Just returned from a few days in Bogotá and Cartagena -- wonderful cities both. The new JW Marriott in Bogota is outstanding in every way -- gorgeous lobby, top-notch service, wonderful, stylish rooms and an excellent breakfast featuring a nice sampling of exotic Colombian fruits.
In Bogota had dinner at Harry Sasson in Zona "T". Though not local cuisine, the pan-Asian food was excellent and the vibe highly lively and convivial. Really enjoyed.
Some Cartagena highlights:
* Lunch near the university at "Restaurante Casa Suiza". For a whopping $5, it included jugo tropical (a tart, refreshing dusky purple over ice), sopa de pollo chock full of finely diced vegetables and a lime-infused broth, ensalada mixta, pechuga de pollo en salsa alcaparras (seared chicken with lemon caper sauce) and a tinto (espresso). The restaurant takes its name from the Swiss-trained chef, and everything was very well prepared.
* A little juice bar/panaderia on the Calle de la Moneda off Calle 2d Badillo that serves batidos made from the myriad tropical fruits you see for sale on every corner. This one's selection included maracuya, tomate de arbol, nispero, papaya, curuba, zapote, borojo, naranja, mora, lulo and guanabana. I went for borojo one day and nispero the next. After the lady whips it up in the blender with milk and ice, she strains it into a thick glass mug and boy is it ever refreshing: thick, not too sweet, frothy and delicious.
* Dinner at La Casa de Socorro in Getsemani. I had a coco limonada (fresh lemonade and coconut whirled with ice) and cazuela de camarones, served steaming hot in a clay pot, with a ruddy, creamy gumbo-like broth brimming with fresh shrimp. On the side came a plate with patacones (tostones) and arroz de coco, the rice almost caramelized with a sweet, nutty coconut flavor. Condiments were a little dish of hot pepper salsa and a tiny bowl of crema agria (like a slightly pungent creme fraiche). All delicious.
* Arepa e´ huevo: two sweet women cooks and a young man with a cooler of homemade aguas frescas would set up a little sidewalk table next to the leafy Plaza Fernández de Madrid at dusk, build and fan a small charcoal fire under a pot of oil, stir, knead and roll out fresh arepa masa and form various ground meat, egg and cheese filled treats -- arepas, buñuelos, empanadas -- and attentively fry them, turning the pockets and orbs with a big slotted ladle as they bobbed in the bubbling oil. The arepa e´ huevo, which in this version included carne as well, was really delicious -- held in a little newspaper pouch, a thin, yellow, corny shell, inside a fried egg and ground beef. Piping hot, crunchy-tender on the outside, and moist within. They had a squeeze bottle with crema to drizzle on top before each bite. Alternating with sips of sweet-tart agua fresca de guanábana, offered cold and milky white in a heavy glass bottle with a long straw, on that lively little sidewalk, it was street food on a sublime level. You could taste the care and skill in each wonderful bite.
Definitely fell under Cartagena's tropical spell. Especially at twilight as the streets cool off and fill with strains of music from cafes and bars, and clip-clops from little horsedrawn carriages with candles flickering in glass headlamps. Women fry plantains and make sancocho or arepas on street corners, with men standing around, eating and chatting, and here and there smartly dressed couples emerge from restaurants, a glimpse through the doorway revealing crystal and silver-topped tables nestled in palm-filled, flower-decked courtyards. This place just oozes character, romance, color and sultriness, and the people could not have been more warm and friendly.
I just got back from a trip to Colombia. I would definitely recommend going to Andres Carne de Res, I think it is worth it to go to the original one in Chia - a bit of a taxi ride but definitely worthwhile. Unforgettable experience.
In Cartagena - El Bistro is great for lunch, quite cheap and very tasty. For trendy seafood you have 2 options : Don Juan - which according to locals is the best restaurant in Cartagena, the chef worked in 3-star restaurants in Spain. It is a beautiful restaurant, the food was quite good - extremely fresh seafood, perfectly cooked. We really liked La Perla - quite original, excellent seafood done Peruvian style.
I enjoyed the Chia Andres Carne de Res. What a fun spot!
Since they opened the multistory Andres in Bogota, most of the locals have been going to that, saying it's really quite similar in its ambiance, and they avoid the drive.
Leo Cocina y Cava in Bogota is tops for seafood. Her spicing is unique and wonderful. It's expensive, and worth a visit.
Has anyone tried both? I'm curious how the two versions compare.
The Charleston and Casa Medina are both nice hotels. It really depends on where and what you will be doing in Bogota. I have always regarded the Charleston to be more South Bogata than North. The Medina is closer to Zona Rosa ( 6-7 blocks ), Usaquem, Park 93, etc. In places like Bogota, where traffic is very busy, I always find it is more important to stay at a hotel with good access to where I want to go than good amenities.
The area around the Medina and north, is pretty safe so you can walk to zona rosa if you want to. I am not so sure of the area around the Charleston. If you stay at the Chareston, you are looking at a 30-40 minute cab ride to zona rosa.
If you are going to spend most of your time in the Charleston area, then stay there.
Thank you for all the information. The type of restaurant I would like would be one where chef does innovative food using local ingredients perhaps in an unusual way. We have enjoyed Europeo, Borago, Astrid & Gaston, and Puerto Fuy in Santiago and Rafael and Rodrigo in Lima.
We want to be in North part of Bogota ---are there other hotels there I am overlooking? Any suggestions for Cartagena?
In Bogota, you might want to consider the Hotel Morrison. It is on the north edge of the zona rosa which is full of restaurants and boutique shops as well as two shopping centers, Andino and Atlantis. It does not have the character of the Medina but has good access to ZR as well as a walking park on Cl 88 if you want to stretch your legs away from the traffic.
For restaurants, as mentioned before, you must try Andres Carne de Res. It is a unique experience in all the world. The food is good but not exceptional but the atmosphere is something else. I haven't been to the one in Bogota but the Chia one was great.
In Cartagena, I always stay in the old city at the Hotel Santa Clara. There is also a Charleston there which is very similar. A lot of character. The Santa Clara is built in an old monestary. The Charleston is built in some other heritage building.
I find the beach area in Bocagrande to be a bit tacky with a lot of touts trying to sell you watches, sunglasses, cuban cigars or introduce you to "hot chicas". You still get the touts in the old city, but they are generally trying to sell you emeralds. The old city is what makes Cartagena unique. There are all sorts of nice restaurants in great settings all throughout the old city. The only restaurant I can remember by name is the Quebracho which is an Argentinian steak place - definately not vegetarian or fish, but great, none the less. It is in the old city.
If you are into nightlife, try Mister Babillas. Order a pint of good rum, some mix and ice and sit back and enjoy the show or join in. Colombians have fun and really enjoy dancing.
If I would classify Colombian food, I would call it comfort food. Not spicy or fancy just wholesome and good. The local fish is probably bagre ( catfish ) or trucha ( trout ). Cazuela de mariscos ( fish stew ) is popular. In Bogota, Ajiaco ( potato and chicken stew/soup ) is great. Paisa food from Medellin with frijoles ( beans ) is great. Chicken, beef and pork are popular. Fruit juices ( jugos ) are popular and good. There are probably 20 popular fruits which are made into what we would call smoothies. All are good and somewhat unique to Colombia. All menus will have a jugos section.Try them.
Colombians are very friendly. Have fun !
I think Leo Cocina y cava meets your requirements. She uses lots of really interesting Colombian ingredients to create a modern take on Colombian cuisine.
I stayed in Usaquen at the Bellagio suites, an apartment-hotel that was walking distance to lots of cute places and also a short cab ride away from Zona Rosa.
I highly recommend you check out Leo Cocina y Cava in Bogota. Modern Colombian food, absolutely delicious. There were lots of seafood dishes - I really enjoyed my seafood stew.
Andres Carne de Res is a must-try. I went to the one in CHia, though apparently they have opened one in Bogota as well. Sensory overload.
There are lots of trendy places in Usaquen and Zona Rosa in Bogota... I could give you some more suggestions if you give me an idea of what you like. I was there for 6 weeks last summer and enjoyed lots of places of all kinds!