Bogota: Colombia’s capital city, the nation’s artistic and cultural hub, and a progressive, cosmopolitan metropolis with a heavily international feel. When given a short time in Bogota, it’s hard not to focus only on the essentials: exploring the city center and historic sites of La Candelaria, visiting the famed Museo del Oro, and trekking up to the top of Monserrate for a breathtaking view of the city. What might get lost in the mix is a visit to the Chapinero neighborhood – Bogota’s hip, livable borough situated north of La Candelaria and the financial district – and an authentic look into modern, everyday Bogota.
Fortunately, during the stint that we had in Bogota, we had the spur-of-the-moment opportunity to meet up with Chris Bell, Editor at See Colombia Travel. Bell, an English expat that has called Colombia home for the past year, joined us for a walking tour of the neighborhood, and introduced us to a couple of the prime backpacker and boutique hostels, plus some of the hottest coffee shops in Bogota’s expanding coffee culture.
It’s only appropriate to note that our journey began before joining up with Bell, awaiting our meeting time over a cappuccino at Oma, one of Colombia’s primary coffee chains. To many travels, it may come as an initial surprise that Colombia’s coffee culture is largely in its infancy. Heck, just go to any supermarket or Starbucks in the US, and you’ll be hard-pressed not to find at least a few Colombian blends. But in the same way that Chile is largely and exporter of its fine coastal-made wines, Colombia is an exporter of its best coffees as well. Of the multi-billions of dollars of coffee being exported, very little of it is consumed in Colombia. Fortunately, this has created a great opportunity for shops to start popping up, not only major chains like Oma, but the small, independent players too.
Our tour began with a look into La Pinta Hostel, a non-descript yet cozy backpackers hostel. The highlight here was definitely the spacious back courtyard, complete with dogs and places to grill out. Although it didn’t have an obvious theme, a model ship sat above the fireplace in the front room, playing off of the Columbus aspect in the name (there’s even a sister hostel down the street called ‘La Nina’).
After a short walk up hill from the hostel, we hit our first coffee joint: Amor Perfecto. A modern café with plenty of sleek couches and coffee tables, any newcomer to Colombia would assume coffee culture was already alive and well here upon first walking in. In fact, this place has been a hotbed for Colombian Barista Championship winners, most recently Diego F. Campos, whom will be representing Colombia in the World Barista Championship next year in Seattle.
With a bit more caffeine in the bloodstream we headed north again to 12:12 Hostel, a new-comer to the Bogota hostel scene. This boutique hostel opened its doors this past summer, and is decorated in a way that represents urban life in Bogota. Case-and-point: just look at the walls. Meticulously strewn bicycle frames cover the walls, while the fireplace is lined to the rafters with books in all languages. For a city that is a premier hub in South America for higher education, and has more bike-share programs than you’d see in many US cities, this is all too fitting, and a perfect compliment to the comforts of the patio, common spaces, and chic dorms.
The last stop on our walk took us to one last cup o’ Joe (or two) at Café Cultor, another neighborhood coffee destination. Housed in an old shipping crate, Café Cultor takes coffee shop ambiance one step further than we’d already seen. After watching our coffee brewed carefully by another expertly-skilled barista team through a coffee cone (one of the more intimate methods of brewing), we took a seat on the roof, where conversation ranged from Colombia’s coffee regions (of which there are many), all the way to UK gap years and Bogota’s startup scene.
After one more blend of coffee (this time through chemex brewing) and a bit more talk about Colombia’s geographic, wildlife, and cultural diversity, we were on our way back to La Candelaria. It was clear that when given the time, Chapinero was definitely the place to settle in for a longer stay, or even a move to the city. At the very least, it was a perfect spot to get a sampling of the fine coffees and cheap lodging that Bogota has to offer!
Chris Bell is the editor of See Colombia Travel, the #1 travel agency for exploring Colombia. In addition to trip packages, their blog contains insights into both mainstream and off-the-beaten path sites in Colombia, written and curated by a team of locals and former globetrotting backpackers. Make sure to visit them at seecolombia.travel.