Discovering the vast capital!
28.02.2016 - 09.03.2016
Bogotá is the third biggest city in South America after Sao Paolo and Lima.
... and it feels vast!
Colombians in the Carribean, Cali and Sandander all warned me about how cold and aloof Bogotanos are.
Perhaps tourists are immune to the city's frio...
I found Bogatanos to be very friendly and welcoming... though certainly not as cheery as those from Colombia's sunnier towns.
One thing is for sure, Bogota is big, diverse and full of character.
Many will tell you that Bogotá can be dangerous... though no more so than any other big city.
Having lived in London, I feel that Bogotá is actually safer.
In Bogotá there is a very visible, comprehensive and formidable police force.
In London I had to calm an unarmed officer down as she fearfully mistook me for a Yardie gangster.... but that's another story ;-)
Colombian cops are well armed, high in numbers, confident, controlling and alert.
Many buildings also have armed private security, and the posh suburbs even have military patrols.
It's a very flat city, and perfect for cycling!
As such it is very bike friendly, with many dedicated bike lanes.
Freeways are closed off to cars on Sundays so that people can enjoy the day cruising by bike (hear that Australia?!!)
The famous bike tour that leaves from La Candelaria, is an absolute must!!
Not only because it's a great way to explore the vast city, but it's also very informative and a lot of fun!!
Bogotá has a LOT of amazing street art!
Graffiti artists from all over the world have contributed to some of the many amazing pieces around the city.
The Graffiti Tour that departs from Simon Bolivar Sq is amazing and was a genuine highlight of my time there.
The grand hill of Monserrate overlooks the city, with incredible views.
You can travel up the long and steep hill via cable car, or walk!
There is also a lovely garden to roam around.
A local friend took me to a Tejo centre to learn the game.
Tejo is an ancient and traditional pre-Colombian game, still recognised and supported by the national sports association... and a lot of fun!!
The aim is to throw weighted discs at gun-powder infused targets, wedged into clay....so they explode.
Hitting a target and getting it to ignite is very, very difficult, but when you do, the payoff is excellent!
We also played Rana... a similar game, and still popular with Uni students.
As with any large city, there are many great nightlife options.
Zona Rosa is jam packed with bars, discotheques, restaurants and everything in between.
Salsa, Vallenato, Merengue and Reggaeton form the musical core of Bogotá.
Some venues such as Cafe Libro are dedicated purely to Salsa, whereas the majority of venues are'Crossover'; playing all of the above forms.
It's pretty clear that Colombia's economy is taking off.
One of the many telling signs is the enormous malls scattered around the city.
These places dwarf the malls in Australia.
Take a look at Titán and Unicentro to start.
Upscale Zona Rosa has Adino Mall with giant flagship stores for Nike, Lacoste, Zara, in the surrounding areas.
Tale of Two Cities
As with many big cities, there are huge divides in wealth and quality of life.
In the posh north, I walked past Maserati, Porsche and Ferrari dealerships, gated communities, with private security or cops on every corner.
You will also see high fashion, beautifully manicured gardens and professional dog walkers in toe with rare purebreds.
The chain cafes (Juan Valdez) are better/fancier in the north, complete with posh folks with cashmere sweaters draped over their shoulders ;-)
Alternatively in the south, it's rougher, and boisterous - full of vibrant colour, music and character.
A local friend explained that there are six tiers of class in Colombian society, and Colombians in general are pretty class conscious.
Of course Western visitors would be oblivious to this (including me).
Bogotá has a myriad of great hotels and hostels.
As I passed through on several occasions I wholeheartedly recommend:
- 12:12 Hostel - like a hotel, with ace facilities, privacy curtains and chargers for every bed, etc
- Hotel Regina - this would have been Don Draper's favourite. Old school service, 50's classic music piped in the lounge, where folks sip the free coffee on Chesterfields and late checkout times.
- Hampton by Hilton - Another amazing part of this ace franchise
- Casa Dann Carlton - 5* in every possible way. Best gym I've ever seen at a hotel.
You can fly almost anywhere from Bogotá airport.
The intercity bus system is easy to navigate, and the Transmilenio is pretty efficient (though avoid during peak hours).
The best and safest way to get around Bogotá (and any other city in Colombia) is with Uber
Most other travellers I met didn't like Bogotá, but it became one of my favourite cities in Colombia.
It has great infrastructure, plenty of great places to eat and explore and is hugely diverse.
It isn't touristy, as say Cartagena or Medellin, which means you can immerse as a local.... and I was treated as such, and made many great friends here.
This afternoon I met friends for coffee in the north and took a taxi back to my lovely hotel in the south.
As I traversed the city, it really struck me how diverse and enormous it really is... it slowly changed, visibly flowing in character.
I'm going to miss this city... it certainly will be a melancholy departure.
Adios for now amigos!