After a week in Cartagena, I arrived in Bogotá yesterday and am exploring the busy capital of Colombia. The city’s population is over 7 million, and it’s in the Andes Mountains on a plain 2,600 meters (8,600 feet) above sea level – higher than imagined. The temperature is a chilly 30 degree drop from sunny Cartagena!
After checking in, I went out for a long walk. There are stories about how dangerous Bogota is, but I didn’t see much evidence of that – at least not during daylight. The streets are busy and crowded, and traffic gridlock is a big problem.
One street in La Candelaria District was mostly jewelry shops. Jewelry, especially Colombian emeralds, is very popular. I couldn’t help but notice a mean-looking guard with a sawed-off shotgun standing watch outside one shop – a little scary. The people seem the same as inhabitants of other large cities – in a hurry and intensely focused on the task at hand. In one square, there was a Grinch Santa and an elderly man with a llama offering rides to children – the llama looked bored.
TransMilenio is Bogota’s mass transit bus system. It moves in its own separate, private lane and has new buses that are fast, safe, convenient, and pollute a lot less than other systems. I’m hoping it’s easy to navigate and takes me everywhere.
Bogotá is both a historical and modern city with interesting plazas, streets, museums, art galleries, and magnificent cathedrals. My hotel is in a beautiful old Spanish colonial building near La Candelaria District, the oldest district and historical center. La Candelaria is famous for Spanish colonial houses with wooden balconies and clay tile roofs. There’s a beautiful church nearby called the La Iglesia de Nuestra Senora Del Carmen, or also known as the Church of John Bosco.
After acclimatizing to the higher altitude and cooler temperatures the plan is to explore districts like Nueva Santa Fé – with its modern late-20th-century architecture. The districts have names and the zones have alpha letters like T and G.
Another interesting area is Mount Monserrate, an important religious symbol in Bogota. In 1640 Colombia’s former governor – Juan de Borja – ordered a church built on the mountain in honor of Monserrate’s Virgen Morena. Several years later they added a monastery. Monserrate is a pilgrim destination, a tourist attraction, and a popular place to watch the sun set over Bogota. You can get up the mountain by foot, train, or take a cable car with a glass top. I prefer walking but they say it’s dangerous and muggings have occurred, so I may take the cable car.
There are side trips around Bogota including a cathedral inside a salt mine at Zipaquirá, the Museo de Oro (Gold Museum), and bike tours of the neighborhoods and sites such as Plaza de San Diego, and Plaza de Bolívar. These few days in Bogota will be interesting time well spent.
Wishing everyone a very Merry Christmas and good fortune in 2015!