VIVA COLOMBIA!

While my dear friends Lisa, Karina and Claudia are in Miami shooting After The Wedding, they asked me to share some of my experiences traveling in Colombia last month...

Cabo San Juan - Tayrona National Park

Our recent trip there was one of the most memorable experiences of my life. Over the course of two weeks, my boyfriend Ryan and I traveled from the stunning Andean city of Bogotá through Colombia's spectacular Caribbean coast. We spent four magical days in sweltering Cartagena, cooled off in the crystalline waters of Playa Blanca on Isla Baru, and headed on to the sleepy fishing village of Taganga. From there, we spent three days camping amidst the otherworldly beauty of Tayrona National Park, and settled in the cool mountain village of Minca, perched high in the Sierra Nevada, for our final days. 


Mojarra Frita at El Cocoroco, Cartagena

Ryan and I are definitely culinary travelers -- our best moments together always involve some type of transcendental food experience. The meal we had at El Cocoroco in Cartagena––a no frills worker's cantina in the vibrant neighborhood of Getsemani– was simple, fresh, incredible. We ordered the pescado frito -- a deep-fried mojarra aguadulce (fresh-water tilapia) with a simple side of patacones (smashed plantains) and arroz con frijoles. The ambience made our experience feel unpretentious and authentic; we shared our table with locals devouring sopa de pescado and even drew a few laughs from our fellow patrons as we ooh-ed and ahh-ed over what most colombianos consider a very typical meal!


Street food in Plaza Bolivar, Bogota

Colombia is home to various types of indigenous tropical fruit rarely found anywhere else in the world. Breakfast consisted of fresh lulo, maracuya and guanabana juice and every afternoon, without fail, we devoured helados artesenales made from local grenadillazapote and mamoncillo. Cartagena is full of vendors wheeling their colorful carts through the streets -- overflowing with luscious avocados, pineapples and mangoes to more the exotic tomate de arbol and uchuva. Ryan and I are serious aficionados of hand-painted signs.. Colombia's fruit carts are often lovingly painted and adorned with religious adages. Our favorite: Proprietario = Dios (Owner = God).


Gorgeous facades dripping with flora in Cartagena

In contrast to the physical beauty of the country, we relished in Colombia's fantastic colonial architecture. La Candelaria, the old city of Bogotá, is both the cultural and historic center of the city and a labyrinth of winding streets and alleys, peppered with amazing street art and murals. La Plaza de Bolivar is Bogotá's main square and political heart, it is also the site of some mouth-watering street food. We feasted on chocolate con queso at the famous cafe La Puerta Falsa, indulged in obleas filled with dulce de leche from a local street vendor in front of the cathedral and snacked on artery-clogging super-perros (hot dogs on steroids!). In Cartagena, we fell in love with the historic Spanish mansions dripping with bougainvillea, the decaying covered balconies, hidden garden patios and gorgeous ironwork. It isn't hard to see why this languorous city inspired Garcia Marquez's classic Love in the Time of Cholera... its charm is magical and overwhelming. 


Plaza San Pedro, Cartagena


Relaxing on the beach in Tayrona National Park

Our favorite jaunt was the three days we spent camping in Tayrona National Park. After a grueling 3.5 hour hike through jungle and beach (which despite the blistering heat, afforded us some astounding views of rugged coastline and desolate beaches), we arrived exhausted in beautiful Cabo San Juan. We pitched our tent and spent the next several days swimming, reading, and sunbathing on an ethereal beach. And at night -- no creature comforts, no distractions -- just bedtime filled with the sound of crashing waves, crickets, braying donkeys and the occasional falling coconut.

Watching picaflores (hummingbirds) in Minca

After spending a week on the coast, we decided to escape the heat and travel up to a tiny mountain village called Minca. Only 45 minutes from Colombia's second largest city, it felt like we were a world away. From our treehouse at Hostal Casa Loma, we had breathtaking views of the Sierra Nevada, the city lights of Santa Marta, and the glimmering Caribbean Sea. This part of the Sierra Nevadas (the tallest coastal mountain range in the world) is ecologically diverse and home to over 260 bird species. We were told to keep an eye out for the elusive toucan -- and while we weren't lucky enough to catch sight of one, we did see plenty of picaflores -- hummingbirds!

A view of La Finca Victoria, organic coffee farm outside of Minca


Me & Jorge, the "jefe" of La Finca Victoria

The people make the place...and we met the most incredible folks throughout our trip. A final highlight before our return to New York was our visit to La Finca Victoria, an organic coffee plantation in the Sierra Nevada. Ryan and I took a moto-taxi through torrential downpour to the farm and were greeted by the most darling man Jorge, el jefe/operador of the plantation for the past 30 years. He gave us an impromptu tour of the finca's antique hydraulic machinery - made in England in the mid-19th century and still in impeccable shape. While we waited for the downpour to subside, he recounted the unique history of the German-owned farm and his own experiences with Colombia's troubled past. Beneath an ostensible paradise are stories of competing alliances and senseless violence committed at the hands of both paramilitaries and guerrillas since the armed conflict began in the early '60s. According to many locals we spoke with, only in the past decade has Colombia seen relative peace, allowing for the stigma to slowly lift.



Dirt roads and sunsets in the fishing village Taganga

Writing this post gave me a chance to reflect on the amazing experiences we shared there. And while Jordan, Lebanon and Japan are on my travel list for next year, I'm already planning the next time we can head back!


Our last night in Tayrona National Park


3 comments:

Miss Amy :

This was incredible to read! I felt like I was there - your photos are great. I am too, a culinary traveler. The rice on your plate of fish looked divine - makes me crave Colombian food! Thanks for sharing your adventure - I love it!

t :

Looks like a nice place to visit!

http://initialed.blogspot.com

nadia :

Wow, thank you for sharing! What an incredible read!

xo Nadia

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