Monthly Archives: May 2010

4 days in Bogota

I’ll be the first to admit it:  Bogotá was not high on my list of ‘places to visit’, but Colombia’s capital city is a study in contrasts.  On one side there is the ultra-modern skyscrapers and modern architecture.  On the other side, there are wide, colonial, pedestrian-only plazas dripping with sun and shade trees.  Couples cuddle up on benches while kids chase birds on the pavement. If I didn’t know any better, I’d never associate what I’ve experienced in the last few days with the gritty, drug-infested crime haven.  Instead Bogotá is as safe as any other city of nearly 10 million people. It’s leaders are forward-thinking and global adventurers definitely have the city on their radar.

If you only have 2 days in Bogotá, know that it’s not enough, but there are some sights need to experience.

Bogotá has a rich colonial history, but is focusing on the future; it is a fascinating place to be right now. And it’s much bigger than you might think!  The city dwarfs most American and European cities.

Know before you go

  • FlightsAvianca Airlines provides some of the best direct flight options into Bogotá from the US and Europe.
  • Getting to Town: El Dorado Airport is about nine miles west of the city center. You can grab an official airport taxi (yellow and white) for the quickest ride into town– taking around 30 minutes and costing around 15,000 Colombian pesos (about $6 USD). The airport is also served by public transportation, but unless you know exactly where you are going, I’d save the public transport for the return
  • Language: The official language is Spanish.
  • Currency: 1 USD, = about 2500 COP
  • Credit Cards and Banks: Credit cards are widely accepted throughout Bogotá, but I’d recommend taking out cash from local ATM’s if you plan to so some shopping in the markets. For safety, be sure to use a secure ATM located inside a bank.  This applies to just about anywhere.
  • Climate: March is the hottest month in  Bogotá with an average temperature around 70°F and the coldest is December at 55°F. The climate is very warm and tropical, with a rainy season from May to November, and October wettest on average.

Day One in Bogotá

For your first day in Bogotá, I’d recommend sticking to one area in order to make the most of your time here and that area is La Candelaria–a neighborhood that has most of the museums and interesting architecture.  La Canderlaria is what would be considered ‘old town’ in most other cities. Stay in this neighborhood the entire day [some think it’s sketchy at night, but I stayed in this neighborhood and had no problems.  Of course, when I travel solo, I’m almost always in my room by 9p, and this was no expection]

The Gold Museum

Everyone knows that I am a history nerd and while I did my senior thesis on Mayan Art and Architecture, I studied a lot of Pre-Columbian art and architecture.   So for my fellow history nerds out there, this museum is history come to life.  It has been existence for 80+ years and is one of the better museums not focusing on art.  The museum is probably Colombia’s most visited museum and has more than 55,000 gold artifacts from Pre-Columbian days.  The guides do an excellent job of not only explaining the history and evolution, but where the artifacts were found and what they represent.   Rather than focusing exclusively on gold [which I imagine could get quite boring], it focused on metallurgy as a component of mankind’s evolution.  The detail to which the guides get in can be pretty intense, but even if you are here for the bling, there’s something for everyone.  Oh, and it’s heavily guarded; it’s easily the safest place in Colombia.

 

Eat Lunch at La Puerta Falsa

One you’ve worked up an appetite, grab some traditional Colombian fare at La Puerta Falsa. The restaurant was established has in 1816 and is one of the most famous, authentic places to eat in Bogotá. The name of the restaurant translates to ‘the false door’ and it’s so-named because the church across the street once had fake exterior doors built to throw off any potential attacks on the city. The place is tiny and so is the menu, but it’s full of history and traditional charm. There are only two items on the lunch menu: tamales or ajiaco soup. I definitely recommend the ajiaco.

If you know me, you know that I love soup! And Ajiaco is a very Colombia dish which is essentially chicken broth, potatoes, avocado, and corn.

The Botero Museum

After lunch, head over to the Botero Museum which features the art of Colombia native, Fernando Botero.  Even if you aren’t big on ‘fancy art’, you should still check out the Botero Museum.  Botero’s art consist of paintings and sculpture, but the uniting theme of of all his subject  is their size.  You see, Botero is known for his, ummmm, shall we say, curvy models.

A Botero sculpture….They seem happy and in love, don’t they?

 

I think we can all relate to this one at times

Take a free walking tour

After checking out the museums, it’s time to be outside [if the weather is cooperating].  Like many cities, Bogotá  has free walking tours.[They even have themed tours:  graffiti tours, coffee tours, historic tours, ect...] If you’re short on time or want an easy way to see the key attractions and important sites, a free walking tour is the answer. Sign up with a group, or create your own route and go alone. The main touristy spots are pretty safe during the day.

Going the independent route has some key advantages, mainly being able to stop where you want, when you want.  Should a food vendor entice you, no worries, stop for a little snack. La Candelaria is easily the best neighborhood for exploring, either on your own or with a group. The ‘hood blends Spanish colonial, art deco and Baroque architecture and there’s a vendor on nearly every corner.

Grilled corn on the cob is seriously the best thing ever

 

More snacks!

 

The colonial cobblestones in La Candelaria

 

Plaza de Bolivar

La Plaza de Bolivar is one of Bogotá’s most iconic sites.  It is surrounded by incredible architecture and is a favorite among nearly everyone.  Including the birds.  The 1000’s of birds that descend on the square looking for free handouts.  Feed them or not, but it’s nearly impossible to avoid the birds.

Even Simon Bolivar can’t escape the birds

 

 Day Two

On your second day, be sure to climb to the top of the city and mix with the locals for insight into life in Colombia’s capital!

Monserrate

No matter where you are in the city, you can see the iconic Monserrate Mountain. A Colombian spiritual and cultural symbol, this must-see attraction is something you’ll want to spend the morning taking in. Ride the funicular or the cable car up the mountain for a panoramic view of Bogotá and beyond.

Cerro de Monserrate rises majestically from Bogotá’s downtown area and dominates the city’s landscape at a height of over 3,000 metres. Going to the top for a view over the sprawling urban jungle below is one of the best things to do in Bogotá.

Depending on the time of day, you can either ride the funicular railway to the top or take the ‘teleférico’ (cable car), which is what I did. Apparently, the cable car offers better views.

The cable car operates from Monday to Sunday  and costs up to 20,000 COP (£5) for a return journey – but it’s cheaper on Sundays. The funicular railway runs from Tuesday to Sunday and costs the same, and is open on holidays, unlike the cable car. Of course, you can also tackle the one-hour hike to the top if you’re feeling energetic (I wasn’t).

Look out for pilgrims crawling up on their knees!

Do you have 3 or 4 days?  You can add on these amazing experiences.  4 days is still not enough time to experience Bogota, but it certainly is a good start

Beginning in Bogotá

Ok, I’ll admit it: I was not enthusiastic when my flight to Maricaibo was canceled and Bogotá became my first stop in South America. I  planned to skipped the Colombian capital altogether and I was not at all excited to visit Bogotá.  In hindsight, Bogotá most definitely was a better [and probably safer] introduction to South America than Maricaibo.

La Candelaria, Bogota

My original plans were to skip Bogotá because I had read so many horror stories of muggings and I hadn’t found any articles in which people were raving about the city. It seemed like most people were rushing through Bogotá, hitting up the most important museums, using it as a transit stop and moving on quickly to the next place, whatever that place may be.

Part of the reason for choosing South America was that, in theory, I speak Spanish fluently, or at least I did 10 years ago. I’m feeling a little isolated since I am trying to not speak English unless it is absolutely necessary, but today that changed. Not that I magically became fluent overnight, but it is coming back to me, especially if the person with whom I am speaking speaks slowly (for Spanish).

For example, today I took the Transmileno to the other side of Bogotá for no reason than to see another part of the city.

transmilenio bogota
Bogotá Transport

On the return trip, I had conversation with an elderly gentleman who sat next to me. It was nothing serious, weather, I’m new in town, ect, but it was a chance to practice Spanish with someone who didn’t speak crazy fast. I’m feeling a little more confident. After successfully ordering lunch [3 courses $5500 COP ~3.25], I stopped in the frutería. Fruiteria = a store only for fruit… these are some of the things I love about being away–I’d never get that in the USA. I only wanted to get a few snacks for the road, but I was talked into a fruit salad. Nothing like I’ve ever had. It included mango, papaya, pear, banana, and a couple other fruits I have never seen before. Before leaving, I ask the fruit man Que es esto? esto y esto, and very patiently he shows me all the fruits in the store, both in the natural state and the cut up state. So while my fruit salad was only slightly less than lunch, the education about fruit was worth the $2.75 price tag.

fruit salad bogota

Bogotá is a city of more than 8 million people, and I am not a big-city person, but as if often the case, big cities are full of fascinating history and people.  I arrived at El Dorado airport at 2a, a full one day + 18 hours after my intended arrival time.  I just wanted to get into a bed as quickly as possible.  So I took a taxi, which I hate, to my hostel in Candelaria, where I promptly crashed for a few hours.

The next morning, I started to explore the city, and I noticed two things right away: the altitude [O.M.G breathing is so hard] and the thick layer of gray clouds that hover over the city on most days. The altitude – Bogotá sits at 8,675 feet caused me to huff and puff my way up and down Candelaria’s steep streets like a chain-smoking asthmatic; I never got used to it during my two weeks in the city. Bogotá is not exactly warm;  I can see why it’s off the radar with most travelers – especially when you were coming from sea level, tropical temperatures and perfect weather.

I joined a few of the free walking tours during  my stay; they are excellent for getting bearings straight in a new city, finding out a few more details about the city, places to hit up, and adressing safety concerns.  They are also good for traveling by yourself but having saftey in numbers.

candelaria

Bogotá blew my mind as an interesting destination and I was always a little bit happy when I had to return to the city for various reasons. Stay tuned for more posts about Bogotá, and how it beyond exceeded my expectations and really got me excited for traveling again.