In my last post I mentioned we were country hopping over the summer. Before heading to Ecuador, we made a short stop at Colombia.
I have decided to write this post in two parts. This is the first part where I will be giving tips and ideas on how you can spend a day in the colorful, eclectic city of Bogotá, the Colombian capital.
A lot of people choose not to spend time here. While one day is not nearly enough to delve deep into the history of the place, you can pick activities that will give you an essence. I am glad we took time to explore this beautiful place.
It’s an excellent (and cheap) stopover city if you’re heading to other parts of South America like Ecuador or Peru. The best part is that you can hit all the key spots in a day or two.
Sunset views at Monserrate Mountain
Visiting Bolivar Square
Strolling the streets of La Candelaria
Best time to visit
From June to September - when the temperatures are mild. Their busiest period starts from July when the U.S. and Europe enjoy time off from school but the temperatures are slightly higher too. Avoid the rainy December season.
Flights and Visa
We chose to fly with Avianca within South America. The flights were spacious, with good in-flight entertainment and courteous service.
Visa on arrival for Indians who hold a valid USA visa. Just carry your return ticket with you for immigration purposes.
Spanish is the official language in all Central and South American countries. Mr. A and I are quick to learn languages. We enjoyed learning a few useful Spanish words. Buenos Dias (good morning), adios (bye), hola (hello or hi), Si (yes), cuanto (how much), salida (exit), entrada (entrance), caliente leche (hot milk) and numbers from 1 to 10.
Travel and Medical Insurance, Currency
Travel Insurance is always recommended. Colombian Peso (COP) is the official currency. Note: they don't accept any other currency in the country, so be sure to carry enough cash in local currency.
Where we stayed
We stayed at the sustainable Biohotel Organic Suites in Bogotá. The room was was spacious and beautifully designed.
I chose this hotel for it's eco-friendly operations. They are powered by solar energy with water-saving systems and even have a vegetable garden using vertical agriculture.
The breakfast spread was good with fresh bread, cheese, yogurt, fruits and pastries and of course, amazing Colombian coffee.
Pro tip: I would recommend saving yourself the trouble of haggling for a cab at the airport. When you book your hotel, make sure you ask for a pickup service from the airport. It should cost no more than $25 to get to the city.
Cost and getting around
Like anywhere in South America, taxis are cheap. However, given the situation in the country - taxis can be risky. I have read that taxis are pretty safe in Colombia, but our driver warned us against flagging a cab on the street. Apparently, you could be driven to ATMs, and be made to withdraw large sums of money.
PRO TIP: Stick to UBER or hotel taxis to get around town
There is lot of preconceived notions about Bogotá. Drug wars, gangs, violence and overall sense of the city being "unsafe".
To be honest, we didn't feel particularly safe while roaming the streets without our driver guiding us but I felt that the government has realized the issues with the rise of tourism.
Yes, there were drunk people on the streets but there were also cops on every corner. If you are naive, you will be easy prey so be mindful of your belongings at all points of time. Stay clear of dicey looking streets after 8 p.m. That being said, if safety is your main concern, you are better off avoiding Bogotá altogether.
Since we just had one day, we could not try all the delicious fruits. We managed to grab dinner at a vegan cafe Caballete & Berenjena just around the corner from our hotel. bow
We tried the smoothies, the burgers and nachos. It was seriously good food.
What to pack
We traveled in June so the days were bright and sunny. So bring sunscreen, caps/hats, and sun glasses. I would recommend packing a rain jacket and a light cardigan to keep you warm if you are planning to take trips outside of Bogotá.
We love walking around the city, no matter where we go. However, we made an exception in Bogotá because of safety issues. We spoke to the hotel folks and arranged for a driver to drive us around town for around 6 hours.
After a late lunch, we headed up Monserrate Mountain.
You can see this mountain from pretty much anywhere in the city. At over 3,000 meters, the mountain is an important religious symbol of Bogotá with a 17th Century church and monastery built on top.
I loved how GREEN the surroundings were. It was like being in a real rain forest.
The best way to get up is by taking the funicular or cable car up to the view point.
Once here, you will be blown away by the size of the city below you. With certain parts of the city hidden, you can tell that this is a surprisingly huge city.
Don't miss the huge black Madonna like statue of Fallen Christ.
If you are fit trekker, you can try hiking up the mountain. The steep hike is 1.5 miles on foot.
Stroll through the colorful streets of La Candelaria
The Candelaria area is where most of the historical buildings are and it's where you will find a lot of the hotels.
The bright lit street with it's quirky houses is the heritage-rich antithesis to the glittering skyscrapers in Bogotá’s financial district.
As you stroll through the streets, you will find charming colonial buildings, trendy cafes and student bars buzzing with activity. However, this place is known to be eerily silent after 10 p.m.
Avoid walking alone in these streets, UBER it down or take a hotel taxi.
Explore Bolivar Square
Next you will head to the small winding streets in Bolivar Square. This is where you will find a statue of Simón Bolívar (the Venezuelan leader who liberated Latin America from the Spanish in the early 19th century).
The main highlights here are the La Catedral Primida (one of the largest churches in Colombia)
the President's House
and the El Carmen Church (Iglesia del Carmen).
Walking Graffiti Tour
If we had enough time, I would have loved to do a more elaborate tour.
You will find graffiti's all over the place. It's one of the most striking features of the city.
There is a Graffiti walking tour that is little over 2 hours with an introduction to uber talented artists.
Bogotá is located on a high plateau at the very center of Colombia; this gritty capital has many layers which means there’s plenty to do here whether you’re interested in culture, history, street art or food. Despite all this, you can still manage to travel here on a budget.
The many faces of Bogotá are reflected in the city’s architecture: from the blue collar suburbs to the glitzy bars and art galleries. Yes, this city gets a bad rap. After visiting this place, I totally understand where this comes from with the history and the crime rate, but if you stay clear of certain parts of the city, you can truly enjoy almost everything this city has to offer.
Though we just had two days in the country, I still felt it offers up something for everyone. I didn't know what to expect before visiting Bogotá. I had my fair share of reservations about being in such an unsafe environment but the city’s abundant colonial architecture, eye-catching murals and colorful graffiti have completely won me over.
Stay tuned for the next blog post where I will be writing about spending a day hiking the gorgeous La Chorera Waterfalls.
Drop your comments below and show some love. Feel free to shoot me an email with your feedback.