Book! Pack! Go Travel! by Robbie Mamo

Bogota

Bogota

My third and final destination in Colombia was Bogota. This is the capital city and home to over 13 million people.

I flew here from Medellin as flights are cheap in Colombia. Flying is the best way to travel here. In most cases driving any sort of distance isn’t worth it.

After I landed I got into a taxi and started the relatively short 20 minute drive to the historic and colonial area that I was staying in. Similar to Medellin, the historic center of the city is called La Candelaria and this was where I stayed during my 3 days in the city. The taxi fare was $12 and you can alternatively take the TransMilenio bus to your destination and this costs 1700COP/$.60. Most people will likely get off at either Las Aguas or Museo del Oro station if they are staying in any of the main areas.

If taking a taxi from a location other than the airport there are a few guidelines. Always call a taxi to pick you up! They will provide a pin # to your cell phone to confirm that you are getting into the right taxi at a location.

The city…

Bogota is located high in the Andes and an elevation 2620m/8648′. The famous church and mountain peak of Cerro de Montserrate sits even higher looking down on the city providing a magnificent backdrop.

Bogota is a city made up of 20 districts. For those wanting to be in the modern and upscale part of the city, a great choice is Chapinero. If you are interested in the historic and cultural aspects of the city then La Candelaria is your best choice. Anything in betweeen these areas is worth checking out if you have time and is where most of the action is.

La Candelaria

La Candelaria is the oldest part of Bogota and the historic center of the city. Here you will find most of the cultural and historic attractions. I stayed within this district and it was very convenient for what I wanted to see. This is where the famous Catholic church and pilgrimage site of Montserrate is located high above the city.

La Candelaria has many old colonial buildings that give way to the more modern commercial district of Santa Fe as you go North. There are lots of shops, restaurants and street vendors here making it easy to find anything. The colonial architecture in this area and the old cobbled streets make it a great place to walk and I really enjoyed my stay here.

This is a popular area for the arts crowd. Being so close to so many universities it is always very busy with young people. At a glance this area can seem slightly dangerous at night but it’s mostly just people hanging around having conversation and people wanting a more alternative venue for drinks and food.

I didn’t see any reason to be concerned walking around in this area of Bogota all the way to Sante Fe and beyond at most reasonable times of the day.

The old historic streets of La Candelaria lined with brightly colored Colonial buildings.

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The walking path into the city center is lined with trees, small ponds and fountains.

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La Candelaria has many squares and other areas to hang around. 

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Lots of artists and students enjoying the day in the old quarter.

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One of the many hippie shops that are popular in this area. There are lots of interesting shops on the side streets, most catering to an artsy and alternative crowd.

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Santa Fe

This was the next area to be developed after La Candelaria as the city reached away from the mountains. This is what most people consider the new downtown. It is highly developed and where you will find many of the cities highrise buildings and commercial space. It is an area full of shops, restaurants and steet vendors. It is one of the most bustling parts of the city and there are people out and about at all hours.

One of the main steets here is Jimenez Avenue where you find lots of action all the time. Another main street in the city is Carrera Septima. Most of the cities skyscrapers are nearby and this is home to the cities financial district.

This area has a more modern feel is where many of the cities commerce happens.

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A typical busy day in Santa Fe.

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Chapinero

Further North is Chapinero. This is a continuation of Santa Fe that extends from the old city center.

Chapinero is the most modern and affluent area of the city. This is the main commercial district that is also home to the best shopping, restaurants and nightlife. Here you will find the Zona Rosa which has some of the best nightlife in all of Colombia. It is also where Parque 93 is located which is a well kept modern park in a high end area surrounded by mountains. There are also lots of restaurants nearby to satisfy any craving and Zona G(Goulash) is known to have some of the best restaurants in the country. Lots of them!

This is the safest part of the city and also where most of the large corporations, shopping malls and boutiques are found. Chapinero reaches 5km North from La Candelaria and everything in between is worth checking out!

Where to stay…

While in Bogota I stayed in the historic La Candelaria district of the city. This area has a colonial heritage and was a good choice for location if you want to be near the historical and cultural attractions. It is also a short walk to the commercial area of the city making it a great choice for location.

The cobblestone streets are hilly and lead up to the base of Montserrate. The large mountain that sits high above the city that extends from its base. This leads to the government and parliament buildings in Plaza de Bolivar. The city branches out from this central square and continous outward in all directions.

This area was very convenient and well priced. There are lots of options for food and drinks until late at night to satisfy the both locals and a modest amount of tourists, many of which are backpackers. It is also where you will find many of the low key options for accommodation.

I stayed at Hotel Casa Guadalupe and this was an excellent choice. It is located near the top of the hill just below the road leads up to Montserrate. It was a little hard to find as it is a converted home on a residential street and it blends right in.

The room I stayed in was a large, bright loft space. It had a comfortable bed, nice chairs and lots of room to relax. I got the double room and it was the cheapest option at 15000COP/$40. This was more than enough for one person and it was another great room in Colombia.

Larger rooms with more beds are priced up to 190000COP/$65 per night and must be massive.

They also serve a complimentary breakfast and of course, great coffee! The front desk was very helpful and there is a night watchman for added security. I had a really good experience and would definitely stay there again!

My room was very large with a big comfortable bed. There was lots of room to stretch out here and I was very impressed with my stay.

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This is what I walked out to when I left the hotel. A colorful and colonial street!

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What to do…

Gold Museum

Bogota has one of the worlds most renowned collections of gold and artifacts. This museum takes you through a journey from ancient times up until more recent civilizations in this region.

The gold jewellery, figurines and artifacts are part of a priceless collection that is well laid out and explained as you look at the exhibits. I found this very interesting and who doesn’t like gold!

Entrance is 3000COP/$1.

This display showed how gold was crafted in ancient times.

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My favorite displays demonstrated how early royalty was adorned with gold.

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There were many gold sculptures and art on display. 

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Golden masks!

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A golden helmet demonstrating a high level of skill in its craftsmanship.

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Golden necklace made up of many small figurines. 

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Museum of Modern Art 

This isn’t the biggest museum but the art inside is wonderful. After seeing so much art from centuries gone by it was refreshing to visit this gallery. There were lots of different styles of modern art and anyone could appreciate what was on display. Many of the artists showcased were Colombian and I was very impressed.

Entrance is 4000COP/$1.50

For more informaton you can visit the official website.

http://www.mambogota.com/web/

Some of the paintings I liked the most.

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Modern sculpture.

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Plaza de Bolivar

This is the main square where many important buildings are located. The architecture is really good and the buildings are massive. The square itself is very large and aside from passing through to admire the architecture and visit the church there isn’t much more to be seen here.

The square is full of vendors and pigeons and is very busy most of the time. I didn’t see the need to spend too much time here.

The National Capitol Building in the square was massive and had great architecture.

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Colegio Mayor de San Bartolo.

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The Archbishops Cathedral of Bogota.

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El Carmen Church

One of the most prominent buildings in La Candelaria is the beautiful red and white striped El Carmen Church. It is usually locked and you can’t go inside. Either way it is a must see and worth a visit!

El Carmen church dominates the whole neighbourhood.

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Botero Museum

If you weren’t able to visit Medellin during your time in Colombia or don’t plan on it then this is a worthwhile place to visit. Fernando Botero is Colombias most famous artist and is well respected throughout the country and the art world.

This museum was made possible when the Bank of the Republic purchased an old colonial mansion to be converted into a gallery. The museum is visited by more than 500 000 people each year and is considered one of the main attractions in Bogota.

The Botero collection isn’t as vast as what you would find at the Museo de Antioquia in Medellin but it is still enough to get a good feel for the artist and his work. Here you will find 208 pieces donated by Botero. 123 of these are his own works and the additional 85 pieces by other artists from his personal collection. Some of these are by Monet, Picasso and even a sculpture by Salvador Dali.

More information can be found at the official website.

http://www.banrepcultural.org/museo-botero

Admission is free.

A few of my favourite Botero paintings from my visit to the museum.

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Tiny sculptures that are very voluminous. 

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Cerro de Montserrate

Cerro de Montserrate has an elevation of 3152m/10 3411′ and is a popular attraction for tourists. Many are Catholics who come here to make a pilgrimage to the large church on top of the mountain. This church was built in the 17th century with a shrine devoted to “El Señor Caído” or “The Fallen Lord.”  The shrine is accompanied by a statue of Jesus after he was dead and taken off of the cross.

Most others just want the unparalleled view of the city! I chose to go near the end of the day so I would be able to have a view at day and night. This was a great choice and the views were amazing! Watching nightfall over the massive city and the lights take over the landscape was one of my best memories from my time there.

It is easy to get to and there are a few ways to get to the top. You can walk as most religious pilgrims do or alternatively take either the train or cable car. Most others first take a taxi to the base of the mountain and then buy a ticket to take the Aeri de Montserrate cable car to the top. The official website has schedule and rate information.

http://www.cerromonserrate.com/en/

The fee to use the cable car is 8200COP/$3 both ways.

The entrance to Montserrate at street level.

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The Aeri de Montserrate cable car.

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Some of the buildings in the small square before you take the stairs that lead up to the church.

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This is the restaurant at the top that overlooks the city. 

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The old church facade and bell tower. 

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The more modern church at Montserrate. 

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The view of the city at dusk. 

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Bogota at night. 

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Zipaquira

Getting there…

One hour by car from Bogota and a little longer by bus is the old colonial town of Zipaquira. It is located in the largest salt mining area in Colombia and one of the mines nearest the town is home to one of the biggest tourist attractions in this region – The Salt Cathedral of Zipaquira!

There are tours offered that leave from the city itself but if you have a car and want to get there on your own it is relatively straight forward. You need to use the highway called Autopista Norte. You first pass through the town of Chia and then continue on until you reach Zipaquira.

I chose to take public transit to get there. I stayed in La Candelaria so I needed to first get on the B74 Transmilenio bus and take this all the way to the Portal del Norte terminal. This bus is available downtown from Las Aguas or Museo del Oro stations. To get to Portal del Norte was 1700COP/$.60.

Once you arrive at Portal del Norte you cross the platform where you will see the minibuses lined up to take people to Zipiquira. The drivers are used to seeing tourists and will make sure you get off near the main square in Zipaquira. From here it is a short walk to the Salt Cathedral. Each way costs less than $3 and in total this trip takes just over 1 hour. To return to the city center off Bogota you need to get a minibus back to Portal del Norte and then take the J72 Transmilenio bus to Las Aguas.

The city…

Zipaquira is one of the oldest settlements in Colombia. It was one of the first settled areas of the Americas and dates back about 12000 years ago. These people mined the gold and other minerals and mining is a way of life in this region. It is now a city of 120 000 people but it has that small town feel.

The main square in Zipiquira is called Plaza de los Comuneros and is surrounded by some of the best architecture I saw during my time in Colombia. The old colonial buildings here were in pristine condition and are considered national monuments. There were many restaurants and cafes here to enjoy around the plaza. Those who want more food choices can find these on Carrera 10 which is the main street in the newer area of the town. I really liked this town and regretted not having more time here.

Plaza de los Comuneros.

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The Cathedral of the Holy Trinity and St. Anthony of Padua. 

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Zipaquira City Hall.

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Zipaquira Salt Cathedral

The Salt Cathedral is an underground church that is found 200m below ground in an abandoned salt mine. Here they have different caverns that each portray the life of Jesus from birth until death. The largest main cavern has been carved out into a giant Cathedral and was the main draw for me. The actual Cathedral has a size of 75 meters in length and 18 meters in height which is really something to see!

The tour itself is really informative and you are lead underground into the mine by a Spanish speaking guide. They explain the construction and ideas behind the Cathedral itself in addition to explaining the stages of Jesus’s life. Those wanting a more hardcore mine tour should go to the Nemecon salt mine instead which is 80km from Zipaquira.

This tour was very interesting. I had never been into an underground mine and had long worked in the mining industry as an equipment operator. The way the large caverns were dug out and lit was fascinating to me and just being so far underground was fun.

Down below there are gift shops and food for sale. I found that this was overly commercial and took away from the Cathedral end of things but at the same time it was cool to see such a well built attraction underground.

Entry fees vary on what you wish to do during the visit to the Salt Cathedral. Adult admission starts at 15000COP/$5 and goes up to 25000COP/$8 depending what you want to do. Basic admission includes the Cathedral tour and the 3D movie and you can opt to pay more if you want a route map, entry to the museum and use the climbing wall. Prices are significantly lower on Wednesdays.

The entrance to the grounds at The Salt Cathedral.

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One of the old mining trucks that drive through the tunnels underground.

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The long tunnel down to the Cathedral.

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The chapels that depict each stage in the life of Jesus. The deep caverns were brightly lit with colorful lights. 

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Seating for church services deep in the mine!

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This angel sculpture was amazing and with the deep cavern and bright lights it was an amazing sight!

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Carving of Michelangelos “The Creation of Adam” was very well crafted.

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The underground restuarant, cafe and gift shop.

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One of the most epic climbing walls I have ever seen!

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Emeralds

Colombia is renowned for its fine emeralds and Bogota is the worlds largest marketplace for the precious stones. Located in the commercialized Santa Fe district there are whole streets lined with jewellery shops and emerald dealers. Some people travel here solely to buy jewellery and the local artisanship is impressive.

Security is tight here for obvious reasons.

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Lots of cut emeralds already made into jewellery are available here.

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Loose cut emeralds available to have custom settings made. 

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Where to eat…

Everywhere I went in Bogota I was surrounded by good food. In the trendier areas of Chapinero such as Zona Rosa or Parque 93 you can find lots of high end restaurants. You are never far from any sort of fast food in Bogota.

La Candelaria and Santa Fe also has a lot of food options. Here you can find options for all budgets as well as a ton of street food. There are touristy restaurants located near the attractions in the colonial area. As this gives way to the more modern core of Santa Fe district you can find anything including lots of fast food and family restaurants.

La Puerta Real

This was a touristy restaurant in the heart of colonial La Candelaria that was serving traditional food. Mains are 20000COP/$7 and the mixed platter was a little more at 30000COP/$10. This was the most expensive meal I had in Bogota. I ate here twice and both times had great food.

The menu at La Puerta Real.

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The dining area was surrounded by antique phonographs, typewriters and other peculiar items which gave it that authentic, artsy feel.

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The first time I ate here I got the Flank Steak with Creole Sauce or Sobrebarriga en Salsa Criolla. This is as traditional as it gets and was served with fried plantain, a mixed salad and rice. It also comes with juice and dessert.

The flavor was amazing and the beef was really tender which is someting you come to appreciate in South America. Colombia has excellent beef compared to many other Southern countries.

Flank Steak with Creole Sauce

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The next time I ate here I went all out and got the mixed plate called Puchero Santafereno and it was amazing. It started out with a consomme soup that was really tasty. After that I was served this massive plate of beef, pork, chicken, sausage, plantain, potato and yucca. This was prepared in a Creole sauce and topped with a piece of deep fried pork belly. This also came with dessert and juice and I can’t remember paying $10 for a meal this good in a while!

Mixed plate of traditional food!

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Lenos & Palos

Located near the very busy intersection of Carrera 7 and Calle 19 is Lenos & Palos. I love open pit bbq and walking past I noticed it smelled great and had live music so I thought I would try it out. I was happy I did as the food was really good on all counts. Servings were generous, the food tasted good, excellent service, great vibe and it was well priced.

I got the beef and pork ribs combo. This was served with potatos and arepa. The hot sauce they had was really good too.

This was the open pit located near the entrance that convinced me to try it out.

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Beef and pork ribs combo.

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Flor Y Canela

This was a very busy place and that is usually a good sign. It was also very cheap with meals starting at 6500COP/$2.50 and going up to 16000COP/$5.50. I ate here twice and both times the food was very good. Each meal started with a soup which was a nice broth with lots of flavour.

The first time I ate here I got the Churrasco which was bbq steak. This came with fries served right on top of the meat as well as plantain. It was very good and the portions were very large.

The second time I ate here I ordered the whole fish. The fish was Mojarra and it was deep fried and crispy. This was excellent and I always enjoy a whole fish! It was served with fries and plantain.

The menu at Flor Y Canela.

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The soup that came with each meal. 

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Churrasco beef!

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Mojarra!

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Mega Burger

This place was just around the corner from my hotel and one night after having more than a few drinks I thought I would try it out. They serve hotdogs and hamburgers loaded with more toppings than you can imagine! The most expensive item on the menu was 6500COP/$2.25 and you can’t really go wrong with a loaded up hotdog or burger!

The toppings offered are fried onions, fries, ham, chicken, mushrooms and no less than 3 quail eggs. I went all out and got the Maxiperro hotdog. Perro is Spanish for dog. This had all the toppings on it and despite being a challenge to eat it was tasty and worth it!

The menu at Mega Burger!

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Maxiperro hotdog! The fried ham sits atop the mountain of ingredients!

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Parilla Real – Zipiquira

Located on Carrera 10 which is the main street in Zipiquira this is a solid choice. They are mostly known for their chicken but this place is also very popular for choripan. This is a grilled sausage sliced and served on a bun and very common in South America.

I ordered half a roasted chicken and it came out with potatoes and arepa. This was under 9000COP/$3 and was a great value for a really good meal. There was nothing too special about it but good food at a good price works for me!

The roasted chicken was tender and juicy and it was no surprise that it was served with potatoes and arepa.

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Street Food

As with most cities in Colombia there was no shortage of street food! This is one of the things I enjoy most about travellng and there was lots of offer here!

This lady was proudly selling the large wafers known as Obleas. A popular treat in the Americas you can have two of them faced together filled with lots of sweet, chocolately and fruity toppings.

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Lots of fruit and vegetable carts were all over the city making this an easy place to eat healthy when on the move. This man was selling avocados. 

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The avocados here are very large and have a massive pit compared to a Hass avocado. These are known as avocado pears in the Caribbean and taste exactly the same as a haas.

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Grilled corn was commonly for sale and tasted amazing!

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You are never too far from a fresh juice stand. This stand had fresh guanabana also known as soursop or graviola. This is one of my favorite fruits and I love the pulp!

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Fried chicken is everywhere in the Americas and makes a quick and easy choice

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Breads, pastries and other baked goods in Colombia are some of the best in the world. I ate a lot of pastries here and coudn’t get enough!

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Lots of the pizza here had really thick, doughy crust. It was actually pretty good despite being a fan of thin crust pizza.

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Go to Bogota…

I wasn’t in this city very long but the time I did spend here was excellent as was my entire stay in Colombia. The cultural, historical and arts attractions were some of the best I’ve seen in my travels. I had a great time here and would go back to Bogota and also back to Colombia in a heartbeat. My entire experience was great from the beginning and anyone on the fence about going to Colombia should forget about the bad reputation and go!

Gone on a whim…