As I explained in another post, for years we were cash back people who took advantage of travel deals. As we have learned, this was the wrong strategy as this post will demonstrate.
We decided to spend Holy Week in Colombia with miles, points and premium credit card travel reimbursements.
How we got there
With 210,000 miles we took advantage business saver availability (which made travelling in business less expensive than coach). We traveled in clase ejecutiva(first/business class) from JFK to Cartagena. Then we flew from Cartagena to Bogota without paying extra and retuned to JFK from Bogotá vía Panamá City. All flights were in clase ejecutiva.
During this trip we visited four airport lounges which ranged from A-/B+ (Swiss Air at JFK) to C-/D (Copa VIP lounge in Panama City). The lounges in Colombia (CTG and BOG) while better than the alternative, still left a lot to be desired, I would rate them B-/C. Maybe I’m being generous since I loved my time in Colombia so much!
How we got there
We flew from JFK to CTG on Avianca. The staff was great, the meals were fine. The seats were quite comfortable, the experience is comparable to domestic first class in every way. The same can be stated about Copa’s service on our return to JFK. Although the young gentleman who took care of the business class cabin was remarkable.
Where we stayed
During our time in Cartagena we stayed at the new Hyatt Regency. We had a club level room with awesome ocean views. All the staff at the hotel was great. The concierge made great recommendations and as a whole everyone we interacted with seemed eager to make sure we had a great time.
The legendary Cartagena sunset as seen from the hotel’s pool area
Where we ate in Cartagena
We gathered suggestions from our credit cards’ concierges, TripAdvisor, the Hyatt concierge staff at the hotel and some of our friends who live in Colombia.
The first night, We had dinner at Cande. The appeal of this place is you get a show with your meal, dancers do an Afro-Caribbean Jazzy dance while you eat. We really enjoyed the ambience, the attentiveness of the staff. As a matter of fact, Cande, a young statuesque native of Cartagena took the time to speak to us and help us select something our child would love. I agree with the high TripAdvisor score, in terms of taste, at least for me this restaurant is an A-.
By far our best experience was at El Club de Pesca! The steak, seafood and desserts all were delicious. Nothing is perfect, the cerezada that I drank was just ok, and not at the level of excellence of everything else. I still give this place an A and would return on our next trip in a heartbeat.
The place at the very top of my list was La Mulata. It was highly recommended by several of our sources, the ambience is awesome. My child and spouse loved their seafood, but maybe I made a mistake ordering ribs, and not seafood. The short ribs weren’t that great. As I was reminded, you get what you pay for. This place is quite inexpensive. There are so many great options in Cartagena that I would not miss not coming here on my next trip.
Our last dinner in Cartagena was at La Perla. Although the food was exquisite for the most part, the place is run by an egomaniac owner who towards the end of our dinner screamed so loud at one of his kitchen staff that we asked for the check and left without ordering dessert. It’s worth noting that it was nearly impossible to get reservations for this place.
What we did in Cartagena
Our first evening, we did the famous Chiva ride. It’s a party bus with live Colombian music. Of course this description doesn’t do it justice since a chiva ride is something one must experience in order to understand. We visited several of the top attractions during this unique night tour.
The next day we did a tour of Islas del Rosario, including Isla Barú in which we visited a small aquarium and we ended the day bathing in Playa Blanca. This boat ride was a true adventure, at some point the boat ran out of gas!
After breakfast at the hotel, we headed to el Castillo de San Felipe, perhaps the top attraction for most visitors. This 16th century fortress has been a UNESCO Workd Heritage Site since the mid-1980s.
After several hours walking around the castle, we walked around the area surrounding the site. We took a taxi to La Mulata for lunch and walked some more around the city center. We did a tour of the historic zone aboard a coach. This is was a first and last for me since I have always been against riding animals or using them as a mode of transportation. In bullfights, I always root for the bull, but that’s another story.
We concluded our evening with dinner at La Perla. We had an awesome time in Cartagena, but alas all things must come to an end. It was time to leave the wonderful Coloma Ian coast and head to Bogotá, aka The Athens of South America and for Colombians from the coast, la nevera (the refrigerator). My concern of course was not about the cold, but ratther the fact that Bogotá has an altitude of 2,640 metres (8,660 ft). Although this is the highest place I’ve ever been to, I did not experience any issues. We had a rather pleasant ride on Avianca’s clase ejecutiva from CTG to BOG, this is the same exact service we got from JFK to CTG. Before boarding, we checked out the lounge at Cartagena’s airport. Yes, no it won’t be winning any awards anytime soon, but it was better than the gate area.
About 48 hours in Bogota
Since it was Holy Week, most of the notorious Bogota traffic was not an issue for us. Our friend, picked us up at the airport and took us to the hotel. We stayed at the JW Marriott Bogota using part of our travel credit. All in all, we paid about $85 out of pocket per night for one of the very best hotels in the city. We did not see him, but Justin Bieber was also staying at this JW during the time we were in Bogota. The hotel was luxurious and the staff was great. The executive lounge was one of the best we have seen. There was a 2 premium drink limit, but since we are not drinkers that was not an issue. Throughout the day, the lounge had an impressive variety of local favorites and at night the sushi was better than we could have expected.
During our first evening in Bogota we met with all our friends at Divercity located in el Centro Comercial Santafe one of the biggest malls in the country. We had not seen our friends in over a decade! This was an opportunity to get to meet their children and catch up.
The next day, as we were trying to avoid the chaos that followed Justine Bieber around, we went to places we were sure he would not visit. Our friends took us to La Catedral de Sal (the salt cathedral) this is a very unique attraction, but there are much better things to see and do around Bogotá.
We had a great time regardless because we were with our friends. After spending several hours at the cathedral, we ate at a non-touristy restaurant that served real Colombian food. Then we headed to La Cabaña Alpina, a paradise of Colombian dairy products, pastries and desserts. Alpina is the Colombian Nestle and you can buy direct from the factory at this place.
We then headed to an affluent complex located in Sopo. We had some of the best views of the city from there. The least expensive home for sale goes for $3 million and that’s US$! Not Colombian pesos.
This trip proved to us that points and miles is the way to go. We went from JFK to CTG, GTG to BOG, and BOG to PTY/JFK all in the equivalent of domestic first class. We paid ~$96 in flight taxes and fees. We stayed at two of the best hotels in the country for less than $100 a night out of pocket. The most important thing is that we had one of our very best trips ever for a fraction of what we would have spent in the past.