It was not that long ago that Bogota was a city off limits to most people. In fact today only the travel savvy consider visiting Colombia’s capital, knowing that the dangerous days are long gone and a modern, cultural and invigorating city awaits those willing to venture there.
I reached Bogota on an overnight bus from Salento, an 8 hour ride accross mountains and valleys that offers spectacular views during the day. In fact most travelers choose this option, but if time is an issue or you’ve already had your share of bus riding in Colombia it really doesn’t matter that much.
I must admit that I didn’t expect Bogota to be as clean, modern, historical and visitor friendly as it is. Many of the buildings have nothing to do with the un-classy concrete structures that abound in so many large South America cities. People walk comfortably anywhere and everywhere, oblivious to the pick- pocketers, assaults and theft most people in the world believe is present. I was happy to see many backpackers were also enjoying the city’s splendor, pulling out maps or asking questions to anyone knowing that Bogotanos (not Bogoteños) are happy and helpful people willing to make life easy on visitors.
I saw plenty of hotels and some pensions, but cannot say much about accommodation because I stayed at the house of a freind’s friend: Wolf, a cool, happy go lucky guy from Cali who had recently moved to Bogota.
It is relatively easy to move inside the city, both walking or by bus. However, although buses do go everywhere in the city, the system is quite confusing and I strongly recommend you ask for the correct bus number that will take you to your destination.
Armed with a good map (free in any hotel), my Nikon D90 and some water I made my way to the “centro historico” (historical center) and straight to the tourist info site. These well organize sites have all the information you need AND give free guided tours of Bogota’s historical center. Try beating that!
The tours are given by military personnel who offer their time for free. They last about one hour and take you around the main historical buildings in the area and inform about nearby museums (some free like the coin museum or that of well known painter Botero) to be visited. It’s a very interesting walk and one I highly recommend; it is a free opportunity not to be missed.
During the tour I met Adriana, a Venezuelan who was visiting the city while her friend was doing some business. Once the tour was over we visited the free museums and shared a cab to the cable car where we met her male friends and visited Monserrate (a basilica set on Moserrate hill that overlooks Bogota) while enjoying beautiful views of the sunset.
They decided to enjoy dinner at a great restaurant there is, but it was out of my budget and I made my way back down. The breathtaking views confirmed that Bogota is one of the finest cities in South America and should be at the top of any traveler’s list.
That night I had a great dinner with Wolf and we went to sleep right after because he had to work the following day and I would be visiting the world’s only salt cathedral (read my post on the Catedral de Sal in Zipaquira) and make my way to one of Colombia’s most popular yet charming villages (read Villa de Leyva).
I have to say that Bogota has been one of the most gratifying surprises of my travels around the world. Despite knowing that the days of theft, violence and decadence were long gone I had never expected to find such a modern, safe, historical and easy going city. Sure, I did not venture into the streets during the wee hours of the morning, but why would I take any unnecessary risks and leave with any other feeling?
There’s plenty to visit during the day, sunset from the Cerro de Monserrate is awesome, nightlife is vibrant and Bogoteños are superb and friendly people…what else can you ask for? Make sure you give yourself a few days to spend in Bogota when visitng Colombia!
Have you been in Bogota? Were you as surprised as I was to find such a cool city? Share your thoughts, and this post too if you liked it!