Backpacking in Colombia: Bogota Gotta Go There

Bogota, Colombia’s capital, is a well known city which is often sadly associated with high crime rates. Dangers exist and the city can be daunting. But although I found it bland and lacking real atmosphere (not a bad thing I might add), I totally enjoyed it and want to go back properly and see all the parts of it, delving into the danger zones. It’s a sky high metropolis, which comes with the emotional cargo of drug abuse, alcohol abuse, soroche and high murder rates. This is another post dedicated to the gentleman, comedian and good friend that is Julio Felipe. First night backpacking in Colombia, in Bogota became a Ron and Aguila party in the “Nice” district. Bogota rocks, it’s a great place. You’re better off not reading any travel books about it…just go there.

My time in Bogota city itself was limited to 2 days, as I mostly stayed with my good friend Felipe in Santa Ana Alta, a quiet mountain village a few hours by bus from this collosal capital. However I really built up a liking for the city in the short space of time. I did spend one night in Bogota itself which was with Margarita in the “Nice” area, and will write about that separately. I’m really glad I’ve been to Bogota, I really liked it. Here’s my memories in photos and captions, as this portrays Bogota the way I seen it.

The “Nice” District – no seriously this is the actual name of the area – Nice. Again more photos on this area will be in another post – I spent an excellent night there with Margarita, Martha, Felipe and Sergio.
Buying a bus ticket in Nice.

Waiting on a bus – these bus stops are all enclosed – safe and unusual.

On a Bogota bus. Bus culture in South America varies from city to city and country to country. In Bogota it’s all a bit quiet and a bit of a squeeze. Compared to buses in Montevideo which were noisy and fidgety, Buenos Aires buses were over bearing and unwelcoming, in La Paz sheer lunacy and in Asuncion old, worn and enjoyable.

A market downtown. There can be bag snatchers in these areas, we’re told. It would simply be easy for them to disappear into a crowd or round a corner.

Government Building near Plaza de Bolivar.

In Plaza De Bolivar. Nice typical square. Not many tourists about though.

Gardens and statues near Plaza de Bolivar.

A Catholic Church. Well it is the main religion…

Bogota is very easy on the eye, buildings wise. An array of gorgeous wee buildings in different colours and designs line the streets near Plaza de Bolivar and all the way to the nearby area “La Candelaria”.

War museum.

Main museum. Because I was staying with Felipe and getting a tour everywhere we walked, I didn’t once feel the need to visit a museum. Plus he’d have been bored by it. I remember thinking – let’s spend our entire time walking outside, I can read the books and history on my bus to Venezuela.

It’s not unusual to see a Llama right bang in the city centre, though I’m pretty pleased I got close enough to get this photo.

There was this striking yellow church which immediately reminded me of the beautiful yellow “Nagytemplom” in the Hungarian city of Debrecen. Here’s the Debrecen one at an angle, the only surviving photo I have of it:

Anyway, flashbacks and comparisons always happen when you travel around, so we’ll leave it at that. Back to Bogota…

A football stadium, but not the national team one – the Colombian National team play their home matches in Barranquilla rather than in Bogota. Apart from Chile, I don’t remember a country in South America where I didn’t see one – and in most cases I was inside one. Colombia’s football history is bittersweet – Their nickname is often “Los Cafeteros” (the coffee growers) and they have won the Copa America just once in 2001. They famously scored 4 goals against USSR in their very first World Cup in 1962, however the sadness of Colombian life is evident from the shooting of right back Andres Escobar in 1994 (who scored the own goal which basically put Colombia out of USA 1994) and the imprisonment of former stars Carlos Valderamma and Rene Higuita. To put this into perspective for Northern Irish readers, it would be like Anton Rogan being shot by the UDA for scoring an o.g. for NI, and David Healy and Steve Davis being banged up for drugs. The parallels may not quite fit, but it does go to show that Colombia has far more problems than my own country of Northern Ireland. Sometimes we forget things like that in life.

It was a quiet day when we were there in Bogota – actually I just remembered it was New Year’s Eve 2010. The streets round La Candelaria were very quiet. Here a photo taken by Julio, we were the only 2 people on the street. I like this photo, it’s like I’m a lost Northern Irishman looking for a pub that’s open just to get my fill of Guinness!

Relaxing in the same spot! You’ll find my Bogota photos are longer and a different shape. This was just after the Inca Trail where my camera broke at Winaywayna and I was trying to get used to my new camera. The photos on the other streets came out so badly unfortunately that some of my Bogota images are merely in my head. Here’s one of the “bad photos.”

La Candelaria is beautiful to walk around and I believe there are a few hostels there. At night it can be dangerous, muggings and shootings have been known to happen.

We made a visit to Drinker’s Square, where at night alcoholics, druggys and locals mingle and enjoy an evening. By day the same square is deserted…

Pretty murals and colourful buildings in and around La Candelaria (and “Drinker’s Square”).

Tits cake in a Bogota cake shop.

There are local restaurants everywhere – Bogota is not commercial or over the top with foreign restaurants. Felipe took me to this one – He had fish soup.

And I went for a beef dish, which came with rice, spaghetti, banana, chips and the beef steak. Papaya juice on the side. I don’t know if this is traditional Colombian, but it was nice and it was cheap.

A market that was empty the day we were there.

Cerro de Montserrate up on the hill. Apparently a great view of Bogota. But I didn’t go up to see it.

Bringing the crates in – life goes on – daily workers by a restaurant.

A funky wee market square. There’s a few of them about. Similar to those in Bolivia and Ecuador selling souvenirs, cheap jewellery and colourful clothing.

Iglesia de San Francisco sits proudly in Bogota on a corner by yet another square. I went inside briefly and there was a service on.

Flying the flag outside Iglesia de San Francisco.

Another Church.

Avenida Jimenez. One of the main streets in downtown Bogota.

Carrera 7 – next main street along with bus routes.

Museo del Oro – the Gold Museum.

Cafes, art galleries and museums give Bogota colour, imagination and what I felt was a bit of an “Italian flavour.”

This pretty local was flambouyant dressed in the Colombian flag colours, which gave me a reminder of World Cup 1990, when a Colombian fan wore something similar. Myself, being dressed in the green Northern Ireland shirt, joined in for a photo.

A nice moment which I will forever remember in Bogota – Northern Ireland and Colombia join together – we played them in a friendly in 1994, losing 2-0.

They could have fooled me, I thought Northern Ireland was the Emerald country. I also enjoyed this bit!

More typical streets in Bogota. Charming. I even found some graffiti with Jhonny on it so another photo was in store.

Colombian flags.

Cafe Pasaje downtown Bogota was where I enjoyed my first Bogota bar experience. Friendly, relaxed and an ice cold beer. Another special moment. I had an Aguila (Eagle) – the best Colombian beer I had.

These “phone stalls” make me laugh. Even locals in Colombia don’t own mobile phones, not sure if it’s because they are scared they will get stolen or because they can’t afford the phones. Basically you pay the vendor “x” amount of money depending on how long you spend on the phone he lends you. The phones are cheap, shit ones, so nobody would think of stealing them. Felipe doesn’t own a phone, but carries around a piece of paper with important numbers on it and then chooses the correct moment to use them. It makes a nice change from London, Sydney or The Kong where people flash their iPhones and Nokias all over the show. Do that in Bogota and your phone will not last 5 minutes. Believe me.

Similarly to La Paz, these mayhemic “Collectivos” or “Minibuses” are everywhere and a very good way to get around. Only if your Spanish and directions are any good though. I used them a couple of times with Felipe, but I would not have wanted to use them on my own in Bogota, just in case I ended up on “bullet street” (a street in Bogota famous for murders).

A trendy Pedestrian precinct. Open and wide, therefore slightly safer from thiefs.

One of the main bus station interchanges at Avenida Jimenez, with a market nearby.

We got off a bus near Margarita’s flat and had a short walk around this area, near “Nice.”

Another nice church.
On a quiet local bus. This one was not quite a bus (from the enclosed bus stops) and not quite a collectivo. Somewhere in the middle.

My view from the bus and then my final departure from Bogota, also by bus. I had my big bags with me at this point and was the only tourist, though I was with Felipe and we managed to get on a collectivo out of Bogota to Guasca, a town near where Felipe’s farm (at Santa Ana Alta) is. A comfy and cosy exit from Bogota. I was truly inspired.

The journey out of Bogota was even more high and rising, which I hadn’t expected, given that Bogota in itself is some 2,625 metres above sea level. This final journey out of Bogota was at sunset on New Year’s Eve 2010. We got a nice view into the city and the sun had all but faded when we arrived in the solemnity of Guasca. I had expected to return to Bogota on my departure from Colombia a few days later, but my bus journey ended up being from Sopo instead and I didn’t need to pass by the capital again. Bogota! Go and check it out.

Strange Currencies – Colombian Pesos

Beer Tried – Aguila

Nationalities Met – Colombian

Population – 11 million






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