So we are back on the road and happier now more than ever. After a 4 week detour to the UK for my brother’s wedding(s), which were well worth the detour! We took a 12 hour flight via Frankfurt to the capital of Colombia, Bogota. The starting city to our 6 week adventure in the country.
Well to be honest just word of mouth. All the people we’ve met over the last 10/11 months who have visited Colombia have said it was the best country in S. America.
The people, the landscape, the towns and villages, the Atlantic coast, the Pacific coast, the Amazon, the deserts, everything is incredible!
With not much time left, only 7 weeks until we are back to reality, and not having explored any of S. America, we initially thought to visit Panama (not S. America we know!), Colombia and Bolivia. As soon as we started reading up on the countries, we changed our plans completely and decided the best thing for us to do was spend all our time in Colombia. There is too much to see and do and after a very intense go, go, go, adventure in Central America which we didn’t enjoy as much as we wanted, we decided to to take it slow and discover Colombia fully for the rest of our 6/7 weeks.
Bogota – Still trying to work out how we feel about it……..
We arrived in Bogota in the evening and headed to La Candelaria, the historical centre of Bogota with 2/3 hostels in mind to stay. We took a taxi, not our usual method of transport but it seemed the ‘thing to do’ when travelling to the city. It cost us 30,000COP (9 euros) and we arrived to a blacked out La Candelaria. Our first hostel choice was a success, Chocolate Hostel.
Although we couldn’t see much of it the first night, the candles everywhere gave a beautiful vibe, the staff were lovely and very welcoming and the room perfect for what we needed. Private double room, shared bathroom and breakfast included 60,000COP. We slept like babies. The only problem was we quickly realised is it’s bliming cold at night in Bogota. Our hostel had no heating and meeting other people from other hostels, it seemed the norm in La Candelaria. Four blankets was not enough.
We woke bright and early and roughly planned our next 2/3 days in the city -no jet lag in sight. The hostels are great in the city. They can help you with most things, advise you on things to do, which tours are better then others and when to do what. We decided to go check that a free walking tour was still running on our first afternoon (3pm from the Cranky Croc hostel) before deciding what else to do during the day. We arrived and lucky for us the guide Freddie was sitting with his friends and came over to explain the tour. He sold it to us, even though it was free! He even gave us some tips on what to do the next few days and some restaurants to go to. We’d arranged to see him for the tour later in the day.
Our first activity in Bogota was a visit to the famous Museo Del Oro (Gold museum), one of the city’s main attractions. We met half the people that were on our flight there too. Although it’s free on a Sunday we decided to pay the 92 cents entrance fee. It wasn’t exactly going to break the bank and apparently over the weekends the museum is crazy busy.
The museum was good, very informative, with a great collection. It was also a great way to get the legs moving after a long flight. Next stop the Museo Nacional Del Colombia, recommended by Freddie.
To get to the museum we walked along the famous Avenida Septima one of the longest pedestrianised streets in South America. It’s pretty ugly to be honest and in the morning relatively quiet. The museum was free and we enjoyed only an hour or so before our legs began to suffer. The museum was wonderful. Very interesting and lots to see and learn about the history of Colombia.
Exhausted and all museumed out we headed to a recommended restaurant, Colombian style. Walking back along Avenida Septima later in the afternoon, the vibe had completely changed. There were thousands of people, music performers, artists, street food vendors, chess tournaments. So many cool and wonderful things. It was still a very ugly place though!
We arrived at the restaurant recommended to us (we forgot the name!) and the place was heaving with locals. We ordered a delicious meal to share because we’d been warned of the portion sizes. It was still too big for the two of us. The atmosphere was incredible, we had perfectly timed our lunch with the Olympic BMX finals, the only sport Colombia has ever won a gold medal in before (London 2012). They had a Colombian in both the male and female finals. The woman won Gold, the guy won bronze. Some great lunchtime entertainment for us. Totally stuffed we almost rolled back to the Cranky Croc hostel where we joined 8 others for the free walking tour with the famous Freddie (it felt like everyone knew him!).
We’d definitely recommend it. The walk itself was lovely. We walked through La Candelaria, down towards the Government buildings and headed downtown.
We stopped to try some Colombian coffee, very disappointing! We tried Chicha, a weird thick, fermented slightly alcoholic drink. It’s pretty difficult to describe because we have never tasted anything like it.
We stopped at some food stands and tried a few different, well and truly, deep fried snacks before ending the tour drinking a locally brewed beer and playing Tejo.
To put it simply……..Tejo is a traditional Colombian game where you throw metal ‘weights’ at small piles of gunpowder. If the metal touches the gunpowder it ignites and bang!! Only in Colombia!
The walk was just over 3 hours long, we learnt some interesting facts about Bogota and Colombia and just had a really good time. For the rest of the evening after a failed free salsa lesson – no one showed up! We walked around a crazy busy, almost too busy La Candelaria before stopping for a few snacks before bed. Our first day in Bogota was sort of what we expected but with more incredible graffiti and a lot colder than we thought!
Our second day in Bogota started off with an early morning stroll around La Candelaria followed by breakfast and a 5/6 hour bike tour of the city – We weren’t cycling the entire time though!!
We chose Bogota Bike tours, the most popular and actually the cheapest of them all. The group was so large they had to call in a second guide and then split us in two. The options, Mike the American owner or Nico the young retro local. We chose the latter and looking at the other group afterwards we think we made the right choice.
The tour was really good fun, the bikes were good and the route not particularly difficult. In between cycling the city we stopped off to taste some local Colombian fruits, some delicious, some not so delicious!
We played some more Tejo but super sized compared to the night before and this time we played in a proper Tejo playing hall.
We ended the day at a local coffee factory tasting more Colombian coffee. So far Colombian coffee in Bogota sucks, even if it is prepared and made by a qualified, award winning barista. We hope things improve!
The tour took us to different parts of the city. Some areas we definitely wouldn’t have visited on our own including the intense red light district – Funnily enough we were told to put the cameras away and cycle as fast as we could…… Other areas were lovely, smart, quiet neighbourhoods, tourist hotspots and cool green parks.
So much of the city was covered in the most spectacular graffiti and street art, some of the best we’ve ever seen. We had a really great time and Nico our guide was brilliant.
We finished the tour later than expected, paid 10.50 euros each and unfortunately but as expected, were continually asked for a tip, in a subtle, extremely subtle , shaking the tip jar in our face subtle way. Never mind, Nico deserved it.
What made the day even better was the weather. We had the most incredible sunshine from 11am until the sun went down. The impression of Bogota makes a huge difference when the sun is shining. When it’s overcast and miserable it’s pretty ugly and depressing in a lot of ways. When the sun is shining it changes a lot of things, like everywhere else we guess.
We also noticed, probably because it was a weekend, that Bogota always has something on and most of it is for free and really enjoyable. The musicians busking are great, the artists selling their work are so talented (the majority of them!) and all the other crazy stuff like guinea pig racing in the middle of the busiest street in the city was hilarious to watch.
After an entertaining day we (more me) decided to head to the Museo Botero, home to works of the famous Colombian artist Fernando Botero. Free of charge, we wondered around for just over an hour. It was probably one of the funniest galleries I have ever been too and definitely worth a visit.
Botero paints/sculpts everything big, fat and curvaceous, both men, women, children, horses even fruits. It was just crazy but extremely well painted, sketched or moulded. Even JM showed a little bit of enthusiasm at an art museum for once!
There were also a few rooms full of works by the most famous artists in the world. Bonus.
To end the great day we tried to find a local restaurant with local foods but unfortunately at 8pm on a Saturday night all the restaurants are closed or turned into bars, except those selling fast food or catering for rich tourists! – This is only what we saw in La Candelaria. Never mind, pizza slice it was. In Colombia you eat big and cheaply with meus of the day etc, and then snack in the evening.
Before leaving for the Tatacoa desert we wanted to go up to Cerro de Monserrate on the funicular. Half the price on a Sunday and there’s a great ambiance with all the locals going to church. For us we just wanted to see the spectacular views at the top looking over the city and take some great pics. Although we’d had great weather the first 2 days in Bogota, Sunday morning wasn’t the best. It stopped raining at 7am so we took our chances and walked to the funicular station. Half way there it started to drizzle pretty hard and the clouds were low. We decided it wasn’t worth going up to the top to then see nothing. We decided if we have a spare few hours before flying home in 6 weeks time we’ll try again, weather permitting!
We decided to try the famous TransMilenio bus route to reach the main bus terminal to catch our bus to Neiva. We’d been told it was chaotic and only attempt if you definitely know exactly where you are going and on what line. Easy for us, we walked 10 minutes from La Candelaria to Universidades Station jumped onto the bus, got off at El Tiempo, walked a kilometre to the bus terminal et voila. During the brief 30 minute ride we saw even more of Bogota. If anyone has the chance to visit the city on a Sunday do it! On Sundays Bogota comes to life. They close off some of the main roads and pedestrianise them. 1000s upon 1000s then take to the routes, mainly cycling. Food and drinks vendors line the road as well as bike repair stands and other sorts. It really was great! The city also puts on free exercise classes around the city, we saw a Zumba class in full flow in the park opposite our hostel and there’s also an incredible flee market every Sunday. It’s a great place to be.
When we arrived at the bus station we caught a bus within 40 minutes to the city of Neiva. It took us almost 6 hours but the landscape was stunning. The difference in temperature along the way changed pretty dramatically too, from 17°C in Bogota to 37°C near Neiva.
Bogota City surprised us, we had no real expectations Colombia’s captial city must be dangerous, dirty, noisy and a place you visit and get out as soon as possible. For us we liked it. It is pretty ugly if the sun isn’t shining and when it is, it only looks a little better. The people were lovely, there was always something going on somewhere, and it’s a great place to people watch and wander around. It didn’t once feel unsafe and we enjoyed everything we did.