Bogota is a city that is hard to grasp at first sight: widespread, congested with heavy traffic, harboring a number of very diverse districts but no real “City Center”, with neighborhoods changing within a few blocks from posh districts to very poor, probably unsafe neighborhoods. Add to this high altitude (2.625 meters) and a very unstable, quickly changing weather with chilly nights, and you understand why it is not easy to really enjoy Bogota if you only have a few days at hand… To make matter worse, I am not found of large cities, when I travel, period!
It takes probably more than 3 days to reveal Bogota’s real charm, like its pulsating nightlife, which we did not have the energy to check out! Therefore, this entry does not intend to be in anyway a guide to Bogota, but rather tries to give you a few glimpses of what we discovered in the 3 days we had there…
The old Colonial Center of Bogota has changed a lot since my last visit in 2009, and has no longer this rundown feeling with these many decrepit Colonial Houses. It has undergone a major restoration process in the last year (which is still on the way, actually). You now find beautifully restored, colorful one story Colonial Houses that board narrow cobblestone streets.
There you also find Bogota’s two most important museums, the Museo del Oro & the Museo Botero, which should be high on your list when visiting the city (see bellow).
Bogota’s main square, the Plaza de Bolivar (surprised?) is best enjoyed when the last sunshine hits the Catedral Primera and gives a golden touch to this huge square and the somewhat pompous official buildings that surround it. Also take the time to observe the thousands of pigeons that ascend on Bogota’s most famous square to feed on the maize that children throw at them. The very same children then take great pleasure in running into the throve of pigeons making them fly off in panic!
Museo del Oro & Botero’s “Gorditos”
The Museo del Oro leaves nobody untouched. Not only does it display an unbelievable 55.000 (!) pieces made of gold and other materials, but the museum is also very cleverly organized. A short introduction of mining methods and techniques as how the precious metal was worked by the different cultures, leads to the most impressive and exhaustive section: a display of the incredibly delicate and beautiful ornaments that each culture in pre-Hispanic Columbia produced.
The Museo Botero is part of the “Museo de Arte del Banco de la Republica”. We must confess that we approached this exhibit of Colombia’s most famous painter, Fernando Botero, with a certain suspicion. All we knew was that he focused on portraying and sculpturing “Gorditos”, chubby people / animals / anything. We did not expect to particularly like such kind of artistic presentation. Well, we left as truly devoted fans of the artist. Botero makes a plump couple dancing together appear like floating weightless elves. Each and every piece is truly aesthetic and often humorous like the chubby-faced Mona Lisa.
Cerro Monserrate, at 3.152 meters, dominates the city and offers some stunning views of the 1.700 square kilometer capital below.
It is best to climb to the top in the morning, when queues are not that long and the sun is behind you. Both the Funicular & the Cable Car offer stunning and vertiginous views of the city below, but the Funicular is less popular amongst locals, therefore with (much) shorter lines…
Especially on weekends, the restaurants and souvenir shops atop Cerro Monserrate are filled with locals going for the view of Bogota with their families.
If you are interested in Street Art, then spend enough time in Bogota! They even now claim to be the Capital of Street Art in Latino America… No matter if exaggerated or true, you will find some very nice samples of militant, high quality Street Art there!
A Bike Tour Through Bogota’s Various Neighborhoods
Quite a few companies offer Bike Tours through Bogota. Out of convenience, I chose the most famous one, Bogota Bike Tour, and got an inconsistent experience…
First, being the most popular tour in Bogota, groups are simply too big! Then, their bikes are really not the best ones on the market. Last but not least, as the first tour (Thursday) was good, I decided to take Stéphanie who arrived on Saturday for the Sunday Tour, and got very, very disappointed: the program is different and far less interesting (no visit to the market, no discovering of Street Arts, and much more crowded streets)…
Nonetheless, no matter with whom you go, these tour gives you a good insight on the diversity of this city, going from the historical aspects to the posh neighborhoods, to a fruit market (a good start to then enjoy Colombia’s amazing fruits during your stay), to street art to finally cross the “Red Light District”, an area where you should not venture alone. Discovering the many faces of Colombia’s capital city with some real good explanations was definitely a highlight of my stay there.
La Ciclovia on a Sunday is a really local experience of Bogota… If you happen to be there on a Sunday, do not miss it!!!