Colombia: Bogota

We have been in Bogota the capital of Colombia almost a week after arriving here on a flight from Buenos Aires on Wednesday 5th November. We absolutely love it here; we originally intended to spend only a couple of nights but this city is so vibrant and so beautiful with a lot of great museums and attractions that we extended our stay to 6 nights. We have been staying the Candelaria district which is a very old part of town and walking distance from most of the major attractions. We have been pleasantly surprised by the amazing hospitality and vibrancy of Colombia and it’s heading towards the top of our list of favourite countries visited in this past year of travel.

Bogota is a big city at a high elevation, 2640 meters (8661 ft) above sea level with a population of approx. 8 million. It is bordered to the east by the Eastern Cordillera of the Andes mountain range and the city is surrounded by hills which limit city growth and run from the south to the north. Dominating the city skyline are the 2 mountains of Guadalupe and Monserrate mountains.

We took the teleferico (cable car) up the Cerro de Monserrate mountain to get amazing views of the city and have a look around the church at its peak with its statue of Senor Caido (Fallen Christ). I personally find these Latin American statues to be unnecessarily gory, the depiction of flesh covered in stab wounds and running with blood, it must scare the crap out of kids. Maybe that’s why they do it. There’s also a small area of several food stalls selling local food and look out for the pack mules carrying crates of fizzy drinks up and down the mountain from the city below.

It cost about £7.50 for 2 people for 2 return tickets on the cable car. There is also a funicular railway which goes straight up but only seems to operate on Sundays. The cable cars are perfectly safe and fit around 40 people. It is not advised to walk up and down the mountain.

Looking across the rooftops to the Guadalupe mountain.

We have also visited most of the museums in Bogota. The amazing and recently re-opened and re-furbished Museo del Oro (Gold Museum) It displays an incredible selection of its pre-Hispanic goldwork which is the biggest in the world and is quite simply stunning. The famous Muisca’s golden raft found in Pasca Colombia is on display here; it represents the El Dorado ceremony.

The Donacion Botero Museum which houses 123 of Botero’s works, okay if you are a fan but we didn’t like his over rounded plump portraits and sculptures, but there is also a floor of old masters ranging from Renoir, Picasso, Monet, Chagall etc well worth seeing and it’s free admission. The Museo de Arte Colonial mainly religious art and artificats which was pretty impressive and it had a beautiful old courtyard garden. The Museo de Arte Moderno (MAMBO)which was hit and miss but had one floor showing a Colombian artist called Constanza Aguirre which was absolutely stunning work called Quieren Carne De Hombres and deserves to be a moving collection in the world’s art galleries; huge red and black canvases which when looked at more closely depict men on protest marches. We absolutely loved it. One of the most fun museums was the Museo Historico Policia where we were shown around by an 18 year old policeman called Charles….in the basement they have a whole exhibition about Pablo Escobar including really bloody photos of him shot down when they finally caught him, his jacket and the drug cartel phones etc plus a whole floor just full of guns, Magnum 44’s everything – it was quite bonkers but also fascinating. Free to get in so we tipped the guide and open every day except Mondays.

In the centre of town not far from our hotel we came across this guy running Guinea Pig betting on the street. Minimum bet is 200 Colombian pesos, you put your money down on top of one of the plastic overturned bowls with a hole in the front and bet on the number of the bowl that the guinea pig will run in to. On the starting block, don’t know how he keeps them lined up…

…and the mad dash…

…and I don’t know how he does it but they never run in to any of the ones with money on them!

There is a massive student population in Bogota which really lends to the cities vibrancy and fantastic music and youth scene. Here’s some examples of the amazing street graffiti throughout the city, including my favourite photo below which also features a passing armoured police vehicle, looking like something out of a batman movie.

You see a lot of these amazing antique padlocks around town.

On the city streets, beautiful old buildings.

Food vendors.

Local bus.

Run down rooftop chimneys…

…and improvised security measures.

One of the universites, this is an older building.

Passed on lunching here!

The Colombian flag on a rooftop.

Colombia unfortunately has a worldwide reputation for cocaine drug cartels, Pablo Escobar the most infamous cocaine cartel leader of them all, rebel opposition groups such as FARC and high levels of street crime. Since the 1960s, government forces, left-wing insurgents and right-wing paramilitaries have been engaged in South America’s longest running armed conflict. Fuelled by the cocaine trade this escalated dramatically in the 1990s. The insurgents lack the military or popular support necessary to overthrow the government, and in recent years the violence has been decreasing.

Most travellers and tourists are understandably wary of visiting the country but the current President Álvaro Uribe Vélez is working hard to tighten up security in Colombia with a higher level of military and police presence on the streets of most major cities. Colombia’s homicide rate was for many years the highest in the world but has almost halved since 2002.

Velez’s tactics seems to be working and although it may intimidate some to see firepower on the streets most of the patrolling police and military are very young men who are very friendly and helpful towards visiting travellers; many of them eager for the opportunity to talk with someone from another country.

The beautiful Plaza de Bolivar with its dive bombing pigeon population.

We went in to town one day to see the new James Bond movie (which was fantastic fun) and on the walk back Calle 7, one of the main streets through the centre of town, is closed every Friday afternoon for processions, live bands on stages set up along the street, street vendors, street entertainers etc. It was great fun walking through the madness and the music and dropping in to look at the odd stunning church along the route!

The energy in Bogota is infectious, it really is a fantastic place. If you could take New York, London, San Telmo area of Buenos Aires and mix it all in with Bogota, you would have the perfect city.
Yes you do have to be very careful at night because street muggings of tourists do happen, but the city during the day is very safe in the centre and at night if you limit your movements to taking taxis from bars and restaurants back to your hotel instead of walking, then you will be fine. You are more of a target if you are out walking late at night (after 11pm) and after a few drinks where your street savvy becomes compromised… but that could happen anywhere in the world and you just need to be aware of your surroundings. Don’t go out at night with a bag or camera and keep cash and cards to a minimum, just go out with what you need for the evening. That way if you do run in to any problems late at night (and it’s usually gangs of young people) you can just hand over what you have and it won’t be much after a night out.

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