Hotel: Hampton by Hilton Usaquen, 31 Aug – 04 Sep 2015

Hampton Inn, UsaquenHampton by Hilton Usaquen

Address: Carrera 7 no. 118-30 Barrio Usaquen, Bogotá, Bogota, Colombia

Phone: +57 1 7469555

I stayed at the Hampton by Hilton Usaquen recently. The Hampton by Hilton joined the Hilton family very recently – like 1 week before my stay. Generally, I had a great stay – they still have things they have to work out, but they have a great, responsive staff, and they should be an excellent option once they get the whole place running.


Usaquen. It is a nice, safe neighborhood in the northern edge of Bogota. If you are taking public transport, it is easy to get around to different parts of town like Chapinero or La Calendaria. The neighborhood is also home to some colonial architecture, the Hacienda Santa Barbara shopping mall, and is a short walk to lots of cool dining establishments, e.g. La Hamburgerseria. So if you don’t want to venture too far for food, it makes this place a great option. There is also a direct bus to/from the airport in front of the hotel (M86 from the airport, K86 to the airport).


I booked into a Queen room (non-smoking) with refrigerator. The room was a nice size, but the bathroom was a tad small. The shower, in particular, involved some maneuvering to avoid freezing like a popsicle, or getting scalded. Otherwise, the bed and bedding were nice, and I had a good night’s sleep. The room also comes with a coffee-maker, which is slightly misleading. It mostly boils water, and you are given sachets of instant coffee powder. I used some of them up, and they were replaced the next day. It is a nice benefit to have on the days I worked in the room. Although a refrigerator was advertised, there was no refrigerator to be found. I didn’t ask about it because I had no need for a mini-fridge during my stay. I did make use of the in-room safe, which is not a great idea, mainly because it is too small to store a laptop. In terms of shower products, Hampton by Hilton Usaquen provided Neutrogena products. I thought they were decent. Wifi was provided and worked well in my room throughout my stay. Overall, it was a nice, clean, spacious room. Bogota, Colombia

Queen Room

Bogota, Colombia

Queen room

Bogota, Colombia


Bogota, Colombia

Shower – with neutrogena products


As a Hampton, they provide a hot breakfast as part of the rate. It was a pretty decent buffet breakfast, and in the four days that I stayed there, there were some slight variations. There were the basics: breads, pastries, cereals, juice, fruit, yoghurt, ham and cheese. Apart from that, there were also three hot stations, which rotated a bit on the four days that I was there. They also have a hot drinks maker. The coffee was slightly iffy (more like a mocha), but it did the job. There was also a selection of teas, and two fruit juices. The breakfast was fairly substantial. It is nothing to write home about, but it did its job. Bogota, Colombia

Breakfast area

Bogota, Colombia



The service was excellent. On the first night, I had some drainage problems with my shower. I mentioned it to the front desk the next morning, and when I got back in the evening, the issue was fixed. There were many buenas dias every time I walked by anyone, and some of the management staff would also stop during breakfast to hand out chocolates, thanking me for my stay. If they keep their responsive attitude, they will go far.


Yes. Located on the top floor, a little bit small. Nothing fancy. Just a couple of your regular machines. They do have windows where you can get views of the mountains surrounding Bogota.

The lowdown:

As mentioned, this place just joined the Hilton family of properties. Well, I would say they were not completely guest ready. As mentioned, there was no fridge in my room. On the second night of my stay, I noticed that they just added decorations to my room when I was out for the day. It seemed like they were rolling out rooms as they became ready. There were a couple of days when I was in my room during the day (~4 pm ish), and I could hear construction going on. The ground level outside the lobby still had empty storefronts in the process of renovations, preparing for rental.

In sum:

While this property is taking reservations and putting people in rooms, it is still in the process of becoming 100% ready. But the staff they have seem excellent, and that should go a long way into making this property an excellent one.

How did I pay for this?

I got 40000 Hilton points in a recent sign-up bonus, but had used 20000 of that booking another Hilton property. As a Category 2 Hilton property, I did not have enough points to book this with points outright. I made this booking using the Cash & Points option, so this cost me 16000 points (4000 points x 4 nights) and 326000 COP (~80000 COP a night). That worked out to about 25 USD a night out of my pocket. If I think of this property as a 25 USD per night property, it was a complete steal in my opinion. Bogota, Colombia

Area behind Hampton by Hilton Usaquen


El Dorado (BOG) New International Terminal Airport Lounge: LAN VIP Lounge

Lan Lounge at El Dorado Airport

LAN Lounge – the one across from it is the Avianca Lounge

In the El Dorado New International Terminal Airport, there are two lounges available to Priority Pass holders – LAN and Avian. After reading reviews on Lounge Buddy, I decided to go with the better rated one – LAN. Located at the upper level, it is accessible by stairs and elevator between gates 34-35.

I arrived at around 10.45 am on a Friday morning. They served cereal, fruit, and some decent finger sandwiches (I got a delicious smoked salmon). There are also ice cream, yoghurt, and baked goods (muffins/cookies) up for grabs. They also had two choices of freshly squeezed juice. Their espresso machine serves Juan Valdez. I thought it was a bit broken, as I got a latte, and the milk was spewing everywhere. In their fridges at the lower counter, they also have the full range of sodas, water, and Bogota Beer Company beers for self-serve.

Apparently, you can get wine as well. I didn’t explore that option. There were quite a number of areas, e.g. the TV area, the dining area near the self-serve bar counter, and some lounge chairs with tarmac views. After check-in, you will also be given a password to access their internet. The code is unique. Lan Lounge at El Dorado Airport

Self-serve Bar counter

Lan Lounge at El Dorado Airport - espresso machine serves Juan Valdez

Coffee from Juan Valdez

Decent selection at Lan Lounge at El Dorado Airport

My breakfast of champions

Colombia: Botero is all sorts of awesome, 03 September 2015

I had three main missions today:

  1. Check out the Botero Museum
  2. Get a souvenir for my uncle from Hard Rock Cafe
  3. Sample a lot of Colombian coffee

Botero Museum (free, closed on Tuesdays)

Hours: Closed on Tuesdays

Monday – Saturday, 9 am – 7 pm, last entry at 6.30 pm.

Sunday and holidays, 10 am – 5 pm, last entry at 4.30 pm


I have always liked the work of Botero, and honestly, prior to this trip, I didn’t even know that he is Colombian! The Botero Museum doesn’t just house the works of Botero, but it also houses some really famous artists, like Monet, Picaso, Dali, and Degas, to name a few. Given the quality of the works, this would be a good museum, even if they decided to charge $20. Within this complex, they also have rotating exhibitions, the Museum of Art, and the Museum of Coins. They do tend to attract student groups, so you might have to wait a little bit for student groups to clear out before you get to see the art works. Some of the paintings are not covered by that glass/plastic thing, that makes photography hard, so you can get some good photos. Just remember to turn off your flash!

Botero - If Mona Lisa ate too many Big Macs

If Mona Lisa had one too many Big Macs

Shopping is generally not my thing, but after this visit, I wanted a Botero for my souvenir fridge magnet. They have a gift shop on the premise, but it is slightly hard to find. It is behind the Botero museum itself, but still within the same complex. They do take credit cards. Within the complex, they also have a restaurant. I read a couple of blogs about best cafes in Bogota, and seeing the sign for Amor Perfecto coffee, I popped in for a coffee. I got a cappuccino, but I still felt that the coffee was a bit too acidic for my taste (4700 COP).

Cafe Amor Perfecto

Cafe Amor Perfecto

After my hour-long visit at the excellent Botero Museum, I headed towards the San Victorino Transmilenio station. As I walked across the Bolivar Plaza, it was quite a sight! There were protestors on the square. It appears that they are indigenous and non-Spanish people, who came in from other parts of Colombia, to protest inequality in the country. Some of them were also wrapping their own flag on the statue of Bolivar. It was a peaceful protest, but it was really quite a sight.

Protests on Bolivar Plaza - they are wrapping up Bolivar

Protests on Bolivar Plaza

Protests on Bolivar Plaza

Protests on Bolivar Plaza


Hunting for coffee and the Hard Rock Cafe took me to Chapinero, which is supposed to be an upscale neighborhood, with lots of shopping, dining, and drinking establishments. The area where Hard Rock Cafe is (Hard Rock Cafe is in Atlantis Mall, Calle 81) has a bunch of upscale shopping, e.g. Ferragamo, Louis Vutton. Well, I guess souvenir hunting for others has its advantages, since it took me to a different part of town?

After the trip, I walked about 10 blocks to another coffee shop that I read about – Devotion Coffee, which is attached to Hilton Hotel (calle 70, Ave 7). Of the different coffee places that I visited on this trip, I must say that this is my favorite (not to mention, most expensive). They have a number of beans, and they also have seasonal offerings, and these beans can be done in a number of different styles. The coffee menu is fairly self-evident. I tend to prefer my coffee with a chocolatey note, so I went with Toro, the form of a latte (6000 COP). You can also get 2 hours of free wifi, courtesy of Hilton, if you plan to do some work at the cafe.

Nice selection of coffees at Devotion Cafe

Selection of coffees at Cafe Devotion

I got the Toro latte at Devotion Cafe

Toro Latte at Cafe Devotion

Devotion Cafe

Cafe Devotion


So, I read on wikitravel about Ajiaco, which is some thick Colombian soup. After spotting it at this chain restaurant, Sopa De Mama y Postre de Abuela, I decided to try it for dinner (12900 COP). Unfortunately, my eye is bigger than my stomach as always, and I wound up ordering a Parrillada (something like steak/mixed grill, 30900 COP). Ajiaco is this thick chicken soup, which is served with shredded chicken, corn, potatoes, and usually comes with a side of rice and part of an avocado. Being Cantonese, I like the idea of soup. It was a decent soup, but I guess I was hoping for more of an umami rush from it. This can be a meal in itself, though. Parrillada is basically this mixed grill, and this particular one has all sorts of Colombian meats, so chorizo, pork, chicken, steak, served with some baby potatoes, and a side of guacamole. It was pretty decent. I thought the parrillada that I had in Lima, Peru was much tastier, and the steak and sausage that I had in Antigua, Guatemala was much better as well. But hey, for 10 bucks, can’t complain! Ajiaco - A Colombian soup



Buses: 1500 COP + 1800 COP + 1800 COP

Coffee: 4700 COP + 6000 COP

Dinner: 53000 COP

Accommodations: 25 USD

Total: 50 USD

Colombia: Zipaquira, 02 September 2015

Why Zipa? A Salt Cathedral, of course!

Getting to Zipa

Train: Initially, I found out about Zipaquira, a town which is about 50 km from Bogota, when I went through Seat 61, looking for trains in Colombia. While Colombia does not have a functioning railway system, they do have a tourist train, which runs from Bogota to Zipaquira. I was super excited about the prospect of sitting on a steam engine train. Unfortunately, it was not to be. No thanks to my non-existent Spanish, I didn’t see the part on their website, which indicates that the train only runs on Saturdays, Sundays, and Festival Days, and I wasn’t going to be in Bogota on a weekend. Nevertheless, after having found out about the Salt Cathedral (do check out their website – it’s very informative), I decided that I would have to visit it, just because. For what it’s worth, the tourist train is 48000 COP – 52000 COP, depending on the season, and is highly rated on TripAdvisor.

Sabana train station at Zipaquira

Sabana Train Station at Zipa

Bus: Staying at Usaquen made the journey to Zipaquira a lot shorter. I took a bus in front of my hotel, and dropped off at Portal Del Norte (calle 182). The bus to Zipa actually leaves from the Portal Del Norte station, but because I took a local bus, I wound up on the streets running by Portal Del Norte. Nevertheless, the bus conductor will yell out destinations along the street. I heard Zipa, and jumped on. The journey took about 40 minutes, and set me back by 4500 COP each way. Portal del Norte - buses going out of town

Portal Del Norte station for Zipa bus

Salt Cathedral

Getting there: After dropping off at a square in Zipa where there are a bunch of taxis lined up, I decided to walk it, instead of taking a taxi up. The tourism signage in Zipa is very clear, even if it might not be the most direct route to the Salt Cathedral. I suggest following the signs to the Centro Historico, and keep walking up that pedestrian street until you hit the Independence Square, at which point, take a left. The Salt Cathedral is there. When you get to the general entrance of the Salt Cathedral, that’s where the fun begins – stairs. If you don’t want to trek up those stairs, you can always take a mini train trap tram for 4500 COP, which will drop you right in front of the ticket office. Set on a little hill, the Salt Cathedral does offer nice views of the town of Zipa.


Find one of these pedestrian streets and walk up

Independence Square Zipaquira

Turn left on Independence Square for Salt Cathedral (still ~500ft)

Tickets: Tickets for adults are 25000 COP. I tried to use my student card to get a student discount, but the lady was like close, but no cigar. For those who are looking to charge expenses to credit cards, they do accept credit cards at the ticket booth.

Entry + guide: Entry to the Salt Cathedral is by groups, and these groups, accompanied by a (Spanish-speaking) tour guide, leave every 15 minutes or so, and last about 45 minutes. They have English guides 10 am, 12 pm, 2 pm, and 4 pm, but yea, I wasn’t going to wait around for that. Towards the end, I broke off from the group, and just wandered around myself.

Observations: The Salt Cathedral narrates the life of Chris, with 14 different crosses, some carved as standing crosses, and some, shapes of crosses carved into the stone. There are sites for worship, but it is also rather commercialized. Example: There is like a commercial zone in the cathedral, with a cafe. It makes for an interesting day trip, but just temper your expectations. It is rather dark, even with some lights, and I have very poor night vision. If you have vision problems like me, bring a flash light. One of the nice things about the Salt Cathedral is that it is handicap accessible.

Salt Cathedral

Salt Cathedral

Salt Cathedral

Salt Cathedral

Town of Zipa

It is a nice little town. Prices are cheaper than Bogota, so feel free to stop for a lunch. I felt that the town was quite tourist-y, but some of the colonial architecture looks cool. The signage for their tourist sights is clear, so you wouldn’t get lost, and you don’t need a map either.

Getting back from Zipa

I took the same journey back. Buses pretty much just ran in the opposite direction that they came, so I just went back to where I dropped off, and when a guy yelled out Bogota, I boarded the bus back to Bogota for the same fare (4500 COP). The bus terminates at the Portal Del Norte station. One of the annoying things about this is, it traps you in the Transmilenio. I was planning on taking a local bus (1500 COP) back to Usaquen, as the Transmilenio station is 1 mile from my hotel. But you have to tap into the Transmilenio station, making the 1800 COP mandatory. Drop off a bit earlier at 187 Calle if you plan on taking local buses.

Food and Drinks in Bogota

Having been dropped off on the Transmilenio that’s 1 mile from my hotel, I decided to just break up the walk, by popping into a coffee shop. Juan Valdez is a chain store, and they do offer your choice of beans. I got a tall latte that set me back by 5300 COP. Nothing to shout about, but also nothing to complain about. I would probably put it in the same category as Starbucks. The nice thing about them is that they offer free wifi.

Juan Valdas - you can choose your beans

Juan Valdez

I decided to have a nice dinner. Usaquen has quite a lot of options, and I was googling my options, including parrilla and Brazilian rodizio. I was actually walking towards a Colombian parrilla when I got sidetracked, and ended up eating at an El Corral gourmet. El Corral is a Colombian fast food chain, a step up from McDonald’s, but El Corral gourmet is a little more upscale than it. I was attracted by the fact that they accept credit cards, and I was rather keen on charging as much of my expenses to cards as it was possible, to maximize my points. I had a New York strip (38000 COP) with onion rings, and a Club Colombia beer (6000 COP, 4.7%). Although I ordered it medium, it was cooked a little unevenly, so parts of it were closer to medium well, and parts of it was closer to medium rare. I enjoyed it nevertheless. El Corral Gourmet

El Corral Gourmet

Dinner at El Corral gourmet

New York Strip

One of the interesting things to note about credit cards – sometimes, a store might just post a Visa sticker, but generally, they also accept other cards. I paid with my Citibank Prestige, which is a MasterCard, and there were no problems with that.


Buses in Bogota: 1500 COP + 1800 COP (local buses are slightly cheaper than the Transmilenio buses)

Bus to/from Zipa: 9000 COP

Entrance to Salt Cathedral: 25000 COP

Dinner: 47700 COP

Accommodations: 25 USD + 4000 Hilton points

Total: ~ 55 USD

Colombia: You probably need balls of steel for Bogota traffic, 01 September 2015

My first full day in Bogota. My only plan was to go to La Candelaria in Bogota, which is the colonial downtown, with Spanish architecture. After my travel boo boo yesterday, I was in money conservation mode. Based up (far) north in Usaquen, walking is not a feasible option. Thankfully, the Bogota public transport system is awesome.

To plan the bus trip to La Candelaria, I used google maps, which is actually very helpful. What I did not bargain for, was I needed a bus pass to take most of the buses. So, although L80 across the street from my hotel would have brought me straight to La Candelaria, I had to walk to a Transmilenio station that was about 1 mile away. Well, the weather was cool, so a nice walk never hurt anybody. I also saw the awesome designated bike lanes running through the city. Being a biker myself in Seattle, I think that’s really super!

Bogota, Colombia

Bike Lane in BogotaBogota, Colombia

Transmilenio System

At the Transmilenio station, after some mad gesturing, the lady at the booth sold me a card for 2000 COP, and loaded it up with 10000 COP. Trips are 1800 COP each, so I should be good for a while. The Transmilenio system is brilliant, because it runs on its own lane, bypassing all the crazy traffic bottlenecks, and gridlocks that form around Bogota. I think I got to La Candelaria in like 30 min. There are system maps available at the station, and as long as you know where you are going, it should be fairly self-evident which bus you are supposed to be taking.

The heart of Bogota’s tourism, La Candelaria, is truly tourist friendly. While I downloaded a map on my iPad to use, I never actually had to whip it out, because they have very clear signs, and maps at every other junction or so. I had actually planned to visit the Botero museum (free) today, but well, a number of museums are closed on Tuesday, so just my luck.

It was still nice to take in the geography of the heart of Bogota. The streets are really fun to walk around, and because there are changes of elevation, taking pictures either from the foot of the hill or the top of the hill create very spectacular visual effects. The tourist part of town also has many ministries, so there are many government officials, students going about their business. It does give it a nice feeling. Avoid the tourist restaurants, and head towards the restaurants located around the Universidad Libre – there are plenty of bargains. I got a set meal with a starter, main, drink and dessert for 8000 COP (~3 USD), and was stuffed after that. I also got a chicken empanada from one of the stalls (1500 COP, ~0.50 USD) for my dinner later in the evening.

Bogota, Colombia

La CandelariaBogota, Colombia

3 USD set lunch

The Bolivar Plaza is really a sight to behold. It was designed as the center of the city by the Spanish, and today, there are lots of birds. There’re vendors selling bird feed. I later found out it’s because some tourists like to take shots of birds like sitting on their hands feeding.

Bogota, Colombia

Bolivar PlazaBogota, ColombiaBirds, birds, more birds!


Transport: 2000 COP + 3600 COP (Card + 2 trips)

Lunch: 8000 COP

Dinner: 1500 COP

Hotel: 25 USD + 4000 Hilton points

Total: ~30 USD

Cuba, Havana – Colombia, Bogota, 31 August 2015

HavanaMy funky airport transfer

My compliments to Casa Blanca. I arranged for an airport transfer the evening before with the host’s sister, and lo and behold, in the morning, at 5.45 am, I could hear one of the guesthouse’s staff stirring in the living room area. When I got out of my room, he was standing at the balcony staring for a taxi to arrive. That’s dedication right there! (and I get a sense that Cubans don’t like waking up early …. Me neither)

This airport transfer was a little more funky than the one that I took from the airport. From the airport, it was just a regular tourist cab (read: boring new car). The airport transfer to Jose Marti International Airport is an Old Chevy. The driver definitely takes pride in his car. Things like the speedometer stopped working long ago, but the dashboard was still shiny, and well, his car is definitely better maintained than my twelve year old car. The ride to the airport was painless.

Jose Marti International Airport duty free offers all the stuff that you want as souvenirs, cigars, rum etc. if you didn’t do enough shopping while you were in Havana. I didn’t get anything, but if you forgot someone, no reason to panic. They also have an airport lounge – Salon VIP lounge. I am not sure what will get you in there. In any case, I just sat in the main terminal, which has a café serving snacks and more Cuban coffee.

Today is another travel day: HAV – PTY – BOG. I do love how punctual Copa Airlines generally is. The transfer was painless, and anxiety-free, and the flights were lovely. I was given a very substantial and tasty breakfast box on the flight from HAV – PTY.

El Dorado International Airport


Arriving at El Dorado International Airport was a bit of a nightmare, mostly because of the immigration line, which went round the block a few times over. I think it was mostly just the case of bad timing, because when it was finally my turn one hour later, the immigration officers were really efficient, despite the fact that I haven’t filled out any immigration forms. It took less than three minutes to clear immigration. On a bright note, they do offer free wifi, so while you are standing in line, you can always amuse yourself with the interwebs.

Money changing

There is a money-changer at the baggage claim area, and that’s generally where everyone (including myself) stops at, instead of outside the terminal. That is generally not a good idea, mostly because of the wait times. For some reason or other, they require quite a lot of information, e.g. passport, where you are staying, signatures and fingerprints, regardless of the amount that you are paying. This winds up taking quite a while, when there’s a line of people changing money. There are plenty of money-changers outside the secured area.

The rate I got from the money-changer at baggage claim wasn’t great, but it wasn’t terrible either. I got it for 1 USD = 2750 COP. The real rate for the day was 1 USD = 3000 COP, but factoring in that that is never the bank rate, I thought that was ok. The money-changers outside the baggage claim area offered 1 USD = 2760 COP.

Getting to and from El Dorado Airport

Taxi: According to Wikitravel, you should locate a taxi counter, and get them to print out the official taxi rates, and make the taxi driver commit to that. Well, you probably should follow that advice. I made a pretty big mistake there. The moment I got out of the terminal, I was like lamb to the slaughter. And after a ‘guide’ pointed me to an authorized taxi, and told me the rate would be 30000 COP, he asked for a tip. -.- Sigh. Well, I didn’t give him one, mostly because I really didn’t have any change on me.

The ride to Usaquen was long, and traffic a complete madhouse. Bogota traffic is pretty insane. I don’t envy those who have to battle traffic on a daily basis. When I arrived at my hotel, the driver asked me for 40000 COP. At this point, I was too tired to argue over what amounts to 3 USD, so I just let this one go.

Bus: The city of Bogota has quite an awesome bus system. I did not take this option from the airport, but I will be taking this option back to the airport. I am not sure if they have a counter where they sell those contact transit smart cards (2000 COP), but yeah, you need one of those to board most of the express buses. The local minibuses do take cash. Rides around the city are 1800 COP.

After all the traveling for the day, I pretty much just called it a day at the Hampton Inn Usaquen, and decided to catch up on work in my hotel room.


Airport transfer, Havana: 25 CUC

Airport transfer, Bogota: 14.50 USD

Dinner: 6 USD

Accommodations: 25 USD + 4000 Hilton points

Total: 70 USD

Bogota, Colombia

Hampton Inn Usaquen – just joined the Hilton portfolio in late-August 2015

Hola!: Cuba, Colombia, Panama, 26 Aug – 09 Sep 2015

I’ve been hoarding my miles for some time now, and given the constant devaluation of miles, it appears that my dream of a round-the-world reward ticket is out the window. Never fear – that just means I’ll be exploring my neighbors! As a poor graduate student, I’ve also recently jumped onto the sweet bandwagon that’s called miles and points, and putting all my monthly expenditure (yes, that includes rent!) into my credit cards to get some sign-up bonuses. This is definitely paying for quite a bit of my trip! Well, because it’s an award flight, the itinerary is quite sucky. But hey, I get to travel for (almost) free – can’t complain!

26-27 August: Seattle – Los Angeles – Mexico City – Panama City

27 August: Panama City- Havana

28 August: Havana, Cuba

29 August: Havana, Cuba

30 August: Havana, Cuba

31 August: Havana – Panama City – Bogota

01 September: Bogota, Colombia

02 September: Bogota, Colombia

03 September: Bogota, Colombia

04 September: Bogota – Panama City

05 September: Panama City, Panama

06 September: Panama City, Panama

07 September: Panama City, Panama

08 September: Panama City, Panama

09 September: Panama City – Atlanta – San Francisco – Seattle