I’ve made no secret of the fact that I find Bogota a stressful city to live in; as is the case for many cities, it’s busy, noisy and polluted. I’d therefore been looking forward to a break for months, and last week we finally decided to spend a couple of days in Paipa, Boyacá. We took a bus there from Portal Norte, just outside the TransMilenio station. A word of advice: it’s a better idea to go from the main bus terminal at Diagonal 23 No. 69 – 55 (Salitre), where the buses start their journey, as many of the buses leaving Bogota were already full by the time they reached the Portal Norte in the north, and there were scenes of chaos as people stampeded towards buses as they approached and pushed and shoved to get on! Next time we’ll definitely be going from the main bus terminal!
The three hour journey to Paipa was uneventful with pretty scenery along the way. Paipa is a small, quaint little town, but you wouldn’t go there for the town in itself – it’s cute but it doesn’t have a lot to offer; we checked into the Hotel Estelar which lies right next to the Sochagota lake, and is surrounded by green hills, woods and fields. This was about a 10 minute taxi ride from the centre of town; we considered walking there from town but as we weren’t sure about the condition of the roads, we decided not to risk it. This was a wise decision, as I believe that the walk would have taken somewhat longer than the 44 minutes predicted by Google Maps – more than an hour, I’d predict – and the sun was beating down. Take a 10-minute taxi ride for 8000 pesos!
We’d considered doing some day tours to the landmarks close to Paipa, such as the hot spring baths, the Pantano de Vargas, a monument commemorating the Vargas Swamp Battle, and the Pueblo Boyacense, a small town in the typical style of Boyacá. In the end though, we stayed within the grounds of the hotel. The hot tubs at the hotel contained water from the hot springs, so there was really no reason to go anywhere else for that; and we were enjoying such a relaxing time at the hotel that we didn’t want to leave, especially as we were only there for two nights. We took a peddle-boat out onto the Sochagota lake (directly accessible from the hotel grounds), which was nice, in spite of being given a boat which wouldn’t steer to the left..! (If you go to the hotel, choose the yellow peddle boat and not the blue one!). The hotel also offered kayaking, water-skiing, boat-trips on the lake, horse-riding, bicycle rental (though I wouldn’t recommend that as there aren’t any proper cycle paths in the hotel grounds – it’s nicer to walk!) and a small area to practise your golf swings! The horses roamed in the fields, which was a lovely touch, and there was a play area with a trampoline for children.
For us, I think we would have preferred a hotel which was aimed more at couples than families, as the swimming pool was often full of children playing, which was lovely for them but not ideal for couples just wanting a relaxing swim! We would definitely go back to the Hotel Estelar when we have a family though, as there were so many activities for children.
The grounds of the hotel are quite expansive, and we went on a lovely walk through the fields and woods, which took us about an hour. You’ll see butterflies and dragonflies, and we didn’t notice any mosquitoes, which was a plus! I’d recommend wearing trousers though as the grass and shrubs can be quite high – and also bring some hay-fever medication with you if you’re a sufferer! I used to suffer from hay-fever in London but have never had any problems in Bogota; in Boyacá though I had a bit of a flare-up, I think because of the sudden exposure to so many pollen-emitting plants!
As our main aim was to relax and enjoy the hotel’s facilities and surroundings, we booked a couple of massages at the hotel spa (followed by a session in the steam room and sauna!). The chocolate ritual was quite an experience, very enjoyable but it’s less of a massage and more of a skin treatment/exfoliation. The experience was something different, which I liked, although I’ve had better massages. My boyfriend had the hot stone massage, which he said was good. I think 120,000 pesos each was fairly reasonable for 55 minutes, and we were able to have our treatments in the same room.
The staff at the hotel were always kind and helpful, and the room was comfortable, a nice temperature and quiet. Although the hotel is given a 5-star rating on Bookings.com, by international standards I’d say it’s more of a 3.5-star hotel; it’s isn’t luxurious, but it is very comfortable, clean and has plenty to offer in the form of activities and facilities.
The hotel restaurant offered a wide selection of dishes (including vegetarian, although these were mostly tofu-based, which I’m not a fan of!), but it was expensive by Colombian standards; most main courses cost between 25,000 – 35,000 pesos, which will sound cheap to Europeans/Americans but is expensive if you compare it to other typical restaurants in Colombia.
A taxi to or from the hotel into town costs 8000 pesos, and unless you have a car it is the only option really, which is why most people stay within the hotel grounds, and dine at the restaurant there.
If you’re just looking to get out of Bogota for some rest, relaxation, fresh air and picturesque surroundings, without having to make too much of an effort to find things to do, Hotel Estelar is a nice option, but rather on the expensive side. It is, however, a great option for families. I think next time we might try one of the Haciendas in Paipa for something a bit smaller scale and more suited to couples.
Living in Bogota can be tiring and stressful, but the great thing is that beauty and tranquillity are only ever a few hours away by bus or plane! I was really eager to visit Boyacá as it is known for its natural beauty, and it didn’t let me down! Next time we go to Boyacá, I think we’ll be visiting the famous Villa de Leyva, which everyone says is lovely!