Arriving to a new place brings apprehension, excitement, and maybe a little bit of fear for most people. This is exactly what we felt arriving at the El Dorado International Airport in Bogota, Colombia, after leaving the comfort of a place we know, Costa Rica.
Bogota is the capital of Colombia and the largest city in the country. It sits among Andean mountain peaks and boasts some of the most impressive street art we’ve ever seen. In the past, Bogota had a reputation for being an extremely violent city where one wouldn’t dream of travelling to. Fast forward ten years – the city of Bogota has become a popular destination to visit, is (relatively) safe, and offers many activities to do and sites to see. We spent four days exploring the city, here are some of our favourite things to do in Bogota:
This one is a no-brainer…when in Rome, right? Colombia is the third largest producer of coffee beans in the world (behind Brazil and Vietnam). Some of the world’s most delicious coffee is made here, but 90% of it is exported to other countries. Thankfully, they still keep a little bit of it for themselves (and us!), so finding a good coffee shop and sipping on a tinto (black coffee) was a favourite activity of ours.
Those of you who read our blog regularly know that sampling the local booze is something we partake in everywhere we go. Its a must-do. Most South American countries have their own variation of Chicha, although it is typical of the indigenous people from the Andes. In Colombia it is made of fermented corn and sugar or honey. It has a funky taste to it, similar to that of kombucha. Consumption of Chicha isn’t widespread in cities anymore, mostly rural areas, but some local bars still serve it.
Visit a Coca Cafe and Sample Some Coca Leaf Products
The legal kind! Bogota has coca cafes where you can sample the leaf itself, buy products infused with coca (like soaps, chocolate, basically anything), drink coca tea or take a shot of coca infused alcohol. Coca – in its purest form, is said to produce many health benefits like increased energy and can even ward off altitude sickness.
Take the Cable Car To Monserrate
Twenty-thousand Colombian Pesos (about $10.00 CAD) will get you a ride up the side of a mountain in a train that feels like the cable could let go at any second to the site of the “Church on the Mountain”. The money is totally worth it and offers the most stunning view of the city and surrounding mountains. Some adventurous travellers attempt to walk up the mountain, and find themselves lost or get robbed on the way up. Be lazy like us, take the damn train.
Gran Colombia Tours offers the best tours we’ve ever had the pleasure of being on. The organization was started by a guy named Julian only a few months ago and the tours are based totally off donations. We took his Free Walking Tour our first day in Bogota, where we experienced some of the activities you read about above, like the coffee lab, chicha drinking, and coca shop. The tour is based in La Candelaria (the backpacker district in which we stayed), and runs about 2.5 hours. The walking tour also included fruit tasting and some amazing facts about the history of Bogota and Colombia. The next day we took his Free Biking Tour in which you bike around Zona Rosa, an upscale neighbourhood in northern Bogota. The tour includes transfer from La Candelaria to Zona Rosa, your bike/helmet, a salsa lesson, a visit to a museum, a street food snack, a visit to a flower market, another visit to a coffee lab for tasting, and more history. Both tours are fantastic, Julian is extremely knowledgable and passionate about Colombia and it’s history, is an outstanding tour guide. If you are in Bogota, you have to check them out!
Roam the Streets/Chat With the Locals/Meet New Friends
Our favourite things to do! We love walking the streets of a new place and taking pictures, and Bogota, specifically La Candelaria, a historic neighbourhood with a Spanish Colonial feel, makes it easy to do just that. The streets are all numbered and navigating is easy. And while most major cities frown on graffiti, Bogota has taken a different approach – and building walls are covered in intricate tags and elaborate murals, making the city one the of world’s trendiest showcases of modern street art.
The man walks around in the mornings serving from his cart, a herbal tea made of lime, honey and if you wish, Aguardiente (a popular liquor in Colombia).
Amazing people we met on the walking tour: Adam, Tasha, David, and Robin.
Don’t Get Too Comfortable
The last activity in Bogota is more of a not-to-do. The city has made major progress in safety in the last ten years, and during the day we were totally comfortable. Lots of hustle and bustle, and a heavy police presence. Different at night, most places in La Candelaria roll down metal barricades over doors and windows and the majority of police disappear from the area. A new friend noted similarities to the movie The Purge while we had a drink in a bar around 9pm and watch the neighbourhood lock up for the night, although we are sure it’s not that bad. But, you are advised not to walk unless you are in a bigger group, as robberies are common (Also a good tip: download the app “Tappsi” for taking registered cabs rather then hailing them). Just weeks before our arrival the rebel group ELN (National Liberation Army) set off a bomb targeting police, killing one and injuring more then 20 others, this was not far from our hostel. Although this type of incident is not common it speaks to the hurdles this country is still working to overcome. Being aware of the potential danger is key, enjoying yourself but not getting too comfortable that you make risky decisions, or become a target.
Police with Rottweilers in muzzles on almost every corner.
In conclusion, we loved Bogota. The city is beautiful and prices are cheap. It’s amazing to see how much progress a place can make after so much turmoil. Our four days were up, and we were ready to move – on to Medellin!