When we first arrived in Bogota, Colombia, we were planning to explore the whole country. We never dreamed those plans would be cruelly cut short by a pandemic. Here’s our story of how we had to escape from Bogota and head for home!
Our flight from Mexico to Bogota was half empty. It was the first time that we had experienced a flight that was anything less than full for many years. The Coronavirus Pandemic was proving peskier than anticipated and had begun to effect travel. After much thought, we decided to continue our journey to Colombia and see how things developed. We were reluctant to miss out on the last leg of our trip.
A Cosy Home in Candelaria
We have to admit we were a little apprehensive about Bogota. Although we had heard that the area of Candelaria was somewhat shady, we booked an Airbnb apartment there for a few days. Despite security issues having improved dramatically over recent years, Candelaria still had a dubious reputation. As things turned out, we were glad that we stayed there. It was close to the museums, historical buildings, to say nothing of the impressive street art. As a matter of fact, we had no issues whatsoever and enjoyed Bogota much more than we thought we would.
Our little apartment had its own kitchen, lounge area, bathroom and bedroom. Not only was the building traditional in style, but it had a cute water feature and a rock garden. We also felt safe and secure.
Street Art Galore!
Following breakfast on our second day in the city, we took the Bogota Street Art Tour It provided an excellent insight into the Bogota street art scene. Indeed, it was the highlight of our stay in Bogota. The tour also touched on politics and other aspects of city life. Jay was our knowledgeable guide and he talked about the recent riots which had taken place in the city.
One particular piece of street art was painted in honour of teenager, Dilon Cruz, who was killed by riot police. The tour was a well-spent three hours and if you ever find yourself in Bogota, we highly recommend taking this informative and captivating tour. Furthermore, the good news is that the tour is free, although donations are, of course, gratefully received.
Museums of Bogota
As well as the street art tour, another highlight was a morning that we spent at the superb Gold Museum. As a matter of fact, we didn’t have high expectations, but we were blown away by the exhibits and size of the museum – all for a few Colombia pesos. Another museum of note is the Botero Museum, a lovely space complete with courtyard, exhibiting work by Botero and other international artists and sculptors. What is more, the Botero Museum is free to enter!
Candelaria is an interesting area to wander around and we spent much time in the main square, where we sat on the cathedral steps people-watching. Additionally, there were some good restaurants and cafes in the vicinity and they were reasonably priced. Generally we found Bogota much more affordable than other major Latin American cities. Minimally priced (or free) tours and museums are plentiful, not to mention the wide range of cheap cafes and restaurants to choose from.
The Colonial Town of Villa de Leyva
After a few days, we took a bus through the countryside to Villa de Leyva, a beautiful colonial town in the countryside. The town is, in fact, home to the largest plaza in South America. On the day we arrived we headed to a restaurant in the plaza and enjoyed a few hours as we watched the world go by. We ate pizza and had a few drinks while observing guests arriving for a wedding at the lovely church.
The Weird and Wonderful Terracotta House!
The next day we went to the quirky Terracotta House located just outside town. It’s an amazing building made entirely of terracotta, and reminiscent of a giant hobbit house. Set in the countryside, it’s fascinating to explore inside and out, not to mention the cool sculptures which surround the house. Indeed, we love offbeat attractions and this one definitely made our top ten.
Casa Museo Luis Alberto Alcuna
Casa Museo Luis Alberto Alcuna was also on the quirky side. Home of the Colombian artist, the courtyard was full of plants, flowers, sculptures and art. It’s worth a visit for the courtyard alone. There were very few visitors, which was somewhat surprising, as it is located on the plaza in the heart of Villa de Leyva.
Barichara was our next destination and it was pretty as a picture. There wasn’t much going on, but it was a wonderful place to wander around. We explored the town, taking in the cobbled streets, cute houses and churches. Additionally, we walked on an ancient trail from Barichara to the equally pretty village of Guane. The views over the valley were spectacular and we spotted an array of colourful birds.
Dining Delights of Barichara
Considering Barichara’s small size, it was home to some great restaurants. Noa Comida was a firm favourite – the staff were welcoming and friendly, not to mention the food, which was absolutely delicious. Ku had a shrimp pasta dish and T chose a curry. We also liked Shambala a vegetarian-friendly restaurant. Again the staff were super-friendly and attentive. Furthermore, for baked goods the go-to place was Panderia Central on the main plaza. A tempting array of sweet and savoury treats were too much to resist.
The Long Road to Cartagena
It was a long journey to Cartagena, which included a mini bus through the mountains as the rain pelted down. The driver made numerous attempts to overtake other vehicles on the narrow road. What is more, we had a five-hour wait at Bucaramanga bus station, followed by an overnight journey. At least, the night bus was comfortable and each seat had a personal screen with a choice of movies available.
By 9.00 am we were in a taxi and on our way to Cartagena’s historical centre. We had breakfast and explored the scenic heart of the city as we couldn’t check into our Airbnb until the afternoon.
An Unsettled Night in Cartagena
The apartment we had rented was on the 23rd of a double tower block in a slightly sketchy neighbourhood. After we visited a local supermarket to stock up for our week in Cartagena, we went online to discover that the Coronavirus situation was gaining momentum.
We spent an unsettled night listening to strong winds howling around the building. We also heard an occasional explosion, the cause of which we never established!
Hola y Adios Cartagena!
After much deliberation, we decided that due to the escalating situation, we had no choice but to return to Bogota. We would have to try and secure an earlier flight back to the UK. That night we managed to bring our flight home forward by two weeks, but the pressure was building. We knew we needed to get back as soon as possible. We booked a flight to Bogota which was leaving the day after next. Our plan to head south to San Agustin was sadly abandoned.
The next day we walked back along the beachfront to El Centro. Our hearts were heavy as we knew that our trip was pretty much over. We left for Bogota the following day. When we arrived at the airport, we waited in line to try and change our flight, but we had no luck. Our only choice was to hang out in Bogota for six days and hope that our flight was not cancelled.
Return to Bogota
There was a good hotel situated conveniently close to the airport, which we booked into. Due to its cost and the lack of affordable food in the area, we decided not to stay more than a night and headed back to Candelaria. We knew that in Candelaria we would have a choice of cheap restaurants and a handy supermarket nearby. We booked the apartment that we had stayed in previously, which was more than half the price of the hotel.
Back at our apartment in Candelaria, one of the residents informed us that the city would be under lockdown starting the day after next. This would mean that shops and restaurants would be closed and that we may not be able to get to the airport should we need to. We spent one night there (we had booked five), before reluctantly making our way back to the airport hotel.
Lockdown in Bogota
When we arrived back at the hotel, we discovered that our flight had been cancelled. There would be no more flights after the weekend. Our flight was scheduled for the Monday. Our only option would be to find an alternative flight leaving at the weekend. Prices were rising fast as we looked at them. We eventually found a flight via Panama City Miami and New York City. It was leaving the day after next for about twice the price we originally paid. We had no choice but to book it.
Back to the UK via Panama City, Miami and NYC
In the meantime, lockdown meant that we could only leave our room for breakfast. Our next meal of the day was room service in the early evening. It was a stressful time. We headed to the airport for our flight on the Friday. Many of the flights were being cancelled and there was an extremely high chance that one or more of ours might be. Unbelievably, the four flights that took us back to England left on schedule. We arrived in London on Monday morning.
It was a costly and stressful last week in Colombia and it was a case of our making the right decision at the right time. We were relatively lucky and are now back in the UK under lockdown. Although our funds are depleted, we are already planning our next adventure and keeping those travel dreams alive.