Gritty, authentic and wet: three words I’d use to describe the Colombian capital of Bogota. Some love it, some hate it, but it’s definitely worth a visit for a few days.
Compared to the other places we visited in Colombia, I’d argue that Bogota was definitely the most ‘Colombian’ city that we visited. The food, the people and the atmosphere was still very much localised. There aren’t as many tourists here compared to other parts of the country, and it shows.
I must admit, I wasn’t the biggest fan of Bogota, but I appreciated its charm and we still found lots to do to keep us entertained for the 3 days we were there. After flying in from Miami, the biggest shock was the temperature! It’s a high-altitude city at 2,640 metres above sea-level, and it’s chilly! It reminded me much of the climate in the UK – we saw all four seasons in one day. If you’re out and about, make sure you’re layered up. It’ll be cold one minute, and really quite warm the next, followed by a downpour of rain.
We stayed in Hostel Sue Candelaria, in the backpacker area of the city, and I’d highly recommend it. The breakfast was good and provided us with some of the best scrambled eggs we had while in Colombia. There’s a bar and ping pong table on site, and a courtyard with tables and hammocks to relax. They also organise a good evening social programme, which is how we got acquainted with Bogota on our first night…
Play a traditional game of Tejo
As mentioned above, our hostel’s social programme led us to a traditional Tejo bar in the middle of Bogota. There are loads of Tejo bars in the city, but we visited Club de Tejo La 76 which gave us an unlimited playing time. They also let us buy a crate of beer at a reduced price as we weren’t buying them individually. Now, what on earth is Tejo? To put it bluntly, you throw rocks at a clay platform which has bits of gunpowder embedded into it. Get the gunpowder to bang, and you’re on the road to victory. It’s great fun, especially if you’re in a large group.
Take the food walking tour
We took Free Tour’s walking food tour around Bogota. It was a whopping 3 and a half hours long, but the time flew by. Our guide was incredibly knowledgeable and engaging and gave us all the history and facts behind each stop we ate at. It was a great way to learn about Colombian cuisine, and to visit some off-the-beaten track, local stops which we probably wouldn’t have thought about entering unless we were on this tour.
We were limited for time when visiting Monserrate, as it was our last day in Bogota before heading up to the coast. We would have loved to have walked up to the top, but chose to get the cable car instead. There is also funicular which takes you to the top, but the queue for this was longer, so we opted for the quick and easy cable car. Rising 3,152 metres above sea level, the view of Bogota from up here is amazing. You can quite literally see for miles! There’s a beautiful 17th Century church, a number of restaurants and cafes, and markets stalls at the top. Be careful buying souvenirs here, as everything is considerably more expensive.
Try BBC beer
The Bogota Brewing Company, or ‘BBC’ as it’s more affectionally known is extremely easy to find in Bogota. As the name suggests, it’s brewed in Bogota and so most shops and bars sell the beer. It is a little more expensive than other local beers, but don’t let this put you off too much. Head to one of BBC’s own bars to get the full experience and work your way through their many beers! I’m not sure about the truth in this, but high altitude makes you feel more drunk a lot quicker, so pace yourselves.
Walk the streets of Candelaria
As is the same with any city, some parts of Bogota aren’t recommended for tourists to visit – but Candelaria is a backpackers paradise. Full to the brim with places to eat and drink, this relatively safe neighbourhood is worth spending some time in. Take a walking tour and explore its street art, visit the Museo del Oro (gold museum) and discover the architecture of the town hall and its multiple cathedrals. Its cobbled, winding streets and multicoloured buildings are a photographers dream.
A few more general tips…
Bogota’s TransMilenio bus system is easy to use once you get your head around it. Once you’ve purchased a travel card, you can top up with whatever amount you’ll need for your time in the city. It’s a safe and quick way to get around Bogota, and will allow you to discover one of the many interesting neighbourhoods throughout the city. It was also a really reliable, quick and cheap option to get to El Dorado Airport – though I’d recommend getting a licensed taxi after dark.
As with most busy cities, don’t be flashy with cash or walk around with your phone in your hand or a camera around your neck. Be cautious of your surroundings and don’t head down any poorly lit streets after dark.
Bogota is charming in its own way and I know it has a lot to offer. We didn’t spend enough time there to truly appreciate it, and we did meet people on our travels who spent longer in Bogota and loved it! Don’t be put off by what you might read, Bogota is worth the journey!