To answer the first question you may have, is Bogotá worth the stopover?
Here is a quick note on my first impressions of arriving at the airport.
I arrived in Bogotá considering all the prejudices and warnings of those who came before me. Mostly they were messages of caution of venturing outside of the hostel after dark. I had very low expectations of this destination, to say the least.
Trying to travel like a local I caught the airport bus ‘El Portal’ which is free and it has a stop to where I could then catch a bus. I was fortunate to meet a local man outside a hotel who could tell I was lost. I could trust this man, he clearly had my best interests as was working with me to try to work out where I was heading.
There were two problems.
1- I had no cash, where is the atm?
2- Where is the bus stop?
He pointed that the bus had stopped across the road which would require crossing a bridge and climbing stairs. He mentioned that he would drop me in town for 30,000cob and stop off for me to withdraw cash. Considering my friend Christina had taken a taxi from the Airport the week before for 60,000cob to the same hostel I thought this was a good deal. A weight had really been lifted off my back as I tucked my backpack in the boot and breathed a sigh of relief, I was en route to the hostel. The taxi driver reminded me of why I loved Colombia so much last time. The Colombians in general are so curious and interested to know about you and your story. I practiced my Spanish as he gave me a brief rundown on what it’s like to live in Bogotá. 10,000,000 people in one city… Incredible.
Here are 6 Must-Do Experiences for Any Backpacker.
Stay in La Candelaria:
I was lucky enough to meet Ellie at the hostel who had just been on a walking tour and was willing to show me around the neighborhood. We stopped to grab a bite to eat. Tamales were the local specialty and we both got one for 4,000cob each (2NZD) at this local food truck!
What I learned quickly was that there are some no-go zones and the hostel receptionist drew me a zone on the map that should be safe to travel through. This made my stay very easy as I decided to only explore within his guidelines. This place was buzzing, it was a Friday afternoon and the streets were packed with performers and crowds. We walked to the Plaza Bolivar, then down Calle 11 towards the museums, and visited Museo de la Moneda. There were other types of museums that we could access in the same building too like Museo Botero which was fascinating. All entry was free up until 5 pm when we went. We completed our loop around the neighborhood La Candelaria. What a vibrant place.
The next stop was to head out and play a game of Tejo. Tejo is a national sport where you throw rocks from as far as 10 meters back at a clay board. The clay board has a small triangular-shaped pouch of gun powder situated in a circle in the middle of the board. The custom was to drink and play so we tried the local beers: Poker, Águila, Costeno while we threw. Our guide explained the rules to us which we not too complicated. The best part was playing in teams with the other tourists who shared the same joy of throwing rocks at minor explosives and drinking beers. Wicked!
Visit a nightclub with friends:
We decided to check out a bit of the nightlife. Our guide mentioned he knew some spots not far from our hostel which was perfect. Thankfully were did not have to walk too far to get back to the hostel. The bar we went to was a lot of fun. I would recommend going in a group, as if you went by yourself it could be quite intimidating. Generally, Colombians dance in pairs and very interactively so if you were alone you could be pulled up by the hand to take a twirl.
Climb the large Mountain, Monserrat:
The next day we enjoyed our complimentary breakfast and walked out the door to begin the ascent of Cerro Monserrat. We decided not to take the metro which takes you all the way to the top. The walk is steep but free and a good chance to share stories with some new friends from the hostel. Because all tourists generally stay in the same part of town and hence get the same recommendations, Ellie would soon meet many of the tourists she would know from yesterday’s walking tour as we climbed the mountain. Soon we walked in a 10 person strong group as we arrived at the top. I remember thinking ‘Man this city is ginormous’. The panoramic views from the top were phenomenal. Our small little safe tourist neighborhood was just a small piece of a very large jigsaw that makes up the city of Bogotá. Unreal!
Speak with the locals:
Walking back down the mountain we spoke in English and soon the locals would be fascinated by us. They wanted to learn English and were overhearing all of our conversations. Soon I was speaking Spanish (as I really enjoy the language) and they would be replying in English. Javier my new friend from the USA mentioned that it appeared as if I had a following of disciples. Then 10 other university students would want to partake in our conversation. It felt amazing to have so many people take such interest in me and my story. We covered many topics. They concluded that corruption was the main reason for the vast spread of inequality in Colombia with the poor living without any form of compensation from the government whereas my home country New Zealand, a first world country, is boasting a strong middle class and policies set up to deliver welfare and opportunities for the jobless and poor.
Gasp in the Graffiti Work
On the way back to the hostel we walked past some amazing graffiti work and beautifully decorated, brightly colored houses. Some of the streets looked like epic shots out of a movie with quirky stores and building surrounding some beat-up roads. Just walking around La Candeleria was an event in itself.
Leaving the hostel 24 hours after arriving I felt like I had gotten to know so much about Bogotá, the people who lived there, and the neighborhood of La Candelaria which was more than I could have wished for in such a short time. The hostel started to feel like home.
So to all you out there thinking of bypassing Bogotá, I’d say give it a chance and set yourself a day or two at least to get to experience the often badmouthed city.
Gracias por todo Bogotá.