Bogota, Colombia Travel Guide
The Softer Side of Bogota
I recently wrote an article about the nightlife scene in Bogota that was pretty raw and explicit. I’d like to offer this piece now to show you that Bogota and Colombia in general have a lot more to offer than just a wild night on the town.
Everyone knows about Colombia’s internal problems, and this discourages many travellers from visiting the country. I want to assure you that you can include Colombia on your itinerary and will most likely have a wonderful time there. The country’s people is what really makes it special for me. The people of Colombia have all suffered horribly over the last few decades, but that doesn’t diminish their ability to live life to the fullest. They are also some of the most friendly and warm-hearted people that I have ever come across. Since tourism is not a big thing in Bogota, most locals there go out of their way to make the occasional visitor feel welcomed. No matter whether I was in a café, in the market, on a bus, in a park, or shopping mall, I was always welcomed with warm smiles and greetings which usually ended up leading to conversations and eventually to lasting friendships.
The Colombians are good-looking people, and they take pride in their physical appearance. Just hang around the downtown area at lunchtime and you’ll see what I mean. The women executives dress professionally, but attractively in their well-fitting, above-the-knee skirts. The men all wear stylish suits, are clean-shaven, and talk on cell phones as they ride around in their Mercedes and BMWs. You’d have a hard time differentiating the scene from that of any American metropolis during lunch hour. I liked to sit in any one of the numerous cafés or bistros, sipping an espresso and people-watching. It’s also a good way to meet people. I can’t count the number of times that someone would catch my eye and then offer to buy me a coffee in exchange for a little English practice. There are also a number of really interesting used book and record stores in the area. The place is safe during the day, and it is a good area to perhaps spend your first day to get your bearings.
The locals are real proud of their new bus service called “El Transmilenio,” and with good reason. The jumbo-sized buses actually look like two buses that have been stapled together. As unusual as they may be in appearance, they cut the travel time from one end of the city to the other in half. The big buses stop every 500 meters or so at designated stops, as opposed to the other outdated buses that stop anywhere they please. When the buses first began operating, everyone in Bogota lined up for blocks, just to try them out for the first time.
Every Sunday in Bogota they have what they call the “Ciclomovio.” All motorized traffic is barred along Avenida 15 from about eight o’clock in the morning until about two or three in the afternoon. This allows for people of all ages to take to the street on their bicycles, rollerblades, skateboards, and wheelchairs. When I was there, the event was growing more and more popular each week. It’s a great chance to get some exercise and make some friends. During Christmas time and New Years they have a really nice light show at the end of the street and extend the hours of the Ciclomovio until midnight.
Fly a Kite
During the windy months in the fall you will see vendors selling kites of all colors, shapes and sizes. Buy yourself a kite for a few dollars and go to any of the public parks and spend the afternoon flying a kite and enjoying a picnic lunch. Less-fortunate children might come up to you and ask if they can help you fly your kite. Let them have fun with it, and if you aren’t on too tight of a budget, splurge and buy them each a kite. You’ll end up making that kid’s whole day, and you’ll feel good about it too.
Shopping, Email & Sport
Bogota offers some great shopping malls too. My favorite is Centro Andino. The prices might not be as low as you can find in the market or on the street, but it’s a nice place to spend an afternoon and then catch a movie in the evening. All the latest releases are shown, and the theatres are comfortable and modern. There is an even bigger mall that just opened up across the street from Andino, that is home to many specialty boutiques in high fashion.
When I first visited Bogota there was not a single internet cafe in the entire city. Now there are over 80. My personal favorite is located on Calle 74 con 15. The place is right next to a travel agency and a bank, and is directly across the street from a really good Korean and Japanese restaurant. The place is two levels and is furnished elegantly with antiques. They charge less than a dollar per hour and also offer affordable snacks and drinks. They serve liquor too, and many younger Colombians prefer to spend their evenings there instead of in the bars. After you finish catching up on your emails, head across the street and walk another block or so north until you reach a small restaurant that serves fresh and delicious ceviche. Ceviche is fresh seafood that has been marinated in lime juice. It is healthy, refreshing and tastes great. Typically, they will offer oyster, shrimp, mussel, and sailfish ceviche. A nice cold beer is the requisite beverage to accompany ceviche.
Colombia is crazy about soccer, as is every South American city. Go to a game, you’ll have a great time. The atmosphere is electric and the tickets are really affordable. You can buy a jersey outside the stadium for less than 10 dollars. They make great souvenirs and gifts for friends back home.
This is just a small sample of some of the things that Bogota can offer you. Instead of just passing through the city or neglecting it altogether, spend some time here. Get to know the place and the people like I did. Once you get past the traffic jams and the shocking contrast of wealth and poverty that exists in all South American cities, you will find that the city and the people have a lot to offer and will make for a very memorable experience.