We’re not going to lie; we were a little scared to arrive in Bogotá. You know its reputation (moms, don’t read this): armed robberies, narco-terrorists, car bombs, kidnappings, drugs and the like. But, after just one day in Bogotá, we were feeling a lot better. It’s not as scary as you would think!
La Candelaria is the heart of Bogotá and one of the oldest districts in South America. Its narrow cobbled streets and colorful buildings transport you back in time. That is, until you see one of the numerous hostels that seem to be popping up on every corner. You can tell that tourism is taking off here, and while Bogotá is not as popular of a destination as say Buenos Aires or Rio, it is definitely on people’s radar now. La Candelaria is full of history, restaurants, markets and yes, military personnel carrying automatic weapons to “make you feel safe.”
Bogotá is a BIG city and one of the best ways to grasp its size is to take a trip to the top of Monserrate. Bordering the city to the east, the church located at the top of this mountain provides breathtaking panoramic views of the city. Wait for a clear day, and you can see right across the valley. There are three ways to get to the top of Monserrate. The easiest methods are via the funicular and gondola (teleférico) which operate on different schedules. Those looking for a good workout can hike up the mountain, but be advised that the trail is closed every Tuesday for maintenance. Our advice is to take the funicular up just before noon, spend a couple hours on top, and then ride down on the teleférico. Those looking for a bargain should go on Sundays, when tickets are much cheaper.
All big cities have some sort of public transportation system, and while Bogotá doesn’t have a subway or light rail, it does have TransMilenio. This bus system is truly incredible. It is like a train without tracks, with two lanes in each direction dedicated solely to the system’s red buses. The numerous lines connect north, south, east, west and in between. Your biggest danger while in Bogotá may be getting suffocated by the mobs of people on TransMilenio during rush hour. For those tourists brave enough to venture out of La Candelaria, TransMilenio is a cheap and efficient way to move about the city. And there is so much more to Bogotá than La Candelaria, trust us.
At first sight, Bogotá is a bit rough around the edges, but when you dig deeper the city actually has some very ritzy neighborhoods as well. Venture north from el centro to areas like Los Rosales, La T, Usaquén and Parque de la 93, and you will find many well-dressed business people and socialites enjoying fine-dining, lush parks, designer shopping and trendy cocktails. If you enjoy the see and be seen type of atmosphere, northern Bogotá is for you. It is interesting to see the extremes of the city; you can go from a run-down working-class area to up-scale and polished neighborhood in less than an hour walking.
So now for the scary part…wait, there wasn’t a scary part. The only things that we found frightening about Bogotá were the preconceived notions that we had in our head. Our five days there helped us to appreciate just how much brief news stories and second-hand accounts can unjustly skew one’s opinion of a place. Don’t take us for naive, we know Bogotá isn’t the world’s safest city; bad things do happen there, but they can happen anywhere. When you let fear dictate your actions, then the bad guys win. So if you have ever wanted to visit Bogotá, there is no time like the present.