Rainy and Cold, Bogotá is known to get a bit of a hard time from travellers as being dangerous and bland. However, those who spend significant time in the city quickly find that the rough exterior this city shines with a charm that can only be found though exploration. This city of around 9 million inhabitants is tucked in a valley between tall green mountains from which heavy clouds always seem to hang vicariously. The urban sprawl of Bogotá is confined to a long narrow strip of land due to its geographical confines. In the south of the city the historical center of town, known as La Candelaria, is filled with history and political power during the day but is seen as somewhat dangerous at night. In the north of the city you’ll find a stark contrast to the south in tranquil parks, high-end hotels and the city’s zona rosa. There are few cities in all of South America that have such a rich display of history as does Bogotá, and although the city has a fairly rough exterior most will soon find out that half of the fun is digging through the cultural layers in search for their diamond in the rough.
Time Needed: 2-5 days
A Brief History
Prior to the arrival of the Spanish Conquistadores in the 1400s the area of Bogotá was not a highly inhabited region. However, a small population of Muiscas were said to be settled in the region. In fact, much of gold now found in the famous Museo de Oro in Bogotá belonged to the Muisca people. The city was founded in 1538 by Spanish colonizers and the city became the capital to the Viceroyalty of New Granada under Spanish rule. Once the Latin American independence movement turned over Spanish rule in the 1800s Bogotá became the capital of the country of Gran Colombia, which at the time consisted of the current countries of Colombia, Venezuela, Panama and Ecuador, but deteriorated quickly and was finalized with the separation of Panama in the early 1900s.
Unfortunately, much of the 20th century history of Bogotá is riddled by wars only marked by years of uneasy peace and minor physical and emotional recovery. The thousand day war which started in 1899 seemed to set the tone for this violent century which escalated to all out civil war after the period known as La Violenca in the 1960s. Throughout the ongoing civil war Bogotá has been at the eye of the storm where things don’t always seem at their worst but often come to a head. Government buildings were taken over by guerrilla factions, car bombs set off, and during the struggle with Pablo Escobar’s Extraditables dozens of journalists were murdered and kidnapped in the capital. Over the past couple years, thankfully, things have seemed to have turned a corner, not only in Bogotá but the country in general. Bogotá still has a lot of work to do in cleaning its image, but appears to be on the right path.
- At about 2600m above sea level Bogotá ranks as the third highest capital city in the world
- The airport in Bogotá was the most expensive to be built in all of Latin America
- There are 114 Universities, 62 Art Galleries, and 57 Museums in Bogotá
- The city’s gold museum is the largest collection of Pre-Colombian gold in the World with over 50,000 pieces of gold.
Things to do in Bogotá
- Monserrate: Overlooking La Calendaria, Monserrate is great area to go for an afternoon, or to watch the sun go down over the city. To get to the top you can climb the steep path or take the much more relaxing Teleferico and Funicular system. The price of a round trip is 8,000pesos (about 4.50US$)
- Museo de Oro: If you could only see one thing in all of Bogotá this should be it. The Gold Museum is the largest collection of Pre-Colombian gold anywhere in the world, and the displays are brilliantly set up. One could spend hours in this great museum, and many do. The cost of the museum is only 3,000 pesos (about 1.5o US$), and is free on Sundays.
- Museo Botero: Botero may be the most famous artist to come out of Colombia and much of his art is displayed in this museum. Known for his art work on fat people, animals and fruit Botero’s work has grown in fame over the years. In this museum there are also displays of other Colombian artist as well as extensive work from Pablo Picasso.
- Parque Bolivar: This huge park in the geographical center of the city is a nice getaway from the rush of Bogotá. Many locals come here in the mornings to workout, and it makes a nice place for a stroll any time of day.
- Shopping: Northern Bogotá is famous for being one of the best places for fashion in the country. If you have a desire to shop, head to Zona G.
- Tejo: This mad event involving beer, gunpowder and minor explosions is popular fun among Rolos (people from Bogotá). There are a couple places where you can take part in this, or watch the event. Head to Peperepe, on the southern edges of the city and take part in this event that words can not simply explain.
Where to Eat in Bogotá
Bogotá has a number of great places to eat. If you are just looking for a quick lunch try one of the many set lunches (almuerzos) which you can get for anywhere from 3-6US$. I had great Mexican food in La Calendaria at a place called Enchilladas. My dinner, which was huge even by my standards, cost me a reasonable 8US$. If you’re really into fine dinning get out of La Calendaria and head straight to Zona G. In this district you’ll find the much fancier restaurants that serve the classics such as Italian cuisine but also house a number of Argentinean steakhouses.
If you are looking for a party your best bet is to head directly into la Zona Rosa, although there are a number of good places in La Calendaria. Most places charge a cover of between 10,000 and 30,000 pesos (about 5-15US$) and the parties start at around 10pm and go until about 4am. In the Zona Rosa try a couple nightclubs called Vinacure and Alma. Note that the nightclub scene here changes almost nightly and you should ask around for the best places to hit on a given night. Many places will have live reggaeton music and these are the places to be on the weekend.
Where to Stay in Bogotá
Most backpackers are drawn the historical center of La Calendaria although some have started to avoid it due to rumours of increasing violence and risk in the area. However, as long as you take taxis and all other normal precautions you will be fine in the area. If you feel it necessary to stay out of La Calendaria your budget will have to jump significantly as staying in the north of the city will likely have you spending about 40-60US$ a night per person. In La Calendaria you’ll have a number of options for cheap accommodation in great locations for very reasonable prices. I stayed in a hostel called L’Alegria’s Hostel which is just up the hill from the plaza on Carerra 2 between Calle 9 and 10. This is a very cozy hostel with great staff, large rooms fast internet and great prices. I paid 18,000 pesos (10US$) for a bed in the dorm. There are also private rooms available for between 15-30US$ a night.
“Bogotá’s Gold Museum: A Photo Essay and a History Lesson” (Coming June 18,2011)
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