I’m Going To Colombia!

Oh, shoot, no, I mean I’m going to the Philippines. 😉

In all honesty, I’ve always heard good things about Colombia, and am planning a visit there shortly. A few days ago I wrote about getting a head start on American Executive Platinum status for 2016, and how I’m planning a paid business class trip to Panama City. As I explained at the time, there’s a huge incentive to travel on any “good” deals in the first half of next year rather than the second half, given the upcoming AAdvantage changes.

For example, there are ~$800 business class fares between Los Angeles and Panama City which can be routed creatively. Under the current mileage system, I earn ~33,000 miles for the ticket, while under the new revenue based system I’d earn ~7,000 miles for the ticket.

As a result, I’m trying to get in as many of the “good deal” revenue tickets as I can before the change.

I’ve always been intrigued by Colombia, and have heard that nowadays it’s quite safe and fun to visit.

Fares from Los Angeles to Colombia are only a bit higher than to Panama City, and can be had for under $1,000 roundtrip in business class, with a similarly awesome routing. Here’s an example of the fare:

American-Fare-Colombia

And to put that on a map:

LAXBOG

That’s over 20,000 elite qualifying miles and over 34,000 redeemable miles. That’s a fantastic deal.

In terms of time in Colombia, I was thinking of spending about a week there, and splitting my time between Bogota and Cartagena. The W Bogota looks like a great hotel, and I was going to book four nights there using the Citi Prestige Card fourth night free benefit. Then I was thinking of booking three nights at the Hilton Cartagena, to finally give my Hilton Diamond status a shot.

Flights between Bogota and Cartagena are super cheap — under $100 roundtrip on Avianca or LAN.

Of course I welcome all suggestions in terms of whether I’m crazy for wanting to go to Bogota and Cartagena, which hotels to stay at, and what to do.

Cartagena
Cartagena, Colombia

Bottom line

American’s upcoming AAdvantage changes are really prompting me to take as many “good deal” revenue trips as quickly as I can. This trip seems a lot more fun when I’m earning ~34,000 redeemable miles rather than ~8,000 redeemable miles. At this rate I’ll be requalified for Executive Platinum in the first quarter of 2016.

Anyone else getting as many revenue American flights out of the way as possible early in the year? And any tips/thoughts on Colombia are appreciated!

Comments

  1. Glad to know that you will finally go to Colombia! You will love it. I’ve stayed at the JW Marriott in Bogota and that was great. In cartagena, you should try to stay at hotels within the old city. It’s simply magical. When are you planning to go? It would be cool to meetup with you. I fly regularly to Colombia.

  2. Bogota is nice, but I HIGHLY recommend Medellin. It’s an amazing city to begin with, eternal spring temperatures — depending how long they’re up and when you’re going, their Christmas lights/display is amazing.

    https://www.facebook.com/Colombianos/videos/10152848054711153/?autoplay_reason=all_page_organic_allowed&video_container_type=0&app_id=2392950137&__mref=message

    Most intra-Colombia flights are dirt cheap, and from what I read, they’re even cheaper if they’re booked there (because they charge more for tourists). You might be able to use a travel agent there.

    Cartagena is beautiful and warm — I stayed at the Sofitel (and used the free Accor Platinum status at the time) to get into a 2-story suite with full butler service.

  3. staying at the hilton is not a good idea. try getting a hotel in the “old city” thats where you will be spending most of your time. near beaches in barú or islas del rosario are worth a visit. you can get cheap boats to get you there! theres really so much to do!

  4. Bogota is an awesome city but I wouldn’t do more than 2-3 nights there. Medellin and Cartagena are worth more time. Colombia is a wonderful country with truly outgoing people.

  5. Colombia is so special and outstanding country, what about to try something completely special and… different?

    http://www.varsana.co/

    100% recomended

    P.S. Thanx for your blog. Ive become addicted at once… 🙂

  6. Just returned from a coastal Colombia trip myself.

    Best advice I can give is prepare for the heat. 90+ degrees, 90+% humidity every single day. I spent time in Barranquilla which is far more off the beaten path than Bogota or Cartagena, and felt perfectly safe in most areas.

    Brush up on your Spanish!

  7. Another ENTHUSIASTIC vote for Medellin!

    I lived in Ecuador for 9 months and traveled through Colombia over a couple of weeks via (comfortable, air conditioned) bus. The only major city I didn’t visit was Bogota because everyone told me it was very similar to Quito, where I had been living. So I can’t compare directly to Bogota, however…..

    I absolutely hated Cartagena. I’d spend a week in Medellin, Cali, or Manizales any time. I wouldn’t spend another hour in Categena if you paid me. Compared to other Colombian cities, it was dirty, gritty, inauthentic, overly touristy/little Colombian culture.

    Medellin is modern, beautiful, “cool”. As a regular reader of your blog, I think Medellin would fit you better than any other Colombian city.

    That said, I’d also recommend visiting a coffee farm in the Manizales area. I know you’re a big coffee drinker. If you have a mediocre ability to get around in Spanish (not sure about that), I’d highly recommend taking a tour in Spanish. We were going to take the tour in English, but took it in Spanish at the last minute and our tour guide was absolutely fantastic. So animated and did a great job mixing simple words with body language to explain everything. In Ecuador, I learned to do the Spanish tour when possible — at a famous landmark there, we had taken an English tour at the beginning of our time in Ecuador and a Spanish tour at the same place near the end of our time there. The Spanish language tour was so much more detailed and interesting! That makes sense of course….but like I said, at the coffee plantation that I visited, the tour in Spanish was easy to understand if you had a mid-level ability to understand Spanish. As a coffee lover, I imagine you’d find it fun. I also imagine you’ve probably been to a coffee farm before — so maybe it won’t attract you, but we really enjoyed it.

    And by the way, you’re right. Safe, fun, welcoming. When I was there a few years back, the marketing campaign was, “Colombia — the biggest danger is not wanting to leave!” or something like that. People were so outgoingly friendly everywhere we went. The Salsa clubs in Cali were fun, too — but perhaps not your thing.

    Medellin, though, was fantastic. It would be a shame to go to Colombia and miss it.

    What I wouldn’t give for a bandeja paisa right now…I’m jealous.

    Enjoy the trip!

  8. I’m no fan of the upcoming AAdvantage changes, but isn’t this sortof case in point, from AA’s perspective, as to why they’re changing mileage earning to reflect dollars spent, instead of miles flown?

  9. Colombia is awesome. I would definitely try to hop to Medellin for a week too. Although Bogota is a nice city, it can get a little overwhelming like all big cities in Latam. In Cartagena (hotel santa clara) try to stay on the city center, and you must go to Islas del Rosario (hotel San pedro de Majagua is the best place to stay) .
    Enjoy my country!

  10. They’re both great. Haven’t been to Medellin but I’ve heard nice things. While in bogota try to go to Andres Carnes de Res for dinner. There’s one in the city but the better one is the original in Chia, outside of the city. It’s an experience you won’t forget. Cartagena is ok the beaches there and on the surrounding islands aren’t great. The best beaches I’ve seen in Colombia are in Tayrona Park near Santa Marta. Worth it if you like beaches. Cartagena is quaint and historic but not much to do after a day or two.
    Now- finish your trip report on the Etihad A380 inaugural!!

  11. Over Memorial Day 2015 my fiancee and I flew DEN-PTY-CTG-BOG. Spent two nights in CTG at the Sofitel Santa Clara. I know that would prevent you from trying out DIA status at the Hilton, but what an amazing hotel that you can consider. While in CTG try the gin bar, Agua de Mar. Drinks served in the same style of glasses you enjoyed in Spain with a variety of gins and tonics to try. Amazing.

    We stayed at the W in BOG and loved it. That is a bustling and beautiful city. Head up to Mount Monserrate to see the views of the endless city and enjoy some piece and quiet above the hustle.

    Safe travels!

  12. well so what’s the point of status? so few miles can be earned and increased award miles, so both are kinda ‘revenue based’? consider how much you need to spend to earn 220k miles for F to Asia? around $15k to $18k?

  13. New year means I’m on a new team at work, one with a large presence in Cali…I’ll be headed there probably in Feb, these cheap fares make it much easier to get there now. Thanks for the heads-up!

  14. I was forced into staying at the Hilton a few years ago on a visit to Cartegena. Its one of the most joyless soulless hotels in the city when compared to whats available. (And the location is terrible)

  15. Did a family trip to Colombia last year. We did Bogota & Cartagena, and while we all had a great time (minus a little issue with the first house we rented in Cartagena), if I could do it over again, I would probably go to Medellin over Cartagena (given the input from friends and family who have visited both cities). Cartagena, and specifically Bocagrande (little peninsula where the Hilton is located), are a mini version of South Beach in Miami.

    The Hilton Cartagena is nice, great pool complex (but also very family oriented, so lots of kids). The beach is probably as good as it gets in the area, but don’t think white sandy beach just because it’s on the Caribbean. The hotel is not really walking distance to any of the restaurants in Bocagrande, but the cabs are cheap & efficient (cash). When we were there, Uber had not officially offered service in the area, but had drivers in from Barranquilla for New Years.

  16. @ DJ — Agree with that, but ultimately the benefit of status under a revenue based system isn’t the redeemable miles you earn, but rather status perks (upgrades, fee waivers, etc.). I’ll continue to earn most of my miles through credit cards and bonus offers.

  17. @ Sam — More easily than ever before. They’ve making it easier than before to qualify for status. It just won’t be as rewarding.

  18. In Cartagena, ditch the chain hotels and stay within the old city.. eat a long lazy lunch at La Vitrola (reservations required) – one of the best restaurants anywhere (their octopus carpaccio is to die for!). The good beaches are outside of Cartagena. 4 days is too many for Bogota. Nevertheless, Bogota has a great gay community / nightlife – many charming cafes and bars. And of course there is Theatron – the biggest club in all of South America – and definitely worth a weekend visit just because there is probably nothing like it anywhere in the world.

  19. I highly recommend Andrés Carne de Res in Chía (~1 hr) outside of Bogotá. Hire a driver and make sure you have at least 3 hours there. It will be unforgettable!

  20. There’s nothing crazy about going to Colombia. We went in 2010 and it was nice & seemed safe. Wish we had more time in Bogota. I think Cartagena is overrated but it is fun place to just wander around. Also very good ceviche. We also went to the Amazon which was amazing. Flew Aires to Leticia then spent a couple of nights at a place a few hours down the river.

  21. you’ll have a great time…. wish I was visiting again soon…my better half is returning over xmas hols.
    cartagena has great sunset views over the ocean… tip: there is an outdoor cafe bar up on the old city walls where you can sit and watch that. Sofitel Cartagena is simply the best hotel there. absolutely amazing in every respect. would be one of my top 5 hotels worldwide.

    definitely go eat at some of the great restaurants too. some high end places in bogota and cartagena that are extremely good value. El Cielo for example, with it’s 15 course “moments” menu. Might help after enduring AA biz instead of Emirates First. Click Clack hotel in Bogota has a nice rooftop restaurant too, casual burger type but very cool. worth a visit.

    For Bogota Zona Rosa and Zona G are both good and very safe. There is a new four seasons where the old casa medina in zona g was. might be open in time for you’re trip. the property is brilliant and surrounded by great restaurants and cafes although zona rosa as a location is nearer all the shops and bars. I tried plenty of hotels in bogota including hilton, sofitel, casa medina and if the service in casa medina were better ie. four seasons standard then i’d go for that. otherwise the sofitel suites were very nice and have lovely balconies and that would be probably my next bet, not having tried the W.

    the queues at bogota airport for taxis can be crazy at busy times..hotel cars can be very worthwhile!

    have fun!

  22. Why not take a trip over to Caracas while you’re in Colombia? Maybe even Valencia?
    See where Simon Bolivar lived, and the location of some famous battles!

    But…. bring your own toilet paper 😉

  23. Just came back from Colombia. Went to Bogota (stayed at the W and had an amazing suite upgrade with my platinum status and very good full breakfast). Be ready for the traffic in Bogota…it is overwhelming.
    Also went to Cartagena…my advice is not to stay at the Hilton, but at a small Boutique Hotel INSIDE the old city. We stayed at the Tcherassi hotel (only 7 rooms) and it was amazing. Santa Clara would be nice too.
    Last but not least I know you are a coffee fan. We spent 3 days at the coffee triangle cities of Pereira, Manizales and Armenia. There are great coffee farms (haciendas) that you can tour and they will organize coffe tastings for you (We went to hacienda San Alberto, which they claim is the most internationally prized Colombian coffee.

  24. Colombia was my 74th country. Have been wanting to go for a long time now! It was great and the people were quite nice. It’s true it’s much safer than it used to be but that doesn’t mean it’s safe. In fact, Cartagena ended up being the first place I had ever been mugged. Four men with knives came after my friend and I while in Cartagena. After that we were much more aware and ended up hearing lots of stories.
    Be extra cautious. A beautiful country but one I would not want to travel solo in and one in which you never want to have any valuables on yourself.

  25. Following up on @DJ and your response, Ben, if travelling mostly in premium cabins, you’re getting most all of the benefits of status anyway so it’s rather pointless. Sure, some fee waivers but you’d more than pay for such with expending time and dollars just to get status.

  26. Second two things people have said here:

    1, you must go to Medellin, it’s such a bustling city and so beautiful.
    2, don’t both with the Hilton in Cartagena. You can find a ton of cute BnB type places with tons of charm. We stayed at a small hotel called Hotel Casa Gloria in the walled city. It was convenient to most everything and the proprietor was so sweet. It’s definitely not what you’re used to but it’s a much more authentic (and IMO worthwhile) experience.

    I went with my boyfriend who speaks Spanish and we both felt very safe. Colombians are genuinely kind, gregarious people. You’ll have a blast!

  27. As many others have commented, try and stay within the old walled city. We didn’t, stayed at the Hampton Inn, which had a great rate and was fine for what it is, a newer, clean and well managed hotel, but if we did it over, and I hope to be back someday, staying within the old city is best. Be sure to check out the Getsemaní neighborhood.

  28. The new Four Seasons in Bogota (well, one of the new Four Seasons — there’s one opening in 2016, too) looks sensational — more masculine and clubby and chic and not at all cookie-cutter. Rates also seem shockingly low there, so I’d consider that if you can get the fourth night free.

  29. I’ll be in Cartagena on Jan 9 as part of a cruise. That will be my first time there, raising my total country count to 55.

    Aside, I was 53 last year (54 now), and I hit my 54th country (Iceland), which means for the first time since I was a toddler, I had visited more countries than my age. I plan on keeping that up, so this trip to Columbia is timely!

  30. I just look forward to a new flight review, hotel review and destination. I can only dream of your life! I wish here in the UK we had such good offers on credit cards etc

  31. Hi Lucky
    We met briefly in Chicago (I’m the guy who found 6 FC seats to Sydney). My wife is from Medellin and it’s a beautiful city. The weather, gardens and Christmas lights displays are awesome. We’ve vacationed in Cartegena and loved it (stayed at Las Americas). Bogota was not my cup of tea due to altitude and weather, but the gold museum is pretty awesome. We’ve stayed at 4 points MDE (Cat 2) and enjoyed it. In Bogota, we were in an apartment, so I don’t have a hotel recommendation for you there. Email me if you have any specific questions. Also good to catch a soccer game if you can – my mother in law lives walking distance from the major stadium in MDE.

  32. i couldnt get this routing or price to come up on the american website.
    how do you make it route creatively ??
    the lowest business price i saw was closer to 1800 round trip instead of 800

  33. …agree with all the previous comments regarding Cartagena hotel choice: inside the old city walls is the best experience. And looking at that PNR, you’ve got a nasty stopover at JFK (midnight to 5am – hope the lounge is open or else you’re hosed, and another long (12 hour) stopover in MIA….that one you can at least sip mojitos on Lincoln Road. I guess the main goal is earning points on a routing like that, because otherwise nobody in their right might would travel from LAX to Colombia with a NY and MIA stopover…

  34. I’m headed to COL also soon, in fact just booked my UA Award tix. Going with Econ+ for 20k miles ea/way to BOG; available Saver Biz award options were not what I was hoping for. hopefully I will at least receive a CPU on the domestic legs…

    on this trip I’ll be headed first to Baranquilla for 3 days to experience Carnaval for the first time, then spend rest of trip in Villa de Leyva, 3hrs by car N. of BOG in Boyaca’ province.

    Enjoy your trip Lucky! def take up the recommendations above to hit up the islands outside of Cartagena.

  35. Lucky- please do make a trip to Andres Carne de Res if in Bogota for the weekend- its about a 30 minute drive but a lot of fun!! You will not regret it- fridays or saturdays are best!!

  36. You will really enjoy! Absolutely safe, clean, beautiful.. And very courteous people!
    As many of you already said, Medellin is wonderful too..

    @ Legoboyvdlp – What an irresponsible piece of advice! you really want people to go to Venezuela as it is right now?? I’ll do whatever it is on my hands to avoid people to know my country at the moment cause’ i’m sure they’ll never come back!

  37. 2 places to not miss:

    Andres Carne de Res 45 minutes outside of Bogota. You have to arrange for a driver to wait for you or the have taxis that will take you back. One of the most fun places I have ever been to. And the food is great too. Dont go to the ones in the city (they have several). The one outside Bogota is the best.

    In Cartagena dont miss Havana Club. Live cuban, salsa music, great mojitos and lots of people. Is in the Getsemani neighborhood outside the walled city. A good restaurant onside the walled city is La Vitrola, a favorite of Nobel prized winner Gabriel Garcia Marquez.

  38. Hello from Catagena! Happy to hear you’re visiting my country! As others have already mentioned, I would stay away from the Hilton – just attended a wedding there this past weekend and the hotel feels straight out of 1989. Cartagena’s charm is its old city so try to find a hotel either in the walled city (Santa Clara or Santa Teresa are great options and since they are part of mayor chains, might be more appealing to you than the smaller – but also wonderful- boutique hotels that) or in the Getsemaní neighborhoods. For great upscale dining try Harry,s Sasson in the Santa Teresa’s hotel Patio. Amazing local sea food and flavors in a wonderful colonial atmosphere. Avoid the beach in Cartagena, you’ll be dissapointed and shocket at how un-caribbean it is! Instead head out to the Rosario Islands or Barú – you can buy day passes to islands owned by hotels including lunch and drinks (san pedro de majagua by Santa Clara / Decameron in Barú) or rent out a boat for the day (around 350-500 Dollars). Bogotá is a fun and lively albeit chaotic city. The W is a new hotel, with a good location (a bit off the typical touristy places) and has a nice bar with excellent gin tonics (all tonics are mixed in house), where locals and the ocassional international celebrity hang out. Don’t waste time trying to understand the local oublic transportation system, and don’t use the hotel’s taxis (twice as expensive) – Uber works like a charm, and it’s very reasonably priced! Have fun!

  39. Just make sure you try arepas with cheese, ajiaco (possibly the best soup on earth) and fritters from Cartagena and Cali. And to keep in shape, plenty of salsa and zumba (invented there) dancing

  40. I highly recommend the Santa Clara hotel in Cartagena. It’s the best hotel and is located in the old city, where you’ll probably be spending most of your time. the Hilton is pretty old and not where you would want it to be. Go to the Santa Clara, you wont regret it.

  41. Nick. You have to put the cities in one at a time. It won’t come up searching using the roundtrip tool. Use the multicity tool on aa.com.

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