This is a travel blog for desktop travelers and other ramblers who want to know the world just a little bit better.

Right now I am living in Quetzaltenango, Guatemala where I'll be settled for a while. Thanks for reading!

Friday, December 17, 2010

Bogota, Colombia - An Introduction

Our rough plan has always been to go to South America in December. But, I must admit that the one real reason for being in Colombia right now is the fact that Bogota was by far the cheapest ticket to the continent from Miami. So Colombia it is.

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The first question on everyone's mind when they hear that you are going to Colombia is. "is it safe?" Colombia, as everyone knows, has a horrible history of drug cartels and guerilla activity. Pablo Escobar, the former Colombian drug lord, is probably the most internationally known Colombian in history -- though I do believe Shakira has usurped him of that honor.

So Colombia's notoriety, compounded with the fact that we are flying directly to a massive Latin American city (which in itself = sketchy) and our reading of stories about other travelers' criminal woes has us a bit nervous to be flying into Bogota at night. We take a taxi straight from the airport to our hostel in La Candelaria, the historic part of the city. Settling in it is 9:00 PM. We are famished, but unsure if we can leave the hotel at night. What is the worse of two evils: armed robbery or starvation? With assurances from the hotel guy we decide to walk the three blocks to get food. It is Sunday so the streets are very quiet, but I pass six soldiers on patrol who are dressed like they should be in the jungles of Vietnam circa 1971. I ask a young guy at the food stall if this is normal. His nonchalant reply, "it's Colombia".

The fact on the ground is that Bogota is safe enough. In the central plaza and main streets there are so many people - safety in numbers -- and it is a fun holiday atmosphere. The Plaza de Bolivar has a temporary, and slushy, ice rink. I read in the newspaper that there are 22,500 police officers on hand during the holiday season. Unfortunately, I never get comfortable enough to take my flashy digital camera out at night (and had no batteries for my small one), so I missed many photo opportunities.

From this photo you might be able to make ot the helmeted skaters.
Every day the lines to enter stretch about two blocks long.
Some examples: Mika is out one night with a young Colombian woman from our hostel. To her companion's embarrassment Mika asks a policeman to escort them back. Another is when we visit a posh Bogota neighborhood. A street candy seller is teetering on that line between persistent selling and out right foreigner harrassment - there are only so many times we should have to say, "no gracias". From out of nowhere comes a private security guard with a huge german shepard to help emphasize our reply.

The moral of the story: In Bogota populated places and nice neighborhoods are relatively safe. Just like in any large city you need to be careful with your belongings (ie. lock up your valuables at your accommodation, wear a moneybelt to the ATM, do not hang your purse on the back of your chair, etc). Also avoid certain neighborhoods, but again, this is the same as in any large city in the world.

The historic streets of La Candalaria are plagued by graffiti.
Some is decent, but most just scrawled tags.
The food:

Bogota has countless small restaurants and cafes all over the place. Meals can range from just under US $2 to prices upwards of similar to North America and Europe. Sushi rolls, for example, cost more here than at the nicest Japanese restaurant in Denver. Little bakeries and pizzerias abound so people can always snack on something. So basically there is a place for everyone in Bogota to find some grub.

A very common sight in Bogota
The best deal in town is the "Menu del Dia" for lunch which includes soup, a main dish, rice, small salad, side of vegetable or chickpeas, a small piece of fruit and juice. It is a huge meal and usually chock full of carbohydrates. Prices at the kinds of places we frequent range from US $1.75 to $3.50. With all this cheap food around surprisingly we have not seen any obese Colombians. There are however enough chubby people around. 
Lunch - the biggest meal of the day
After a few days of having my overfill of carbs my stomach is protesting. We make the conscious decision to start buying more fruits, vegetables and yogurt at the supermarket and use the kitchen facilities at our hostel.


One great thing about most giant capital cities is that there is usually no shortage of museums and Bogota is definitly not an exception. We spend lots of time in Bogota's museums and there are plenty that we miss. Many are free or just ask a nominal entrance fee.

The Museo del Oro is probably the most famous museum in Bogota. It has an enormous, beautiful collection of Pre-Columbian artifacts on display and good explanations about the history of gold in the region and the important role it played in the indigenous society.
 Death Masks used for pre-Columbian burials
The Museo Nacional is housed in an old prison and runs through the entire history of the country. We only made it through the first floor with plenty more pre-Columbian items (not in gold) and Spanish conquistador artifacts.

The pre-Colombian people loved nick knacks
The Museo Botero is dedicated to the works of Colombia's most famous living artist (apart from Shakira of course) - Fernando Botero. He is famous for his paintings and statues of pudgy people, animals and inanimate objects. Yes, he does paint pudgy fruit. The museum also has numerous works from other modern artists. There is also a Botero museum in his hometown, Medellin, which I am looking forward to visit.
Big is Beautiful

This poster is my favorite piece of urban art in Bogota


  1. The following link has all the countries our State Department deemed "travel warnings"

    Looking at the picture of the lady at the museum, my first instinct is to get a running start and slap dat a...

    Cool blog entry Jeff. Gonna chew on some cocoa leaves?...

  2. Thanks for the comments.

    That is a pretty dubious list of countries. The US State Dept. lives by the better safe than sorry rule.

    We'll probably try the cocoa leaves if we are in a village somewhere where everyone seems to be doing it. I know there's a lot in Bolivia, not yet sure about Colombia.