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Most non-travellers still make jokes or look concerned when you tell them you are going to Colombia. It’s got a past and a reputation, but it’s a different place to how it was a decade ago and it also, obviously, depends where you go and what you do.
We were mainly going to Colombia as our flights from Aruba to Costa Rica changed there and I had to take the opportunity to stay a few days, especially as this was my first, if brief, time to South American continent. If I’d planned a trip to Colombia I probably would be centred around Cartagena or Meddelin but I’d also heard some great things about Bogota. That being said, it’s difficult not to be a little nervous with the number of warnings everywhere you read – particularly about getting taxis. Getting from the airport when you first land in any new country is always a little stressful. You don’t know how anything works and you’re not at your most alert or laid back. The warning ads all over the airport on arrival didn’t help.
Finding no inside taxi booking (there was the premium service before you left the arrival, which you couldn’t go back into, which we probably should have used the first trip). We immediately walked out and followed an official-looking guard with a lanyard branded for the official taxis. Suckers! He tried to take us across to another car park, which was a no go for sure, so we ditched him and headed for what we believed were the official taxis and jumped in. We were keen to just get to our accommodation and ditch all our steal worthy stuff. Not that there was much but we were in full paranoia by this point. As we drove we could hear an alarm going off and gradually realised it wasn’t outside but was inside the taxi. What could it be? A faulty taxi? The taxi was stolen and an internal alarm system couldn’t be reset and we were being driven to our ultimate death and destruction? It was only upon arriving and dumping our bags in the hostel reception, that the guy checking us in pointed out that it sounded like there was an alarm going off in our bags. Oops. Yep. It was a small personal alarm device that had somehow been moved about enough to set it off. That poor taxi driver must have been wondering why the hell we had a screaming bag!!
Mark’s main paranoia about our stay was because I’d realised days before we arrived that I’d accidentally booked our accommodation in a place where most people suggested wasn’t safe at night. My research hadn’t been all that thorough but everyone says that La Candelaria is a must visit neighbourhood, so I booked a room in a hostel there. I’d just missed the bit that said to not stay there/hang around after dark. I probably should just not have mentioned this to Mark at all, but I felt I should prepare him that we might need to hide as the sun goes down. As it turns out, it’s totally fine to stay around there. Admittedly didn’t stay out very late and we did have the added security of an armed guard at the end of our road as we were close to the President’s residence. It could be disconcerted to see troops with massive guns around the corner, but I thought it was really rather handy in regards to our security worries! It is definitely quite quiet in this area at night time but by the time we left we were pretty relaxed about being there and would probably head home 10 pm-ish, but careful not to be too late or off the beaten track – just in case.
La Candelaria is a lovely mix of old style, almost cottagey building mixed with grand colonial and art deco. Fabulous colours abound.
Food and Drink
When I was feeling pretty ill, I tried one of their more interesting drinks. The house drink of Coca leaf, peppermint, honey and lemon, which you could have hot or cold. Perfect when under the weather though it’s look of green sludge may put some off.
BAO Cocina Ancestral – A high-end Asian fusion place which I have to say is worth the extra pennies. It’s in a beautiful old, restored building. Their sake mojito is a bit special.
The Pub – a kind of Irish bar, with a large outdoor courtyard and all kinds of different rooms off the main area. A nice easy, secure place, if a little pricey. Perfect for new arrivals.
Bogota Beer Company – A small, friendly bar with some great beer choices.
Híbrido Café Bar – For a spacious, quiet sit down, there is a bar which seems to be run by artists who have an eclectic mix of things going on, nice for the comfy chairs.
I actually liked everything I ate in Bogota apart from two things. The local dish, Ajiaco, I was wanting to try the most – I thought it would totally be my thing. I kind of liked it at first but by the time I finished I was not really enjoying it, strangely even though I liked all of the individual elements. To be fair I wasn’t feeling too great that day anyway so I’ll give it a go on another attempt.
I didn’t even attempt any of the pasty type things that are so popular in Central and South Americas I know I don’t like them. It’s a terrible thing to stay away from an entire food group, but I just don’t do pastry filled things and I think my health is probably thanking me for that avoidance. It’s all a bit 50 shades of beige for me.
The only thing I hated beyond belief was in the airport at Wolfgang Puck’s restaurant. How can a simple (and extortionately priced) caesar salad wrap go so wrong? The chicken was like catfood. I can barely think about back without gagging. In a city where everything else is so good and so cheap – it really was an abomination.
Bogota is famous for it and it doesn’t disappoint.
I have no idea of the history of the statues but they are scattered all around La Candelaria.
An ever-evolving art space in a beaten but interesting building. There’s a library of art books at a cafe at the basement level and I believe it’s sometimes used for music events. Mark particularly enjoyed the swimming pool installation.
The Gold Museum
It sounds it could be a pretty boring museum, but the gold museum is actually really interesting and it’s put together beautifully. Very stylish, the way they have laid things out and the lighting and grouping.
There are even a bit of old skool space invaders.
We went to this gallery to look at the work of Botero. But we were astounded that not only is it free, but there are fantastic works from artists all over the world that he himself had collected. If you’re unfamiliar with Botero, as I was, it’s a fascinating style. Rotund characters in both paintings and sculptures. The faces are amazing.
It’s a mans world – Out the front of the Universidad del Rosario building, for some reason, lots of men, middle-aged and upwards, seemed to accumulate. I have no idea why and is the kind of thing that drives me mad when I don’t have an answer for it.
Religious shopping – Like many cities, types of shops are often grouped together. On the edge of the jewellery area are a bunch of religious shops. There’s a fair few in Spain so I’m not unaccustomed to it, but these had some quite different and unusual stock.
Suits you sir – Something interesting we noticed was that middle-aged to older men wore suits all the time. Not just for the kind of jobs we expect, but also on selling carts and even tarmacing a carpark.
Green bread – I have no idea what it was and I never got to try any, but there were a lot of green bread about
Security guards with scary dogs – obviously security is an issue in Bogota, but it was quite a shock to see all the security guards all over the place with huge, terrifying looking dogs, mostly rottweilers. Muzzled with Hannibal Hector sytle muzzles.
Despite only staying in this one neighbourhood for our time there, and some of the time it being pretty stuffy and polluted, I really liked Bogota. I couldn’t really put my finger on why. The people maybe. A place that is creative, has great food and offers free world-class art to the people.
I think the two pictures below sum up Bogota nicely. A grand building, with a statue in situ, flanked by graffiti covered columns and boldly painted buildings, adding colour and brightness even on cloudy days.