Warning: Discussion of everything from booze to cocaine to prostitution to follow – if this offends you, then you might not want to read on.
I spent two and a half years living in Bogota, and let me assure you that it wasn’t in a five-star hotel, or any hotel for that matter. Most of my time was spent living in a crackhouse apartment on calle 87A con 15.
The area is home to Extasis, Copacabana, and Casanova nightclubs, just to name a few. This area is not even mentioned in travel guides. Most books recommend that you concentrate your time in El Centro, where it is supposedly the cheaper and more comfortable region for foreign travellers. Let me say that this is not the case at all. The center is bullshit. It is scummy and dirty and congested with traffic and pollution. The real action is closer to the so-called high-priced northern barrios of Bogota.
After making your way from immigration at El Dorado International Airport to the taxis and buses waiting outside, take a moment to ask yourself what you really want from your Colombian experience. If your desire is to live in a bunkhouse shared with 20 other foreigners too scared and intimidated to walk across the street after dark, go to El Centro and enjoy the customized tour described in travel brochures. If, on the other hand, you want the real Colombia; follow me amigo, let me take you there.
Accommodation & Food
Tell your cab driver to take you to El Chapinero. It will take you about 25 minutes from the airport. There you can find a cool room with a double bed, hot shower and bath, writing desk, 24hr room service, and easy bus, taxi, or walking to the action. Expect on paying between 10000-30000 Pesos for a room as mentioned above. Go from place to place and ask for a discount if you’re staying for more than one night, and of course if you’re paying in cash. Flirt with the desk clerk too, that always helps.
Next, drop your bags off and get yourself fed at any of the many fast-food outlets that dot the streets. Cali Mio, or Kokorikos, both chicken outlets, offer cheap meals and you won’t feel as if you have to pop an Imodium afterwards.
Clubs & Bars: Let the Night Begin
Next, grab a cab and ask him to take you to 85 con 15. If he asks for more specific locations, or if you can’t understand him, just say you want to go to Casablancas, or Extasis nightclubs; he’ll understand you and if he doesn’t, get him to drop you off at the Carulla supermarket on 85 and 15.
From there walk a block and a half north and then turn right when you see the neon lights. The lights come on at around 6 pm. Best to go however after 10 o’clock, or else you’ll end up being the only one there. I say go to Extasis first. The doormen in front of these places will try to dry hump you on the spot at the sight of your white skin, but don’t let them intimidate you. Just go straight in and order a beer (7000 pesos). Watch a show and enjoy the girls. To go upstairs with one of them will cost you about 80 grand, which in dollars is only about 40 bucks, but it’s better to wait the night out and see what happens.
If you can’t wait to bust your load however, the usual price to pay (multa) to leave with a girl early is a 150 grand (75 dollars more or less), and then you still have to negotiate with the girl afterwards. The girls look for anything over a 100 grand, (50 bucks). The ugly ones will go for less, of course.
My advice though is to do two or three beers in Extasis and then make your way across the street to Copacabanas. Have a few drinks, then if you feel like you are in the need for something a little more adrenaline-stimulating than alcohol, ask any of the door people or waiters for “perico” or “un pase”, A.K.A., Colombian nose candy. They will go rushing off and bring you back a five-month supply, so tell them at the start that you only want a little bit, “un poco”. A one-gram bag is sold to the bars down there at only 1500 pesos per bag (less than a dollar). That’s how those bars pay their rent. You will most likely be charged anywhere from 10000-20000 for a baggy. Now, at this point, tell them firmly that you were in some other bar last night and only paid 5000 or so, and then they will adjust their price and give you something resembling that. Go to the bathroom and do a line or two, pay your bar bill and then head off for La Zona Rosa, located three blocks south of there.
Dance in the clubs, try your luck in the casinos. The El Dorado and Rock N’Jazz are the biggest and most popular, but don’t expect to win with your white skin.
When you see the little hand on your clock approaching one, go back to the nightclub street where you originated and wait for all the people to pile out onto the streets. Bars in Bogota have to close at 1am, so all the chicks with no dates are offering substantial discounts at this hour. It’s easy to find a girl, or even a twosome or threesome offering services unbeknown to most Westerners – for an eighth of the price that you’d pay back home.
Take them back to your place in the Chapinero and don’t worry, these girls aren’t guerillas or bandits, they just want their money, a roof over their heads that night, and the illusion that they have now scored themselves a legitimate Gringo boyfriend. If you play the part well you won’t have to pay again during the rest of your travels through Colombia. Ask for Mario at Extassis, Martin at Copacabana, tell them Christopher sent you (that’s my name down there).
Don’t go to Casanova however, it looks like the best bet with it’s revamped look, but the chicks will take you to the cleaners and the owner will screw you on your bill. If you are still looking for something after the 1am curfew, ask someone to take you to a “reservado”. This is a place that pays the cops to stay open later, and it’s all-inclusive.
Don’t worry, you are safe there; the cops won’t mess with you – believe me, I lived in one. The reservados are more expensive, but can give you everything your black little heart further desires. I recommend Lancasters, Moulin Rouge (you have to get there before one o’clock however), Las Palmas, and there are others. Also you can try out the 49 Club that is way on the other side of town. Now this place is high-class, but beware, it might not be your style if you are alone or a little intimidated by security guards wielding Uzi’s and shotguns. The place is a notorious hangout for the so-called mafiosos of Colombia. I don’t recommend it personally, but if you’ve seen and done the other places it may be worth a look. Finally, if you are in need of some sinning before dark, you can check out a number of massage parlours and taverns that operate along the Chapinero street at all hours.
These places are sleazy, but with luck you can find what you are looking for. A few words of warning:
Colombia is the most dangerous country in the world, and don’t fool yourself into thinking otherwise. The murder rate in Bogota in one weekend can surpass that of many nations in a year. They see you as a target, and even though you can break that barrier with kindness, humor, and quick wit, don’t let your guard down. If you want the good stuff like I did, then just remember, you will be playing with some real shady characters. This is not like Costa Rica or the Dominican where you can find another friendly face only two or three blocks away, this is the real thing.
You should do the above-mentioned tour-in-a-group, and at least one of you should be more or less fluent in Spanish. Have fun, but keep your wits about you. Don’t consign your seemingly friendly taxi driver or waiter or drinking buddy to plan the whole tour for you. If you feel like you are in an uncomfortable situation, chances are, you are. Stick to the main streets and the places I mentioned above until you get your bearings. The cops won’t help you if you have a problem, and most street people won’t think twice about knifing you for a cigarette – so don’t get all cocky down there either. You can have fun, enjoy the best time of your life, but just do it within your boundaries and don’t let any fast talkers try to discourage you otherwise. Don’t accept anything you haven’t paid for.
It is common down there now to slip shit into your drink when you go to the bathroom. Don’t be a fool, and you will have the time of your life. It is really raw down there.