Bogota bites

By | Category: Travel destinations

Why go
Often called the Athens of South America, Bogota will take your breath away. Literally. The mega metropolis is situated at some 2,600m meaning altitude sickness is a reality for rolos (as residents are known) and gringos (foreigners) alike.
Speaking of which both travellers and locals love to loathe Colombia’s capital city claiming it has no seasons (not true, Bogota does indeed enjoy four seasons, just often in the same day) and that it’s simply too big, too bold, too brash. Yet scratch beneath the surface and you’ll discover there’s more to Bogota than first meets the eye. Case in point? Look to La Candelaria – whose charming cobblestoned streets are lined with quaint cafes, tea houses and theatres straight from the pages of a Gabriel Garcia Marquez novel.
Yet Bogota’s biggest draw is arguably the rolos themselves who go out of their way to welcome visitors and share the spirit of their city. All of which means that Bogota is a city worth stopping in on its right, rather than rushing on to Cartagena and the Zone Cafeteria. Just About Travel shows you the way to go…


Culture vulture
Bogota boasts a myriad of museums, many of which are free to enter on a Sunday but the city’s most famous, and fascinating, museum is the Museo del Oro – home to the largest collection of pre-Colombian gold artifacts in the world. English and Spanish language descriptions tell the story of these objects through the eyes of those who created them, with additional information available on English audio guides.
After you’ve finished gawping at the gold, pop across to Plaza de Bolívar – the literal and metaphorical heart and soul of Colombia – to see the statue of famous South American revolutionary Simon Bolivar, who helped Colombia achieve  independence from the Spanish Empire. Today Plaza de Bolívar is where Bogota’s politicians and power players base themselves and where’ll you find notable buildings including the Cathedral of Bogota, the neoclassical joy that is the National Capitol building and the Palace of Justice. It’s also the gateway to the bohemian neighbourhood of La Candelaria – a wonderful example of colonial architecture in Latin America. Expect to see  300 year old churches and convents, juxtaposed alongside cute cafes and bars.

Best bites
When hunger strikes, seek out a set meal (called almuerzo at lunchtime and comida at dinner) – basically soup, meat, rice or beans and a side of potatoes for peanut prices. If you can’t stomach so much food, opt for empanadas (stuffed pastry) or ajiaco. A  regional favourite, ajiaco consists of chicken or beef stew served with potatoes and is surprisingly moreish. Fancy preparing your own lunch? Make for Mercado de Paloquemao, north west of the centre. Open daily from 8am-1pm, the market is chock full of exotic fruit (think mango and papaya), hearty slabs of meat and the freshest of seafood.
Whatever you opt to eat, wash it down with a cup of  freshly brewed Joe for while Colombia mighty be more readily associated with cocaine, the country is actually the world’s third biggest exporter of coffee. Not a caffeine fiend? Order Chocolate Santafereño –  hot chocolate served with a hefty chunk of cheese and bread. Admittedly it sounds a tad strange, but don’t knock it until you have tried it…



Park life
When the hustle and bustle of Bogota gets too much (as it will), escape to Cerro de Monserrate which, at 3,200m, dominates Bogota’s skyline. You can reach the summit via funicular railway, cable car or – energy permitting – via a trail that starts alongside the base station. But be warned: it’s a steep hike to the top because the basilica – step forward the Santuario de Monserrate – has been a site of pilgrimage since the mid 1600s. To enjoy unrivalled views of the city with the rolos -for whom the mountain is a symbol of pride – climb Cerro de Monserrate at weekends. And allow plenty of time: it’s easy to while away an afternoon here browsing the shops and stalls for souvenirs, and sampling Colombian cuisine at one of the many mountain-side restaurants. One caveat: it gets chilly at the top of the mountain – even in summer – so pack a jumper. And a brolly – rain is frequent in Bogota.

After dark

Salsa time! When in Rome...

Salsa time! When in Rome…

When night falls, rolos head to a salsa club – to strut their stuff on a dance floor in La Zona Rosa (which literally translates as pink zone) and as the saying goes, “if you can’t beat ‘em, join em…” If, being a stiff upper lip Brit, you’re dreading the dancing bit, steady the nerves with a few slugs of aguardiente – a local alcohol spirit flavoured with anise. Trust JAT: after a couple of shots, you’ll soon find yourself shimmying and shaking to Enrique Iglesias’ mega hit Bailando (the sound of South America) with the best of them.

If you choose just one excursion, escape 50km (approximately an hour’s drive) north of Bogota and descend 600 feet underground to the Zipaquirá Salt Cathedral – one of the wonders of South America. Opened in 1995 to much fanfare, the famous cathedral compromises an immaculately preserved collection of tunnels, chambers, stalactites and cascadas- all carved out of salt. Even if you’re aren’t religious, the majestic cathedral is worth making the journey for – being a feat of engineering power and unbridled imagination. Above ground, there’s a museum explaining the history of salt extraction to explore – depending on which ticket combination you purchase, this may be included in the price. You can visit the Cathedral independently by public transport or join a half day tour with a company like Bogota Pass.



Lili (centre) will hit the hippest salsa spots with you

You don’t need to empty your bank account to find a bed in Bogota. Budget digs abound but JAT can vouch for Hostal Donde Lili, where the atmosphere is akin to chilling at your mate’s house. That doesn’t mean a sink full of dirty dishes but it does mean a relaxing ambience with plenty of books,  a comfortable lounge and dining room, satellite tv and a lovely landlady in Lili, who – if you play your cards right – will hit the hippest salsa spots with you. The location can’t be bettered either: Hostal Donde Lili is within easy walking distance of most of Bogota’s main sights.


Getting around
Colombia’s capital is a very innovative city choosing to put two wheels before four: Bogota has around 350km of dedicated cycle lanes (making it the world’s largest bicycling network) and many of the main highways are closed to cars on Sundays from 7pm-2am.

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