Colombia trip part 1 – Bogota

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Instead of a video we decided to make an exception and write about our first few days in Colombia. Don’t worry though, there will be a video later on, but for now you can expect an article every Sunday about our first impressions in the country and we’ll also try to provide some useful tips for those travelling here.

But let’s not get ahead of ourselves. The story starts with Timi’s ‘Before 30’ bucket list, where South America is Nr. 1. As her birthday is in October there was a limit on time, at the beginning of the year we weren’t even sure how many days she can take off from work. The disadvantages of being an employee… 😛 We decided on the destination in September, Colombia (and we learned to write it with an O, as in ColOmbia and not ColUmbia. Apparently people are sensitive about that)

We could have done a bigger trip around South America but we decided on just one country. For one, there are more than enough things to see in Colombia to last us three weeks. Also, South America does not have such budget airlines like Europe does, if you cross the border the prices go up quite a bit, a fare could cost the same amount as a flight getting here from Europe. Therefore we stayed within the borders of Colombia and visited five areas in three weeks: Bogota (the capital), Cartagena, Santa Maria and the Tayrona National Park, San Andres, and Medellin.

There are several direct flights from Europe to Colombia, we decide on IBERIA from Madrid to Bogota. Last year when I took the Nomad Cruise I flew in from Miami to Cartagena. After the ten-hour flight it was a welcomed surprise to realize that Uber is allowed here – although it is not legal. (If you haven’t used it yet and would like to do so abroad, here is voucher for 2500 HUF) Cheaper than taxi, but the most important feature: you know the price of the journey when you enter the car. No cash, no scam, no tipping, you enter, you get out, end of story. It’s also a great way to bridge any language problems you may face. Our Uber driver was kind enough to offer to call our AirBNB host for us when we arrived. I think he knew that our Spanish was barely enough to order a beer in a bar.

The AirBNB was modern with a Latin design, but we learned that it wasn’t the best location-wise; it was between the old and the modern parts of the town. Like Uber for travelling, I can happily suggest using AirBNB for accommodation when travelling, and I also have a voucher for that, if you haven’t tried it yet.

We arrived on Friday night and were shocked by the first glance of the city.

 
The town lies on a plateau at 2600 m above sea, where the air is noticeably thinner. If you’re not used to it you tire more easily, and some experience altitude sickness as well (headache, nausea, shortness of breath). So we were short of breath and the smog of the city was not helping at all. You could cut the smoke caused by the busses and cars; in a city that has about 8 million inhabitants, there is no metro, tram or trolley bus, only crowded, outdated and highly polluting buses.

On the first day we visited the old town, which was about 4-5km away, but we still decided to simply walk the way there. We could see much more of the lives of the people and other than Uber/taxi the bus was the only possibility to get around, which looked frightening. There are the small, ancient buses and the Transmilenio bus-network across the city which 1,5 million people use every day! Or try to, anyway… The construction of the metro has been going for 30 years. The main obstacle to development is the corruption. Thank God we never experienced anything like that at home.

We usually chose the bars and restaurants based on Tripadvisor suggestions, and so far, they did not disappoint here, we found many nice places based on the recommendations and comments.

Due to the lenient laws of the country, graffiti is not a crime here; it’s a less serious offence. Therefore, the city became an international capital of graffiti where all artists can experiment with different styles, show their talent or express their views on politics or everyday life.

colombia-bogota-1

We spent the second day in the old town (La Candelaria) as well.

We had lunch in a restaurant called SPQR, owned by a man from New Zealand who moved here and married a Columbian woman. When asked how it is to live in Bogota he was somewhat cryptic: “sometimes good, sometimes bad.” Turns out he had his reasons: although he loves the place, a few years ago he almost got killed by the entrance of his own restaurant. He got some serious scars on his abdomen to prove his story. As tourist we are less likely to attract such dangers, however, it is not advised to visit the southern part of the city (south of the Sixth street).

Above the old town is Mount Monserrate (3156m), from where you can have a spectacular view at Bogota. There are three ways to get up to the top: 1. on foot, which may be a bit too much for those not used to hiking or such heights, 2. a cogwheel railway, 3. a cable car. We too option 3 on the way up so we can max out the view, and the railway on the way down. We stood in line for one hour for both though. On Sundays the tickets are half price (about 1000 HUF altogether), so many families chose this programme for the day as well. We were still a bit jetlagged, so we crashed early after the trip to the mountain to be well rested for the next day of travelling.

 

We had to check out by 11 from our accommodation but our flight to Cartagena was only at 7:30 PM,

so we decided to spend the remaining time on the northern part of the city (Street 85-93, Zone T), where our host suggested several places for a visit. This part of town was nothing like the part we visited before: a modern area of an European level, in total contrast with the old town. You can find all banks, hostel- and restaurant-chains, cafés, here. We had lunch at a place called VOK, spent siesta in a nearby park, and worked a bit in a coworking café called EMPRENDU. Almost everyone spoke English here, which was a nice change compared to the culture shock of the previous two days.

Then we were on our way to Cartagena. There are about 15-20 flights between Bogota and Cartagena daily, due to the size of the country; flying is really the only option to get there. You can choose from many flight companies (Avianca, LATAM, VivaAir, Wingo etc.)

Practical information:

  • local currency: peso (COP)
  • exchange rate: 1 USD = about 3150 COP
  • price of taxi/Uber in Bogota: 3-5 USD / journey
  • local beer: 0.5-1.5 USD
  • a breakfast menu: 3-5 USD
  • local SIM card (Claro) for 15 days: 7 USD
    (including 500 MB internet, and the use of social media is for free)
  • Museo del Oro (Gold Museum): free on Sundays
  • Lunch suggestion: Quinua y Amaranto
  • New-wave coworking café: Colo Coffee
  • Breakfast place: Tosta (franchise)

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