I knew Colombia was going to be an emotional trip no matter what, because after two long months, I was finally going to be reunited with the love of my life. I know 2 months sounds like nothing, but believe me, it can also feel like an eternity. Upon my arrival, once I connect to wi-if I get a series of confusing voice messages from Clayton (my boyfriend, who was flying to meet me from Lima as he is travelling for 6 months) saying that they had cancelled his flight, something he only found out by chance in the waiting area 2 hours after check in. This was followed by a couple of other very confusing messages about how he wasn’t sure he was going to make it as he had missed one of the flights and Viva Colombia was doing nothing to ensure he would get on another flight. Let’s say that my experience of sipping on red wine and stuffing my face at the Plaza lounge as I awaited to board my flight (thank you Amex) was very different to his.
Latin American Airlines, true to the stereotype unfortunately, have proven to be extremely unreliable and also hugely unhelpful, not making sure to put you on another flight once they cancel yours and not even letting you know that your flight has been cancelled. After a lot of faffing around and shouting, he was extorted into paying another $220 to get on another flight, as this was the only was to actually get to Bogota`. In the meantime I awaited at the international arrivals, my heart stopping each time I saw a tall individual exit the doors. Fact is he made it! And yes, we had the cliche` airport moment where we ran towards each other and I jumped into his arms 🙂
Another slightly unexpected situation was finding out only a few days before leaving that not all of Colombia had the same tropical climate as the North; I had been packing according to an average temperature of 30 degrees only to discover that in Bogota it was raining every single day with an average temperature of 8-12 degrees and raining every single day..not cool. I have no idea how those travel bloggers look sexy at all times and in all climates because given the mere 55 litre backpack, I didn’t have the physical space to bring along my funky wardrobe and had to settle for jeans and hoodie. Not quite the WOW factor I had in mind after 2 months apart but what can you do.
I must admit that as we drove the 20 minutes from the airport to our hotel I couldn’t help but be a little disappointed with the landscape that unfolded before my eyes. Grey sky aside, the city was just a mass of shabby, quite ugly run down buildings, with no unifying architectural standard, making it seem quite disjointed. We were staying in the Chapinero area, after having cancelled our reservation in Candelaria as my Colombian friend said it’s extremely dangerous at night. It may be safer, but it has no charm whatsoever and presents itself almost more as a suburb type of area. Luckily, my friend was kind enough to take us around to check out some of the sights such as the Museo de Oro, the Plaza de Bolivar and Candelaria and we were often in the safety of her car when the universal deluges poured down, turning the streets into actual rivers.
MUSEO DE ORO
The Gold Museum is definitely worth a visit, as for just 4000 Colombian Pesos (little more than a pound) you can discover a part of the country’s rich history and the huge part that gold played in it. The museum is literally plastered in gold, in such quantities that I couldn’t but think to myself that if they sold even just half of it, they could solve so many of Colombia’s issues and help alleviate the country’s poverty. That is probably a highly idealistic view as we all know that we money would stay in the hands of a fortunate few, as well as the fact that they probably don’t want to sell their heritage! Still, I always have these thoughts when I visit third world countries where people are literally starving in the streets, yet the temples are covered in gold and jewels.
One of the coolest rooms was one that reinacted the El Dorado legend, where the locals would go to the Guatavita lagoon and throw gold and emeralds into its waters as an offering to the gods. Much of what is in the museum actually comes from what was recovered from Guatavita.
I’m so thankful that we visited this area, as it was exactly what I had hoped Bogota` would be: hip, colourful, full of little bars with salsa music playing into the streets and graffiti on the walls. I loved it. It’s a real shame that it’s dangerous at night, because otherwise I’d definitely recommend to stay in this neighbourhood. It’s also walking distance from the historic area and all the museums. From the Bolivar square you take a small uphill street going towards the mountains, where finally the architecture is beautiful and street vendor sell all types of Colombian delights such as arepas and obleas (these kind of wafer pancakes that you fill with dulce de leche, jam or jelly).
The buildings along this street brought me back to Cuba, where each house is painted in a different vibrant colour, with beautiful wooden windows and balconies. Here you can enjoy happy hour and hand crafted souvenirs, as well as a variety of little restaurants and cafes. It’s not surprising that most of the hostels are located in this area. If you have time I’d also recommend the 2 hour Bogota` Graffiti Tour – it’s supposed to be free, although they then give a ‘suggested donation’ of 30.000 Colombian pesos which seems a little outrageous as a tip, I doubt many people give that much. However it is a great way to discover more about the history of the city and all the meaning that lies behind its street art.
MERCADO DE USAQUEN
This is one of the other cute corners I discovered, mostly because we finally got some respite from the rain and actually felt the warm sunshine rays for a few hours as we explored the Sunday market. It’s full of colour and local artefacts although don’t worry you won’t feel compelled to empty your wallet.
MERCADO DE ANDRES FOR LUNCH
My friend introduced us to this great place, which is actually a recreation of a huge food court somewhere on the outskirts of Bogota which is supposed to be amazing called Andres Carne de Res, go if you have the chance. For those who can’t reach it, they have built slightly smaller versions of it in central parts of the city. It’s wonderful as you have a massive variety of local dishes to choose from, such as the patacón (squashed & fried plantane is used as a base/bowl for the contents) with king prawns & avocado with a delicious sauce (beware of the coriander if you hate as I do!!), parrilla, fresh juices, etc. The value for money is also good for Bogota.
I must admit I hadn’t done any research of what to do in Bogota, so I just went along with whatever my friend suggested. I was pleasantly surprised when we took a cable car to the top of one of the mountains to Monserrate to discover not only an incredible view of the city but also a stunning and peaceful location. With flowers of all colours and surrounded by clouds, it was somewhat reminiscent of what the gates to heaven must look like!
This place alone made Bogota worth the pit-stop, but I would not really recommend staying there more than a day and only if you have plenty of time, otherwise head straight up to the warmth of the North!