This article was originally written for and published on Colombia Savvy.
Colombia’s cuisine is often overlooked by travelers in South America, but Chef Paula Silva is putting love and good energy into every dish, and more and more chefs are following in her footsteps. Silva has dedicated herself to experimenting with natural and pure ingredients local to Colombia; she was born in Cali and is currently based in Bogota. Her restaurant, Hippie, is in the Chapinero neighborhood and is a tribute to the colors and flavors of nature. Silva cites nature as her biggest inspiration, and she loves being surrounded by the mountains, culture, and gastronomy movement in Bogota.
Her food philosophy is presenting cuisine in the purest way possible; her restaurant uses organic and antibiotic free meats, free range chickens, and mostly organic fruits and vegetables. Her restaurant offers vegetarian, vegan, and gluten-free dishes. Each dish is not only an experience but also a lifestyle; dishes include a shrimp salad with mango viche with gazpacho crystals and tiger milk of basil and coconut and a cream of carrot and squash with turmeric, sprouts of beet, and chia.
I was able to ask Chef Silva for a few recommendations for visitors to Colombia, and here is what she had to say about the food scene in Colombia.
What regional dishes of Colombia should every traveler experience?
Everyone should try Arepa de Huevo and Sancocho. I like Sancocho as a main dish. And of course, all the fruits that we have here are just amazing, like Lulo. I also like the dessert Manjar Blanco.
How would you describe the food scene in Bogota? How is it growing and evolving?
I think in the last 10 years, the food scene has grown a lot. We’ve seen people harvesting and creating products we couldn’t have 10 years ago, for example, like asparagus or a really good goat cheese they are doing in the mountains. So I think it is wide open now and there are a lot of people doing really good stuff, and a lot of people working with local ingredients that I think is the most ideal and most important thing and making the culture grow with this.
In your opinion, what are the top 5 restaurants in Bogota, and why?
Of course, I love my restaurant Hippie (Cl. 56 4A-15). I am passionate about my food and what I do here, I really feel it is a great way to show Colombian ingredients in a pure way.
I love the Italian Restaurant, Julia (Carrera 5 69A-19 Zona G y Quinta Camacho). It has really good pizza. I love the mushrooms and the 2 for 1 specials. They also have a really good beet and goat cheese salad.
For a special occasion, I like to go to Leo (Pasaje Santa Cruz de Mompox, Calle 27b 6-75). Leo is Chef Leonor Espinosa’s restaurant. I really like the food she does there.
Yes, I cannot wait to visit Leo this summer. I have read that their 13-course tasting menus are a journey through local and unique ingredients, and it is no surprise that Leo is #16 on Latin America’s 50 Best Restaurants 2016.
La Contadina (Calle 9Km, La Calera) is an Italian restaurant that is also really, really good.
There is also a restaurant called Mediterranea de Andrei (Carrera 6A #119B - 05 ), and they have some great mediterranean dishes.
Are there any cooking classes in Bogota you would recommend?
I don’t know of many cooking classes in Bogota, but there are cooking classes available at my restaurant, Hippie. At Hippie, you can also find yoga, spirituality, and painting courses. You can follow us on social media for upcoming events.
What is your favorite market in Bogota to shop for ingredients?
When I have all morning to spend at the market, I go to Plaza de Paloquemao (Avenida 19 #25-04). There you can find anything.
Lovely, thank you for the recommendation. I also saw on Hippie’s website that you host a market every few months: Mercado Hippie. This seasonal market sells local handmade crafts and special food items, and the last one had more than 30 vendors.
Are there any restaurants in other cities in Colombia you always visit while traveling? If so, what are they?
In Cartagena, I love Chef Charlie Otero’s Restaurant La Comunion.
Yes, I love how Chef Otero’s menu combines the traditional flavors of the Caribbean and Pacific Colombian coasts with a modern reinterpretation.
In San Andres, I recommend Donde Francesca.
Absolutely, and I love that this restaurant is right on the beach serving fresh and healthy twists on Latin and Caribbean Seafood classics!
Thank you Chef Paula Silva for taking the time to share with travelers some of your favorite restaurants and aspects of Colombian cuisine. Although the cuisine in Colombia has often been underestimated, it’s easy to see that the food scene is thriving, and chefs are experimenting with local ingredients in fresh ways. There has never been a better time to eat in Colombia!
You can learn more about Chef Paul Silva and her restaurant at the links below:
The bright Sunday began on a bus weaving through the luscious green mountains of Colombia’s Eje Cafetero, also known as the coffee region. Coffee farm tours are easy to find in the area, but most focus on the production process, not the roasting, brewing, and sipping. However, there is one tour offering all of the above: Juan Carlos Ortega’s El Placer Coffee Cupping Tour in Santa Rosa (a small town between Manizales and Pereira), Colombia. In his words, Colombians are experts at growing coffee, but they don’t know how to drink it. It’s true - most coffee found here won’t impress connoisseurs. It’s usually full of panela, unrefined whole cane sugar, and sadly, most of the best Colombian coffee is exported, leaving locals with the leftovers. But Juan Carlos is trying to change that one cup of a coffee at a time.
Juan Carlos and Adriana, our interpreter, met my friend and I in El Lembo. As we drove up to Juan Carlos’ farm, El Placer, he pointed out the traditional architecture of the farm houses and explained that the farm had been in his family for generations. Because of this region’s unique climate, the Eje Cafetero is a perfect place to grow not only commercial grade coffee but also specialty coffee. Juan Carlos grows organic and specialty coffee, a growing market in the country. He offers 4-hour informational cupping (or tasting) tours. I couldn’t wait to learn more about the art of growing, roasting, and tasting coffee. I’m one of those people who cannot function without coffee; you can’t tell the difference between me without coffee and the zombies from The Walking Dead. I also love Michael Pollan’s recommendation to always, “shake the hand that feeds you.” The importance of understanding the impact of your own consumption cannot be understated in today’s food industry. And more than just shake Juan Carlos’ hand...I settled in to listen.
The tour started with a brief explanation of the process of growing the beans and the two different coffee plants - Arabica and Robusta. Only 20% of the world’s coffee is Arabica, and that is what is grown on this farm. Coffee plants take two years to produce which helps explain the “tranquila” and patient pace of life here in the Eje Cafetero. Our guide also explained that his coffee pickers earn around $550,000 COP per kilogram, but it is very demanding work: the steep inclines and high-altitude sun are only two of the challenges, and most commercial pickers are paid a lot less.
We had the chance to pick our own coffee berries and learned that the berry only grows after flowering. We were instructed to chose only the deepest and ripest red berries. Next, we squeezed the beans outside of the berries and tasted the raw beans which have a sweet layer of sugar over them. Usually this layer is washed off, but “honey” coffee beans are dried with this sweet layer on; it was a more complicated process, but Juan Carlos roasts his own honey beans by hand. We then took turns roasting the beans and saw the different levels of roasting. Finally, we waited for the beans to cool while we took a walk around the property.
On the walk, we saw and smelled mandarina and plantain trees, lemongrass, and mint. Everything that grows around the coffee influences its taste, so it was the perfect warm up of our senses for the tasting to come. After the walk, we hurried back to ground our beans. As Juan Carlos ground the beans, there was an explosion of fragrance in the room. It faded within minutes and was a great reminder of why to freshly grind your coffee before enjoying.
He showed us his preferred method of manually brewing using a Hario V60 dripper with passion and precision. He explained to first enjoy the aroma of the coffee, and then to sip and enjoy the body, sweetness, acidity, flavor, and aftertaste. His cup of coffee was a work of art, and each step was thoughtfully considered and executed.
As we sipped on our coffee together, Juan Carlos shared some insights into the coffee industry in Colombia. He explained that Juan Valdez coffee was all marketing and no substance, and how the Colombia Coffee Growers Federation was more concerned with lining politicians’ pockets than protecting the growers. As we finished our last sips of coffee, we signed his guestbook full of messages of gratitude from visitors from all over the world.
In the end, I warmly shook Juan Carlos’ hand and had a sense of hope that more and more people were asking questions about the origin of their food and drink and seeking these hands-on learning experiences. But more importantly, I also had five bags of his specialty coffee in my backpack to bring home for the many more cups to come.
The El Placer Coffee Cupping Tour can be arranged through Colombia Eco Travel. Interpreters available upon request.
This post was originally written for Colombia Eco Travel.
Cartagena is one of the most popular tourist destinations in Colombia, and a walk through its historic center (an UNESCO World Heritage Site) will easily explain why. The romantic and beautiful colonial architecture makes visitors swoon, and vivid colors and historical sites are around every corner. But as a I wandered through the Old City surrounded by the centuries-old stone walls, I wondered how this city became known as the “jewel of the Caribbean” and at whose expense.
The myth goes that in 1533, a Spanish conquistador named Pedro de Heredia traveled with an interpreter named Catalina who was kidnapped as a young girl and raised by the conquistadors. There are rumors that Heredia and Catalina were lovers, but she later married his nephew and testified against him in his trial for thievery and mistreatment of indigenous people, so either it's a rumor or that was one breakup. Regardless, it was Catalina who helped Heredia take the village Calamari by force, the site of the now Cartagena. And now, if you search "Calamari Village Cartagena" on Google the first thing to come up is in fact not this story but a boutique hostel of the same name.
After the city was settled by the conquistadors, it became one of the wealthiest ports in the Americas. One truth left out of the typical narrative for tourists is that this port's biggest business was slave trade. It's estimated that over one million Africans were forcibly taken to Cartagena de Indias and sold, creating the booming economy. It was also a major port for shipping the gold brutally stolen from the Inca Empire back to Spain, as well as the gold of the local indigenous Zenú people of the coast. Therefore the city was often filled with gold and precious stones.The reputation of wealth became dangerous as it quickly became a target for pirates in search of booty, which of course led to Spain building the infamous walls of the "walled city." But despite the walls, the city was attacked several times by pirates, and throughout the attacks, much of the city was destroyed for huge ransoms.
And it wasn’t just pirates either; the British also attacked the city several times in an effort to take it from Spain. Most recently in 2014, Prince Charles visited Cartagena and unveiled a plaque to commemorate the lives of the British sailors who died in the attack of 1741. According to Colombia Reports, “The new plaque has riled up disgust and anger from local residents and historians alike. Colombians argue that the plaque honors yet another dark blot in the country’s painful and bloody history of colonization. Eventually, Cartagena declared its independence from Spain in 1811 and became one of the first cities in Colombia to do so, but it came at a cost. There was a merciless four-month siege, and 6,000 residents died of starvation and disease. It wasn’t until 1821, when Simón Bolivar took the city by sea and named the city, La Heroica, the Heroic City.
During this time, slavery continued, but many slaves escaped to create free villages, called palenques. In these communities, former slaves retained and celebrated their African roots and culture. In 1851, Colombia abolished slavery, 14 years before the United States. The only surviving palenque is right outside Cartagena, San Basilio de Palenque. It was the first free city in America dating its founding to 1713. To this day, the people speak the unique language of Palenquero, a combination of Spanish and languages from West Central Africa.
Today, you can still walk along the walls, tour a castle built by Spain (San Felipe), visit San Basilio de Palenque, and visit the Palace of the Inquisition, now a museum housing the Inquisition’s bloody tools of torture and some pre-Columbian artifacts and artifacts that survived colonization and the battles for independence. It’s still a city of contradicting perspectives and cultures, and remains a city with deep income inequality, one of the starkest in Latin America. It’s a city that will inspire every traveler to contemplate the different sides of history and look beyond the walls at the stories behind them.
History-inspired and socially-conscious tours of Cartagena can be arranged by Colombia Eco Travel.
This post was originally written for Colombia Eco Travel.
Popular travel blogs often preach about the benefits and advantages of solo travel. And for good reason - traveling alone can be an enriching and eye-opening experience. However, the solo traveler hype can overshadow the joy of traveling with family. Exploring with family gives travelers the chance to make and share precious memories together. Even Christopher McCandless, one of American history’s most beloved solo travelers, wrote in his journal towards the end of his life that happiness is only real when shared.
I spent a year living and traveling in Colombia before my boyfriend’s mom, Charlene, came to visit. There were many joys in sharing what I had learned about Colombia with her. Charlene teaches the 3rd grade in the United States, and I knew when we were planning her trip that she deserved a fun, relaxing, and stress-free two weeks through the most magical experiences in Colombia.
The first experience that made the list was snorkeling near the Coral Islands of Rosario off the coast of Cartagena in the Caribbean sea. The Coral Islands of Rosario and San Bernardo, or the Parque Nacional Natural Islas Corales del Rosario y San Bernardo in Spanish, is one of the 46 National Parks in Colombia. The park features one of the most diverse ecosystems in the country, featuring many small islands, peaceful lagoons, fragile reefs, and mangrove swamps. Within the park, it is possible to see the spotted dolphin, West Indian manatee, hawksbill sea turtle, green sea turtle, cat shark, and more than 150 species of fish and 50 species of birds.
The park is one of the best places in Colombia to immerse yourself in the rich, biodiversity the country is known for. I knew Charlene would enjoy seeing the Park by boat, but I also knew it would be really fun to organize an activity she had never done before: snorkeling! What was so special about the experience was that she had never been snorkeling or explored coral reefs before. Sharing this unique travel experience in Colombia multiplied the joy because I was able to see it for the first time through someone else’s eyes.
We arranged a snorkeling tour of some of the best reefs with a local guide. He provided us with snorkels, goggles, fins, and even swim noodles for when we grew tired. Snorkeling is a great activity for the whole family because you don’t have to be an advanced swimmer to enjoy it. Our guide drove us on his boat to some of the best and most accessible snorkeling spots and gave us as a quick tutorial on snorkeling safety and tips. He gave us as much time as we wanted to explore the reefs.
The water was clear, turquoise, and perfectly warm. Charlene beams that the day’s highlight was the schools of blue, lustrous fish we were able to follow around. After we tired, our guide arranged for a local fisherman to bring us a fresh, hot, and reasonably-priced lobster lunch. After lunch, a local entrepreneur came by our boat to display some locally made jewelry, which Charlene absolutely adored. After the memorable snorkeling, a delicious lunch, and some souvenirs to remember the trip, our guide brought us to one last snorkeling spot to explore a sunken pontoon plane. That night we had dinner at one of the many hotels in the area and toasted our Limonada de Cocos as the sun set over the Caribbean sea.
Overall, it was a privilege to go on an underwater, National Geographic worthy adventure together without the hassle or stress of diving. The experience of snorkeling in the Coral Islands of Rosario was without a doubt...better when shared.
Snorkeling tours of the Coral Islands of Rosario and San Bernardo can be arranged through Colombia Eco Travel.