Tuesday, November 20, 2012

Bustling Bogota

(Trip date: December, 2011-January, 2012)

Arriving at 12am in Bogota, I didn’t know what to expect as I waited for another couple of hours for my travel buddy to arrive. Shocked at how busy the airport was so late at night, I made my way to a little corner outside, took a seat on my backpack (it always makes a handy chair) and watched the bustling airport full of joyous people reuniting with their family and friends.  Watching all the hugs, double-cheek kisses and smiles all around me, I couldn’t help but get excited to experience this wonderful culture I was about to explore.

Bogota did not fail me, the city was full of energy with people riding through the streets on bikes, chilling at the city’s many cafes and restaurants, and many just walking around admiring the quaint architecture. Although we stayed in what is known to be one of the most dangerous areas of the city, the Candelaria district is also one of the most touristy areas, being an old, historical neighbourhood of Bogota. A walking day tour took us through the winding streets of Candelaria, including the home of the president, where we tried to make the guards smile (didn’t work), as well as the famous Plaza Bolivar. The Plaza was beautiful, with its cobblestone streets, colonial buildings and a stunning display of Christmas lights and decorations. And one can’t help but be mesmerized by the magnificent cathedral , one of the biggest cathedrals in all of South America, with its ancient brick, delicate features, and a natural illuminating glow.

Another great thing about Bogota are the museums, there are so many museums around the city you can’t possibly get bored. And make sure you are there on a Sunday, because all the museums are free for just one day! We visited the funky Botero museum as well as the coin museum, thanks to the friendly security guard who’s smile we just couldn’t resist.  

One of the highlights of my trip to Colombia was a visit to a coffee plantation. Since we were not going all the way to Medellin, the area of Colombia known for coffee plantations, we managed to find a small, family-run plantation just a couple hours outside of Bogota (well four hours if you’re stuck in a traffic jam like we were). A local bus took us to the small town of Fusagasug√° (try saying it, it was my favourite word of the trip!) where we walked from the bus station straight to Hacienda Coloma – an amazing experience, especially if you’re a coffee lover like myself! We stepped through a large red, iron door into a whole new world of tranquility...and coffee!
We had a private tour with a very knowledgeable guide and I developed a whole new appreciation for coffee after seeing the intense process that goes into each and every coffee bean, it was amazing! We sampled some delicious and fresh coffee as well as their homemade coffee liquor – yum! A truly unique and local experience away from the touristy coffee plantations, I highly recommend a trip to Hacienda Coloma for all coffee lovers traveling through Bogota.

Another unique experience is a visit to the Salt Cathedral, just a short drive out of Bogota, in the town of Zipaquir√° - an entire underground world of salt mines turned into a cathedral. There are several tours available, the most common one being a tour of the first level of the cathedral built right into the salt mines. There are actually miners working while tourists walk through the mines, however they are far away and out of site. But for the very brave, you can sign up for a tour that actually puts you into mining gear and lets you detonate a part of the mine! Too bad I had a flight to catch and ran out of time, or I’d have a very worried mother ;)
Many people think Bogota is not a safe place to visit, but apart from a few paranoid moments – including one cab ride where we were sure we were being kidnapped as our cab driver detoured from our usual route up into the mountain and into the dark forest, we felt pretty safe. There is a huge military presence around the city, and the streets are pretty busy during the day. As long as you’re a careful traveler, it is a safe and definitely interesting place to visit. With its lush mountains, magnificent architecture and bustling city life, Bogota is a must-see for anybody visiting Colombia!

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