Anthony Lopez

“I’d rather see a sermon than hear one any day;”

Archive for the ‘Travels’ Category

Colombia Travels

Posted by lopeza on January 13, 2009

12/17/2008 – 12/29/2008

Arrived in Bogota and after realizing a being told to pick up our luggage for our transfer to Manizales we almost missed our flight. It seems that the staff at JFK (Avianca) tells everyone that and when you arrive in Bogota it’s clearly not the case.

Landing at Manizales was a pretty exciting experience. Since its a mountainous region the plane had to maneuver in ways I have never experienced.  We landed on a high part of the mountain and from the plane we could see all the different elevations of the land clearly and the way the roairportpickupads are built to meander through the landscape.

After settling in at the hotel we walked around and visited the mall nearest to the hotel called Cable Plaza. I had a traditional Colombian meal called lomo de res which was steak over a patty made of mashed sweet plantain.


Later that night we headed to a lounge called Carataplan that played all types of music. I got first hand experience in Vallenato and Cumbia which is the folk music of Colombia. Vallenato literally means born in the valley and an accordion is a key instrument. Aguardiente the alcoholic drink of choice was the main item on the table the entire evening.

Tylenol and lots of water made recovery from the lounge the evening before a lot easier. Woke up at 9am and headed over to “El Centro” which is the main area of the town.  Manizales was built around El Centro, meaning the center, but as Manizales grew the area is longer geographically in the center of the town.

lacatedraldemanizalesI visited La Catedral (The Cathedral) which has a tower or pico (peak) that has views over all of Manizales. The tour gave a brief history of La Catedral and how it endured los tres incendios (three fires). The climb up the 102 meter tower was a maze of small chamber stair cases. Some of the staircases have been replaced with modern aluminum structures to ensure the safety of tourists. When we reached the top there was a tiny 1.5 foot fenced in ledge wrapped around the tower. The views were amazing.

After La Catedral tour I walked around La Plaza de Bolivar where I found many or too many Nativity scenes. I had to shake off a few pan handlers and street sales people.  The trick is to be firm and if you can use the proper phrases and accent they would leave you alone after the first attempt.  If you sound like a foreigner then they just keep coming back. What I found to work is “No gracias hermano” and keep walking. If you get the accent just right they may just thing you are Colombian and they won’t get anything from you anyway.

Since taxi’s are really cheap here I took one everywhere but I also wanted to try the public bus system.  After figuring out which one to take I got on and paid $1,200 pesos which today is about $.60 US. The buses didn’t have bells like in the US nor did the people yell parada (next stop) like they do in other hispanic countries.  On the bus ride I found a Citibank which will allow you to withdraw money with a flat 3% charge if you are a Citi customer.

Later that evening a friend that’s getting married hired a band which while playing in the street walked up to the house to serenade his fiance. It is said that this is a custom in the Colombian culture.  Friends and family were all present and after the band played the gathering continued with wine and cumbia music.

Since the night prior was pretty light I decided to visit the neighborhoods local gym. The cost was $15,000 pesos ($7.50 US) for a day pass. We had lunch at a small cafe that served a delicious meal called ajiaco which is a typical dish in Colombia consisting of a broth, cillantro, chicken or beef, and a piece of corn on the cobb.

Later on my wife went to get a manicure and pedicure in preparation for being in the wedding party and I am at the hotel relaxing and writing about my experience.


The wedding was very beautiful and the reception was amazing.  Located at “El Recinto del Pensamiento” or the place for thoughts, we had great views of the mountains and natural landscape.  The reception hall was a huge structure, built by hand, and made out of bamboo.

parquedelcafeThe next day the out of town wedding guests were treated to a day trip to “El Parque del Cafe” or the Coffee Park, where we spent half the day learning about the coffee process and the second have experiencing the amusement rides.  After that we went to Los Terminales or Hot springs.  These were swimming pools with natural hot water from the hot springs in the mountains.

Travel day from Manizales to Cartagena.
When we arrived at the Avianca airport terminal we were told that our bags were over the 20kg per person limit and that we had to pay for additional weight.  I was upset because after a few conversations with the sales person we were told explicitly that since we are flying international we am allowed 2 bags of 50lbs each.  After telling that to the manager and after disproving his claim that it was written on our receipt of purchase, he still wanted to charge me for the overage. I decided to call Avianca sales group to complain and ask that they have the manager waive the fee.  Since I was not planning on missing my flights my fallback was to pay the fee on my AMEX and dispute the charge.  I believe that once the manager realized that I was not settling to pay he decided to waive the fee.

Got to Las Americas and our room was not going to be ready until about 1 hour after we arrived.  So we decided to walk around and check out the hotel’s amenities.  For dinner we went out of the hotel and found a small restaurant on the beach.  The steak and fish was actually impressive considering the beach style restaurant.

The next few days and nights were spent on the beach and at night walking the town looking for cool places to eat and dance.  At the beach we were harrased for hours by the local beach vendors.  I managed to figure out some good techniques to ignore and to get them out from in front of you easily.  In the evening we went to what many in Cartagena call the most popular discotec or club, Mr. Babilla.  As usual full and half bottles of liquor is preferred, but since it was only myself and my wife I ordered a single coctails of rum and coke.  The music was mostly vallenato, regeton, merengue, and house, with a slight hint of salsa.  I would have liked a bit more salsa.

The next day we spent the entire day at the pool and went to el centro historico in the evening for desert at crepes and waffles.  Visited the supermarket to buy some coffee and some supplies for our day trip to Las Islas de Rosario and playa blanca the following day.

On the boat ride to Las Islas de Rosario and Playa Blanca we saw panoramic views of many islands that have luxurios resorts.  We visited an aquarium that was built on the shore of the island utilizing the existing water and environment.  It was a change from your typical use man built aquariums.  For lunch we had fresh tilapia, patacones, and coconut rice.  The green/blue waters were beautiful.  At playa blanca we met the owners of D and E hamocks.  The ran a business that will allow you to rent a tent or hammock and stay at Playa Blanca.  You can also eat at with them or at the local restaurants.  Most all of the fish is fresh and usually brought in from the ocean that day.  If you are backpacking this is definitely a place to stay for a day or two.  No electricity but there are bathrooms and shower stations are available.  You must travel by boat to and from cartagena.  The day trip was amazing.
Later that night we went to a restaurant at El Centro Historico that had a live band.  Juan carlos, a gentleman that we met at Playa Blanca, accepted our invitation to dinner and before we even had our appetizers we moved a few tables and started dancing.  Me with my wife and Juan Carlos with women at another table.  Soon enough the entire restaurant was over by use taking turns at the dance floor.  It was an awesome way to spend the last evening of the trip.  On the way to the taxi we heard loud music coming from this little bar called “Donde Fidel”.   Coincidently salsa was their main music genre so I was going to have a drink and may a few last dances.  Speaking with the DJ he claimed that the bar had every salsa song ever created and after looking at the books of music listings I am really close to believing him.

Colombia was great.  The lonely planet guide was a good resource but don’t forget that getting to know the local people is always the best way to understand their culture.


Posted in Travels | Leave a Comment »