I never win anything. Or rather, I had never won anything - aside from maybe a $35 gift card to Rally's at my senior after prom. But dang, did I win big last summer at a music festival - I took a photo with some flowers on my head, tagged JetBlue in a comment and subsequently entered myself into an Instagram sweepstakes. The next day, I had been contacted by JetBlue to inform me that I'd won two round-trip tickets anywhere they fly. Oh, the possibilities! I was elated.
I knew I wanted to get outside of the U.S. I mean, how many times are you gonna win free flights in your lifetime? I was definitely going to make the most of it. But JetBlue primarily flies to the Caribbean and Mexico - all destinations that my very pale boyfriend and travel companion would likely not enjoy. So we quickly zeroed in on Bogotá, Colombia - perhaps a somewhat questionable decision to many, but I was confident we'd just booked an incredible vacation.
Our trip began in the "La Candelaria" neighborhood, considered the historic downtown or "old city." The architecture of the area is Spanish colonial with an incredible South American twist - balconies and doorways are painted vibrant colors, and sometimes the street art Bogotá is famous for dons a stucco wall. Our Airbnb (which was incredible), was located within walking distance of Bolivar Square - a gathering place for locals and tourists alike - as well as countless museums, restaurants and bars.
When we felt we had seen a good portion of the neighborhood on foot, we opted to take a bike tour. Our guide was a local, extremely proud of both his country and his neighborhood - and spoke confidently about how far Colombia has come in terms of safety and tourism in the last 15 years. Our bike tour included a stop at a local bar to play tejo, a 500-year old game similar to cornhole that involves throwing a heavy stone at an angled board covered in clay - and explosives. It may sound crazy, but the goal is actually to make the explosives - you know, explode. Only our bike tour guide was successful - it's definitely harder than it looks!
After trying our hand at tejo, we continued on our tour through an affluent Bogotá neighborhood before ending at a coffee factory. It's no secret that Colombia produces some of the best coffee in the world - but I had no idea that various regions produce coffee of different flavors and levels of robustness before touring the factory. Our time there, of course, ended with a cup of joe - or rather, café con leche.
As we rode through neighborhoods - up old cobblestone streets of La Candelaria and new paved one of the upper-middle class neighborhoods near the park - there was always one common sighting throughout: street art. And it's not what most people think of when they hear "graffiti" - these are legitimate works of art. They depict Indigenous peoples, martyrs of a potentially corrupt government, refugee children, animals of a creative mind, and so much more. And it seems there's a new work of art around every corner.
As our bike tour concluded, so did our time in Bogotá. We spent our last night in the city having a nice dinner with Chilean wine, after choosing the restaurant because live music was pouring out through the open-shuttered windows. The night was the perfect end to a beautiful three days in the Colombian capital - it was lively, delicious, romantic; curious, creative and relaxed. But we had more of the country to see, and planned to hop on a bus the next morning to La Mesa, a small mountain town, for a new adventure.
There's much more to come on our South American vacation (hiking in La Mesa, returning to Cuenca, and...how to handle lost baggage!) - but in the meantime, check out more photos from our trip here.