If you find yourself in Bogota with only 24 hours as we did, you can still have a rich experience and get the flavor of the city.
Bogota, Colombia's capital city, sits at almost 8,700 feet above sea level giving it a temperate climate. There are essentially two seasons; rain and no - or less - rain. When we were there in September it was comfortably in the 60's. It's also Colombia's largest city with a population of about 8 million.
Even if we have breakfast at our hotel, I enjoy having a coffee at a cafe. Our hotel recommended Tacoa Cafe just around the corner. It's tiny but what it lacks in size it makes up for in its great café con leche! Stop by and enjoy a pastry with your Colombian coffee.
We took a two and a half hour graffiti tour suggested by our hotel. I wasn't expecting much; after all, it's just graffiti, right? Was I wrong! It was very eye-opening. Our guide was a young man born in Colombia, but raised in Queens, NY before moving back to Bogota at the age of 18. He was passionate about the subject and a great story teller. We learned that some graffiti is purely art, but most of what we saw expressed views of the dynamic and unsteady political atmosphere. He was knowledgeable about each of the artists and made sure to let us know when he was expressing his own views on the current political situation in Colombia vs. giving us facts.
It's complicated. You probably know that there has been much violence in Colombia for decades thanks to the strong drug cartels. FARC (Fuerzas Armadas Revolucionarias de Colombia) is the main rebel group which is responsible for drug trafficking and countless deaths. The government is currently (fall 2019) negotiating a peace plan with them which calls for the rebels to lay down their arms and in turn the government will build a foundation for the transformation of rural Colombia. It promises vast reform in the rural areas including access to land, health care, education and other services. It's tenuous at best and our guide said that the rebels feel that the government isn't proposing enough in the way of social programs. Education isn't compulsory in Colombia, so illiteracy in the rural areas is a big problem. Children have learned to work their family's farm which may or may not have been associated with drugs, but that's all they know as adults and they're not equipped to do much of anything else to earn a living.
Not surprisingly, he told us that women are often treated differently than men. Some of the graffiti expressed views on the treatment of women.
The wall below says that 83,000 people are still missing.
The mural immediately below was my favorite, painted by several different artists. All of the sections have political meaning. One of the artists is a professor who hides his identity because he thinks he would be fired if the university knew he was a graffiti artist.
This one is a commentary on child labor.
And this statement...
Some of the graffiti is commissioned but much isn't and some of the artists come from as far away as Vietnam and Afghanistan. Sometimes their work is painted over in a matter of days or even hours if the more-established or better-known artists don't like it.
Colombia also has one of the highest number of landmines in the world. Many farmers are afraid to work their land for fear of being injured or killed.
This is a link to an easily-readable summary of the peace process, if you are interested.
We rested our tired legs for lunch after our tour at a popular café, Origen, in La Candelaria.
A "must-do" in Bogota is to take a cable car or the funicular to the top of Monserrate, the hill that dominates the city. At 10,341 feet, the air is cool and the view magnificent. There is a church at the top and we were told that the faithful make an annual pilgrimage by climbing up the mountain on foot or on their knees! The cable car was just fine for us!
We were told we could walk to the ticket booth from the center of the city, but the walk is long and it's uphill. Take a taxi; it's inexpensive and you'll save your legs.
Take an early evening stroll to the Plaza de Bolivar, a large square which contains among other buildings, Bogota's cathedral, the Palace of Justice and the National Capital housing both houses of congress.
After that, buy a souvenir from one of the street vendors and grab a bite to eat at one of the many cafes lining the streets leading to the plaza.
We stayed in the old part of town called La Candelaria. It's a gritty beehive of pedestrians and cars, many of them taxis. The narrow streets are lined with shops and cafes selling their famous Colombian coffee. La Candelaria is a small slice of Bogota at the eastern edge of the city in the shadow of the hills which rise above Bogota.
The hotel was spotlessly clean and breakfast was included in our $72/night rate. The staff spoke excellent English (something we didn't find everywhere) and our room was large. Casa Deco isn't for those with mobility issues as it doesn't have an elevator.
The view from our room
The One that got Away...
The Museo del Oro (Gold Museum) houses a large collection of pre-Columbian gold and other metals. If we had had one more day, we would have visited it.
A Word about Colombia
We spent a week in Colombia divided between Bogota, Cartagena and Medellin. It's a short amount of time, but we feel we got a taste of this varied country. Some impressions...
Tourism is a relatively new phenomenon. That's not surprising given the decades of violence that wreaked havoc on the country. We saw some tourists, but nothing like the masses we see in Europe and elsewhere.
Very few Colombians we came in contact with spoke English. Again, not surprising as the country has only recently hung out its "We're Open" sign. Their willingness to patiently wade through my elementary Spanish was helpful and appreciated.
Colombians are exceedingly friendly. Even with a language barrier, they're genuinely welcoming and accommodating.
The money is tough to wrap your brain around, or at least it was for us. At 3,377 Colombian pesos to the American dollar at the time of this writing, everything costs in the thousands and conversion is dizzying. Colombia is inexpensive for the most part and a bargain for those visiting from North America.
It's safe. Like everywhere else, you need to be aware of your surroundings, but at no time did we feel compromised or unsafe.
The landscape is varied and beautiful. We divided our week between three elevations; 8,700 ft. (Bogota), 7ft. (Cartagena) and 4,900 ft. (Medellin). More about Cartagena and Medellin in our other posts.
Uber is technically illegal in Colombia, but it's present. Our guide in Medellin said that the police look the other way. If you take Uber, you may be asked to sit in the front seat. We found the taxis to be excellent, although especially in Cartagena, we were told to negotiate the rate before we got in.
The water is perfectly safe to drink and no electrical adaptors are needed for visitors from the US.
Colombians are proud that they are shedding their sketchy past, as they should be. We're glad we were able to experience a bit of this complex country.
➜ Top Tips
We did as much as we could in a day, but two or three days would have been a good amount of time.
We highly recommend the graffiti walking tour; you'll learn a lot about the political climate and Colombia's past.
Be prepared to walk and navigate some hills.
We can't vouch for the Museo del Oro as we didn't visit it, but we were sorry we missed it and would have visited if we had had another day in Bogota.