Often regarded as some of the highest quality coffee in the world, this one is a no brainer. And there are so many good places to get it.
We found the area of ‘Zona G’ (‘G’ standing for gastronomica) in Bogota to have a really cool café vibe where you can sample some of the country’s best brews. As well as getting lost in the maze of hip coffee stores, bakeries and nichey restaurants around here, there’s also a few hostels offering a bit more of a classier vibe compared to the popular backpacker magnet zone of La Candelaria in Downtown Bogota. The only downside is that the public transport system in Colombia’s capital really does suck; so it’s a little hard getting around between these two areas. And the taxi drivers are so loco that the Transmilenio (bus rapid transit system) is still the better of the two bad options for getting around, especially during peak hour.
Word on the street is that the previous two Colombian National Barista Champions work at the lovely AMOR Perfecto in Zona G. We loved this little joint, mainly because we were surprised to find bagels on the menu, a rarity in this continent. The coffee was brilliant and the bagel delicious. I really enjoyed the cream cheese and artisanal jam combo on the side.
Hostel recommendations in Zona G:
12:12 Hostels: the walls are covered in pot plants and books in this quirky hostel, and the dorm beds are some of the comfiest we’ve had this trip. Good Internet, great big kitchen, fun vibe and Maria the owner is super-duper friendly and helpful. A dorm will set you back about 20 AUD each. Bikram Yoga Colombia is right across the road if you’re feeling pangs of holiday guilt – you can sign up for an unlimited week pass for the same price as one class.
Fulano Backpackers: great location, cool space, right across the road from an incredible Italian restaurant (Il Mercatino) – worth it just for that delicious meal. 15 AUD per dorm bed (bed comfort levels aren’t the greatest however; for some reason the beds are all covered in a thick plastic hospital-like cover – just in case, I guess?!!)
Another must visit region if you’re into the coffee scene is Salento – part of the Colombian coffee triangle. I love that in every hostel, no matter how cheap and nasty, the coffee pot is always full and hot – free coffee all day every day. But they serve it in a different way to what we are used to – tinto – black and without sugar. I’m pretty sure this is the way coffee is supposed to be enjoyed, according to the Colombians. The way they roll their eyes at you when you ask if they have any milk… so much guilt. You get used to it eventually, it actually tastes really good this way given their access to top-notch coffee beans. You can walk to a couple of coffee farms from town and get a guided tour of the process from the picking, to the roasting, to the drinking, but we had already done some time volunteering at a coffee farm in Ecuador a few weeks earlier so we skipped it. We heard good things though – check out Finca El Ocaso – they run tours for around 4 AUD.
Hostel recommendations in Salento:
Hostal Estrella de Agua: Really awesome set up, huge outdoor kitchen and chill out area. FREE COFFEE! Reasonably priced (10 AUD).
La Serrana: Seems like everyone in Salento wants to stay at La Serrana so book ahead. Awesome set up, great views of the rolling hills, lots of different types of accommodations to suit all budgets spread out across their huge eco-farm property, kitchen, and bonfires at night. We were actually lucky enough to snag a canvas tent (glamping baby!) – it lacked the usual romantic vibe as it had 3 beds in it (a double and a single) but we had been travelling with our third-wheeling buddy for some time by this stage so we didn’t mind too much. And it meant we would all be paying less – win win! Total price for the canvas tent: 45 AUD.
If your heading to the Caribbean coast while in Colombia, you definitely must try the seafood. You could easily become pescatarian during your stay. The fish is insanely fresh, and is best served whole. Our consumption of whole fish during the few weeks we spent here was off the charts. Some kind of record, I’m sure. We found the best types of fish here were pargo and robalo and in general came deep-fried. So, so crispy. We couldn’t get enough of the standard sides of coconut rice and patacones (make them yourself at home with this simple recipe).
Another way to enjoy the seafood on the coast is to head out on a boat with a local fisherman for the day. The grungy hippie town of Taganga is a great place to do this. Read about our day out on the water– it was a hugely successful day, despite a few little hiccups along the way in classic Dave and Jana fashion!
Favourite seafood experiences on the Caribbean coast:
La Cevicheria, Cartagena: the ceviche in Colombia is a little different to the original (and the best) recipes from Peru. Peruvians use a potent lime marinade to ‘cook’ slices of raw fish and serve it with sweet potato and choclo (giant white corn). Colombians like to cook their seafood first, before bathing it in their own version of the acidic marinade, usually made with lime and mandarin juice (and sometimes with a little coconut milk for a delicious Caribbean twist). When it comes served at a fancy restaurant like this with a few packets of salty crackers on the side, you can’t help but cringe. Somehow though, it works. This place might look familiar to you because it was featured on Anthony Bourdain’s No Reservations – Anthony is good friends with the owner and there’s a cheesy picture of them on the back of each menu.
Arrecifes Beach, Tayrona National Park: this tiny beach side restaurant is where we had probably the best fish of them all. Definitely recommend lunch here if you are heading to Tayrona.
Estrella del Mar, Taganga: There’s a number of ‘water-front’ restaurants flanking the main street by the bay in Taganga, but this place is the best. Order a large whole fish to share (15 AUD) served with their special salsa de coco (coconut sauce) and of course sticky coconut rice and patacones on the side. It’s really fresh and filling. They also make really fresh slushy-style juices – just name your fruit. The piña (pineapple) is naturally super sweet and our other favourites are maracuya (passionfruit) and lulo (no equivalent…but delicious none the less).
Colombia produces a lot of it’s own beer but we really fell in love with the craft beers from Bogota Beer Company (BBC). BBC beer can be found all over the country in cafes, restaurants and hostels, and they even have a few of their own pubs where you can do a beer degustation and try them all. The beer is world class, with a list of awards including World’s best honey flavoured beer (2012).
4. Limonada de coco – Coconut lemonade
This combo is just the bomb. Add: freshly made coconut milk, bits of fresh coconut flesh, the juice of a couple of limes, panela (regional unrefined cane sugar) and a mother load of ice. Blend well. The best one of these I’ve had was at Restaurante La Mulata. It’s the most refreshing treat around, and you’ll definitely need it while you walk the maze of streets of old town Cartagena in the relentless heat.
This is one of those Colombian Foods you can’t leave Colombia without trying and they can be enjoyed at any time of the day. In some places, they serve them instead of bread at breakfast, with scrambled eggs. There are a million and one different versions but they are all essentially made with white corn flour and water, either grilled or deep fried. In Cartagena, their specialty arepa is arepa con huevo – basically an egg that is wrapped in arepa dough then deep-fried. I can’t say that they are my favourite but maybe its because we could only find one guy selling them at the time and it tasted like a rubber boot, likely 3 days old. The best ones are cut in half and stuffed to the brim, topped with some grated cheese and one too many different kinds of salsas. They are super easy and cheap to make yourself (a good one to have in the bag while traveling).
6. La Tabula, Bogota
Ok, so there’s no denying it – we are definitely stalking Anthony Bourdain. After watching him devour their signature dish a few years ago, we promised ourselves we would definitely be coming here one day for the 15-hour slow cooked osso bucco. What a treat! The gigantic portion is definitely enough for two – along with a couple of delicious sides – buttery potatoes and smoky grilled eggplant topped with homey Napolitana sauce, stringy mozzarella and crème fraîche. And for what you get its completely affordable. We took a sneaky picture of the menu but apparently the chef doesn’t like people doing that too much – oops!