very nice in the chilly Bogotá night) and tables, armchairs and a sofa around it, and nice music, from classic rock to Colombian ballads.
Favorite Dish: The café specializes on typical Colombian warm drinks, from great varieties of coffee and chocolate to canelazo, aguapanela and warm wine. I had my first aguapanela con queso and arepa and immediatelly liked it. We ejoyed the place so we came back the last evening. And then I had my last delicious canelazo.
Frutería Cacique Sugamuxi belongs to the lodging with the same name (www.caciquesugamuxi.com) as does mini market and restaurant Hibiscus. It is collective project of Asociación Construimos Futuro. I was passing by every day since it is located very closed to Platypus hostel where I was staying. Surprisingly, during my previous visits I never had breakfast here, only did some shopping in the mini market.
I arrived in hostel very early in the morning and was quite tired from the night bus journey. They gave me a room to rest until mine was ready. After a few hours of resting I decided to have breakfast. I had a look at the menu in Cacique Sugamuxi and was impressed by a good choice of breakfasts. They have several set breakfast options or you make your own, choosing between coffee, chocolate, variety of fruit juices, fruit salad, muesli with banana and fruit jogurt, arepa, fried egg and even soup.
Favorite Dish: During my last stay I had breakfast here two times. They were last days of my trip and I wanted to eat some of my favourite Colombian dishes one more time, so I created my own breakfast. My first choice was muesli with banana and fruit jogurt, freshly squeezed orange juice and a cup of hot chocolate. It was 6.900 COP. The second breakfast consisted of huge plate of fruits, arepa de queso, freshly squeezed orange juice and a cup of hot chocolate. It was 8.900 COP (January 2010). Set breakfasts were much cheaper though.
Though I am one to eat nothing but the local cuisine on trips, the very foods I travel so far to try can get boring at times if you are on an extended trip. My wife had been hankering for middle eastern food but we had some bad experiences with it in South America previously so I was leery to try again. We have very good quality middle eastern restaurants in the US so we are a bit fussy. But Sahara was yet another find on our walk down Carrera 4. In fact, it was the reason we only got one sandwich at Super Jamon just up the road. My wife had just a few bites of the pork and was ready for some felafels and hummus. The Sahara did not disappoint. It was a cute little place and very atmospheric. Arabic owned, you felt you left Bogota once inside its doors.
Favorite Dish: We split four felafels (4000 COP), an order of Babaganush (2000 COP) and two pita breads (1400 COP). Everything was quite good so we decided to not fight the temptation of trying their enticing desert selection and the whiff of Arabic coffee sealed the deal. Though the coffee was not a true Arabic one it was a valiant effort. Surely, the Arabic owner realizes a true example might not sit well with a local population more accustomed to a weak tinto, Colombia's somewhat watered down morning drink. The pastry was tasty and overall our impression was very good. The total bill came to 11,200 COP or $5.60, certainly very reasonable for the quality of food and atmosphere.
Quinua y Amaranto is a vegetarian restaurant in La Candelaria that we never made it to. It looked charming and from reviews the food is quite good but even with quite a few days in town spread over two visits, it just never materialized. Oddly enough, when out one morning taking photos in La Candelaria, I was drawn to this colorful building not knowing it was in fact the noted veggie restaurant. It's certainly very convenient to not only most of the hostels but also La Plaza.
I think if we make it back to Bogota and it's still around we'll give it a try.
I'm not generally a big fan of eating at airports. They're expensive and the quality of food isn't the best but in South America, the inflated prices are still affordable and the food is not so bad either. Besides, when you have a very early morning flight and have to be at the airport before dawn, you don't have much choice. We also had some COP to spend so once at Dorado International, we looked for places to chow down. We had never gotten a chance to check out the upscale looking Crepes & Waffles in any of the big cities we noticed them in on our trip. They were indeed local places with Colombian's seemingly the only clientele but they just seemed to ooze a bit too much decadence for our tastes. Those frequently the places were obviously much better off than many of their fellow citizens. But now at the airport, close to our own decadent culture, it didn't seem like as bad an idea. That is until we sat down and looked at the prices on the menu. We stood up, walked out and went to a very nice little food court serving up a more local fare and flair.
Favorite Dish: We both ordered up the changua especial (5000 COP), the local soup we had grown to love. It was about twice as much as it would normally be but it did have a slice of a spam-like meat atop it so certainly a hearty meal. I got an arepa con queso (2500 COP) for good measure and we both opted for a freshly-squeezed mandarin juice (4000 COP) to wash it all down. Even though it was a food court with a place called Restaurante Macavi, there were servers who were very quick (well, it is an airport after all), attentive and very friendly. Of course, this meant the old 16% service charge AND 10% tax. So, the bill came to 26,000 COP or $13 which is more than you would spend in the city but still not bad for an airport and way cheaper than Crepes & Waffles would have been. Plus, we got to eat some Colombian specialties once again and while we'll definitely have a crepe or waffle again, we never know when we'll be back in Colombia!
One of the great meals in South America as a whole and in Colombia in particular is rotisserie chicken. It seems they have the plumpest, juiciest, and tastiest birds in the world. Add to that, they are far less expensive than back at home and you have a can't miss recipe. We had many great examples on our trip around Colombia but hadn't tried any in Bogota so on our last night in town, we decided the capital city had to have some of the best. We were not disappointed in our choice of Al Carbon Y Pescados. It was conveniently right on Carrera 7, the main artery that is closed on Sundays and though we had been snacking around all day, we wanted something a little more substantial before heading back to the hostel for the night. The open-fronted place has the air of a fast food chain but make no mistake about it, they pump out some very tasty food.
Favorite Dish: We split half a chicken (7000 COP or $3.50) and one beer (2500 COP or $1.25). The chicken was delicious and beer ice cold. If we had known how cold it would be we would have definitely ordered two but with the pay before you eat format, it made going back up for another more than we wanted to do at the time. One thing we had noticed when eating rotisserie chicken in Colombia was the locals all got these cheap little plastic gloves. We never got them and felt a bit left out. I guess they figured the gringos would rather use a knife and fork than their hands but anyone that has ever eaten rotisserie chicken knows that in the end, you have to use your mitts if you plan on getting to the best bits! Much befitting our last night, we were indeed given our little gloves which we found much more useful than any knife and fork could ever be. It made for some fun photos too, obviously amusing the locals. For a little over $4 it was a bargain.
I always find it interesting to return to an entry city at the end of a long trip to a country. When you are lucky, it's like meeting up with an old friend. You see now familiar sights that once awed you, eat in old favorite places, and maybe get to that one you couldn't quite squeeze in the first time around. You never are sure whether it will be good or bad but one thing is pretty certain, it will be different because of course after two months in a country, you are different too. When we returned to Bogota, the taxi driver took a different route from the airport so we saw a completely different part of town. It was also now in broad daylight rather than in the dark at night. Naturally, we were more relaxed and could soak it all in in a more relaxed fashion. We went through one area with many prostitutes exposing themselves from windows much as you would expect in Amsterdam's Red Light District which segued into a row of seafood restaurants advertising their tastes of the Caribbean. Before we knew it we were right in La Candelaria. The very neighborhood we had stayed in was only a few minutes walk from all this and we had completely missed it. As you might expect, it was the first place we walked once we got our room. We didn't need to go so far as the prostitutes. We had seen enough of them already and the seafood restaurants, though all jam packed, didn't seem as interesting on closer inspection but we did come across a few other eateries that made our second time in Bogota that much more enjoyable.
Favorite Dish: One thing we had felt lacking in Colombia was lechon or roast pork. We had loved this in nearby Ecuador a few years earlier and had sought it out when in Pasto in the very far south of Colombia just days before. We knew we'd find it since it is gastronomically aligned with its southern neighbor. So, wouldn't you know it, one of the first things we found in our new area of town was roast pork sandwiches at Super Jamon. The Sanduche de Pernil was every bit as good as its Ecuadorian counterpart and at 2600 COP ($1.30) quite reasonable. Our only regret is we just split one as we had seen a few tasty treats along the way. We did return on our last day in town but it was a Sunday and our little find was now closed. Thankfully, we had passed another roast pork restaurant en route so just had to backtrack to avoid total disappointment. La Lechoneria was just as good as Super Jamon but of course since we couldn't have the latter, it didn't seem to be. Their sandwiches were bigger so one was enough to quell our pork longings. At 6000 COP ($3) it was an equally good deal though it seems just a tad less tasty but that could as much the result of expectation as reality.
My wife loves orange juice and when it's fresh-squeezed so do I. This is quite expensive in our native countries of the US and Germany so one of the great pleasure of South American travel is being able to finally afford such luxury. One of the first things we looked for in Bogota was someone squeezing the favored nectar. We happened upon a very endearing old couple on La Plaza. They must have been in their 70s but manned their little stand with great pride and warmth. People treated them with the utmost respect as is still the custom in South America, something unfortunately dying out in the “civilized” world. We were both brought up to do the same and though the juice was delicious and cheap at 1000 COP a class, it was the old couple we remember most now. I was too shy and respectful to take a photo and on returning to Bogota two months later at the tail end of our Colombian trip, We looked for them again, eager to give them our return business but they were nowhere to be found. Another older woman was out there and nice as well but we missed seeing them once again. So, the photo is of the second visit so that you can get an idea of what to expect. It's something not to be missed and completely hygienic as Bogota's city water is safe to drink so no need to fear the ice you might see floating in the beverage tanks or pitchers.
When in South America, I rarely look for “American” food as people from the US like to call our national cuisine. I can get that at home all the time and generally only seek it out if in the middle of a long trip in a fairly boring country when it comes to food. The exception of course is when it come to beer made in a small brewery. Sure, Bogota Beer Company would have perhaps served me better if about a month into our two month sojourn to Colombia but that's not where Bogota fell on our trip. I had checked out their website in advance and knew it was quite pricey. For this reason, the original plan was to eat a hearty meal before going and just shell out the big bucks for their beer. Even at that, I was planning on only having one unless the beer was particularly good. Unfortunately, Doreen came down with a bad headache and a nap was more in order than a meal but after that she was ready go and we figured we would just eat at the brewery with time waning.
The metro ride there was interesting and it gave us a chance to see Bogota's interesting version of the format, which is more like a bus with special lanes. That said, it got us to the far reaches of the city where the brewery is located quickly and for a lot less money than a taxi. As expected, the brewpub was located in a very nice neighborhood and its facade looked much like a typical American eatery. The interior was more modern British pub with lots of wood and a very comfortable sitting area. Despite a nice outside area we opted on the cosy inside part of the restaurant as it was likely the nicest place we would eat on our entire Colombian trip. It was upscale but welcoming and the service was very attentive and friendly. Ok, we were the only ones sitting inside so it was easy enough for them to watch over us but they not only knew a little about beer but also spoke some English which made our ride that much more easy.
We both chose one of the brewpub's cheapest meals: the Burger Con Queso Azul at a very pricey 20,000 COP each. I must say that even at a price commensurate of a burger in an nice place in the US, the Bogota Beer Company version held its ground. A big juicy 100% beef burger was smothered in a very rare (and expensive) blue cheese with gorgeous fresh sliced tomato and lettuce atop a fresh toasted bun which was one of the better pieces of bread we had on the whole trip.
Favorite Dish: Now, the reason we came: the beers. Even though I had sworn off trying all the beers, I went for their lightest offering hoping the décor of the place was not just leading me astray. The Candelaria Classic (5% alcohol) was light golden with a fluffy white head and decent lacework. It had a great malt presence and fair hopping for a semi-dry slightly bitter finish. A sure notch above Club Colombia. Doreen loves dark beer and wasted no time by ordering the Chapinero Porter (5%) which was served via nitro tap ala Guinness. This dark brown beauty had a dense tan head and a nice roast chocolate palate. The finish was very clean, semi-dry and bittersweet. All was good so far so I ordered their Monserrate Roja (5%) which was deep amber with a rocky dense head. This was a classic Western US Coast amber with perhaps a tad less Cascade hops which made for a more balanced beer. Nice roast malt and very clean dry finish. Bitter but not crazily so. Pints were a again not cheap at 9,000 COP or $4.50, a pretty standard price in the US but certainly not Colombia.
This is not a must stop for a person visiting Bogota but if you like good beer and want to try Colombia's best, this is the place to go. It is pricey but the experience is pretty much exactly as you would get in the US if even more welcoming. Though I initially took it as a nice escape from the reality of town, it is actually very much what many natives of Bogota not only crave but frequent. It's obviously not built for tourists as it's a long way from where most tourists are likely to be.
Our bill came to a whopping 82,000 COP or $42. This was our first experience with the 16% service charge added by upscale restaurants along with 10% tax which is also never charged at cheap eateries. This added 25% left a small sour taste in our otherwise satisfied mouths. It's no wonder the service was so good!
We stumbled by Restaurante El Pargo Paisa innocently enough. We were back in South America and my wife can usually only think of one thing when that is the case: fruit. In any shape or form, she loves the stuff and I must admit when in South America so do I. It's cheap and of very high quality. One of the best ways to enjoy it is in a bebida or fruit shake made with water or milk. Both are good and depending on your chosen fruit, one can be better than the other. Try as many combinations as you can squeeze in, you won't be disappointed! Look for the name fruiteria to find the most variety. El Pargo drew us in with such an advert though it was not truly such a specialist but more a jack of all trades. The open front of the place is quite inviting and on this very busy street, it's a great place to people watch. We set near the front for such purposes but far enough back to avoid beggars looking for a handout.
Favorite Dish: Doreen said her guanabanan shake was just okay. I opted for my very first Club Colombiana, the country's noted top quality mass produced beer. I found it quite refreshing on this hot sunny afternoon though it did not bode well for the rest of Colombian's commonly available beers since it was not an overly tasty one. Though a fairly malty beer it lacked the hops necessary to make it a more balanced beer. The two beverages came to 5000 COP or $2.50.
It's interesting when the first meal of a new city, a new country for that matter, is breakfast. The first meal of the day is by its nature simple and so in its simplicity perhaps something is revealed about its people and the country itself. Associacion Futuro is a Candelaria fixture, serving meals all day long to locals and a growing legion of backpackers from the surrounding hostels that dot the neighborhood. Its colorful exterior meshes perfectly with its surroundings and its simple but hip atmosphere is a nice mixture of a traditional Colombia restaurant and a more trendy cafe. It was just around the block from the Platypus hostel where we were staying so an easy first venture for us into the area. Service was very friendly and while not overly quick, you have to take into consideration that your server is also preparing your meal and in all likelihood cleaning up as well. Though there were a few scattered locals, most of the people eating while we were there were backpackers.
Favorite Dish: When it comes to breakfast, Colombians are not typical Latinos who get by on a coffee and something sweet to start their day. These hearty people go for a big meal and in Colombia, that means eggs in most cases. We both opted for the standard huevos pericos con arepa. This is basically scrambled eggs with tomatoes and onions served with a flat toasted corn bread which goes amazingly well with it. We both also chose hot chocolate over coffee as Bogota is noted for it. The eggs come out in a little metal dish in which they are cooked so be careful not to touch it but it keeps your meal hot until the last mouthful which I thought was a very nice touch. We found this to be pretty standard in Colombia. The food was very good though the hot chocolate was somewhat of a disappointment as is the case when expectations are high. Our bill came to 12,000 COP or $6.
One afternoon I was sitting in the lounge room of Platypus drinking coffee and reading the travel magazine when a local guy came in the hostel. He was selling home made organic pies (chocolate and banana) and chocolate/carrot cake. I thought it would be a very good idea to have something with my coffee, and besides, I had a craving for something sweet. And something made with organic ingredients (cereals, fruits and vegetables) was even more than I could ask for. So I bought one chocolate and one banana pie. And, oh, both were so good!! I should buy more - but unfortunately the guy has gone :(
But the luck was on my side :) Two days later, on the day before I left Bogotá, I came across the guy's house, just a couple of blocks from Platypus. The little window was open and he was there selling his products. This time he also had fruit pies. I stayed with my classics, just could not resist that chocolate and banana pies. And I also bought chocolate/carrot cake.
No pictures of the pies - they were gone too quickly :))
Favorite Dish: chocolate and banana pies
Down the road from Platypus and Sue Hostel is a café selling fruit salads, fresh fruit juices (with water or milk) and sandwiches.
I came here just before closing time once and at that time I could not get a fruit salad, but I bought a strawberry juice (with milk) and a sandwich with cheese, jam and tomatoes to take away. It was 7100 pesos (July 2008).
On our first night, when we stayed in the Candelaria, it was too late to wander about the streets looking for a good place to eat, so we headed to the posh Hotel Opera, where we knew there would be an italian restaurant that would be open late at night.
The restaurant is called La Scala and it's quite posh... it was deserted, too (always a bad sign) but we were too tired after the long transatlantic flight to look for another place to eat.
Favorite Dish: We had a pasta dish with seafood and one with shrimps... it was not really badly done, in terms of sauce. Quite good, in fact. The pasta, however, had definitely been cooked too long.... so long that we had the impression that they had simply forgotten it.
We had our last lunch at La Puerta Falsa, a tiny traditional eaterie in the Candelaria area. The place is old, small (and crammed) and on two tiny floors, with old wooden tables and benches.
Specialities are chocolate, aguapanela and tamales. The first two, although drinks, come complete with "side-food". La Puerta falsa is open daily from 7:00 a.m to 10:00 p.m
Favorite Dish: We had a most delicious and huge tamale... so huge that one was enough to fill us both. We also tried their coffee chocolate - intended as a round chunk of chocolate and not as a drink... it was truly heavenly. With a bottle of natural water we paid 6800 COP.
A tamale is a traditional dish consisting of steam-cooked corn dough (masa) with a filling, in our case chicken, ham ad cheese. Usually it is wrapped in plantain leaves for cooking. Yummy.