by Sandra Hutchinson
For the last three days of our family’s trip to Colombia in January, 2019, we headed to Bogota, the capital. At approximately 8600 feet, Bogota is the third highest altitude capital city in the world.
Arrival at Bogota’s El Dorado international airport
We flew from Medellin to Bogota, on Avianca, the Colombian national airline. (The logistics of driving through the mountains made flying between cities the only reasonable option.) After we landed, and we walked through the airport with our luggage, a few of us felt somewhat short of breath from the altitude.
The Bogota airport is extremely sleek and modern, although we weren’t able to access the in-airport wifi when we landed. One of us did called an Uber through our international data plan, but we then realized the driver was not permitted to pull up to the arrivals terminal to pick us up. (Our understanding was that Uber is technically illegal in Colombia, but everyone still uses it, and at the airport, the Uber access is limited. Also, you may be asked to sit in the front passenger seat, so it is not obvious that your vehicle is a ride-sharing service.) We ended up going to the taxi stand outside the terminal, and easily arranged for a small van to take our family of five to our hotel. We paid with a credit card, at the stand.
The Click Clack Hotel
We had arranged to stay at the Click Clack Hotel, in the embassy district of Bogota. When the New York Times ran its series of 52 places to travel in 2018, the second destination was Bogota. The Times reporter, Jada Yuan, loved the Click Clack and raved about it in a later-published piece. My impression, however, after staying three nights, was not nearly as positive as that of the Times’s writer.
The vibe (is it “hipster cool”?) at the reception desk was one of detached interest in our arrival. We did not feel particularly welcomed by the young men who were at the desk. The hallways have strong scents pumped into the air (it reminded me of when my sons were in middle school and Axe body spray was all the rage). These strong odors would be completely unacceptable to anyone with sensitivity to strong scents.
We had booked two rooms on the upper floors, and we did enjoy the enormous windows (with a small casement window that opened to let fresh air in, thankfully) with electric window shades. Our rooms were small suites: there was a room with a sofa bed, desk and seating, and a separate bedroom. The shower and toilet were housed in a small enclosure, which I found extremely dark; the bathroom sink is outside this room and immediately in front of the bed (not everyone might be comfortable with this arrangement); there was a mini fridge and the snacks and a beverages, including one beer, in it were said to be included in the room rate, but the bottled water on the table was not; and every time we entered the room, the music channel on the television would automatically begin to play, loudly, and we could not easily figure out how to disable that automatic start feature.
One of our rooms was on the top floor, and directly above it is a popular rooftop bar. While the view from the room was pleasant, the sound of dragging furniture on the floor above and the booming bass was not. Frankly, the decor, with its strange quotations stenciled on the wall seemed contrived. All that being said, the hotel is located in the “embassy” district of the city, and we felt we could safely walk around the neighborhood, where there were some interesting restaurants and bars. There was also a convenience store next to the hotel, where we purchased bottled water and sundries.
Our sightseeing highlights of Bogota
Bogota is a sprawling city of about 8 million people (estimated to be 11 million in the entire metro district). Granted, with only a couple of days, we did not have the opportunity to see many of the cultural or historical sites of this vast city. We spent one afternoon taking a food/walking tour of the Candelaria neighborhood. I posted a separate article on the food tour, which can be found by going to the home page of this blog and scrolling down, or by clicking here.
Rising up above the central commercial area is a steep mountain, called Monserrate, which at its peak is nearly 11,000 feet in elevation. At the top is a 17th century church, and people make pilgrimages up the mountain, some climbing up on their knees! Taking either the funicular or a cable car to the top to see the view of the city center of Bogota and the vast sprawl beyond is mandatory for tourists. The day we were there, only the funicular was working. The funicular is a glass-enclosed car, on a track, that proceeds up (and down) the steep mountain. Each car holds approximately 40 people, and within the car there are several levels. Everyone stands and faces out to see the view. One thing that riders might want to be aware of is that about 3/4 of the way up the mountain, the car enters a tunnel, and it proceeds through a tunnel for approximately one minute. I was happy when we emerged at the top.
Here is video I took while heading up the incline, on the tram. The video is about 4 minutes long.
Museo del Oro (Museum of Gold)
This museum contains more pre-Columbian gold items and artifacts than any other institution on earth. The exhibits are stunning— room after room, case after case of gold jewelry, decorative items, masks, helmets, pins— you name it. The exhibit texts are in Spanish and English.
Below are photographs of a few of the items on display. The items in the top row of photos are only one or two inches high. The figure in the medallion on the lower right reminded us of Bart Simpson!
Some of the galleries are protected with huge vault doors.
The largest food market in Bogota is the Paloquemao market. There’s an eye-popping array of fruits, vegetables, eggs and herbs. Some of the vendors did not want us to take photos, and we were warned about displaying our smartphones. We did not, fortunately, encounter any difficulties.
Pasaje Rivas crafts market
This marketplace is in a non-touristy area of the city, and is a bit hard to find. There are multiple vendors with shops, selling Colombian handcrafts, including ceramic, wooden and woven items, baskets, textiles, chocolate, and much more. The street address is Carrera 10 No. 10 – 54.
It was in this market that I bought my Mochila bag, for around US $20.
Authentic Mochila bags are made by the women of the Wayuu tribe in the La Guajira region of Colombia. They are woven, offered in many different designs and colors, and worn cross-body style. Because I didn’t take any great photos of the bags while in Colombia, I’ve grabbed a few images off the Web so show you some examples:
Bolivar Square is a large public space ringed by government buildings, including the Capitol building, and the national cathedral of Colombia. The plaza is filled with pedestrians, pigeons and street vendors.
Osk peru, Bogota
We had a great meal at Osk peru, within walking distance of our hotel, in the neighborhood called “Zona T.” This is a highly rated restaurant — variously described as Asian fusion, or Peruvian/Japanese. The experience reminded me of our first visit to Sushi Roku in Santa Monica, California. We were so boggled by the many choices on the menu that we essentially let our waiter select the plates. My son had made a dinner reservation before we even arrived in Bogota. The place was hopping. We appreciated the availability of an English menu. Some of the plates we enjoyed were various ceviches, some sushi, and grilled pork ribs. Here’s a link to an Osk menu. The service was outstanding, as were the craft cocktails.
Some parting thoughts:
As American tourists in Colombia, we were warned repeatedly about not displaying our smartphones in public, because we would be “marking ourselves” for theft. We were careful and never felt threatened. But because of my reluctance to use my iPhone in busy places, I missed out on some great photo and video opportunities.
I do wish to urge caution about taxis. Tourists traveling solo are generally advised against hailing a taxi on the street. There have been incidents of drivers essentially kidnapping riders and forcing them under threat of harm to withdraw money from ATMs. Although Uber is technically “illegal,” it is commonly used and readily available. We used many Ubers in Bogota (although in Medellin we did use taxis out of necessity because we weren’t always able to get a quick Uber pick up.) In Bogota, the one time we used a taxi, which was a minivan we located at the base of Monserrate, the driver tricked us into thinking we had given him torn paper currency, which he refused and handed back, and it was only later that we realized the currency he handed to us was counterfeit. So beware.
I struggled a bit with the altitude in Bogota, waking up somewhat panicked during the first night, feeling that I wasn’t getting enough oxygen. The other members of my family seemed to have less difficulty with the altitude than I did. It is very important to stay hydrated and not over-exert yourself the first few days! If you know you have problems with high altitudes, there is a prescription drug that your doctor can order.
As I’ve said in previous posts, very few people we encountered spoke English. At least a basic working knowledge of Spanish is desirable, in my opinion.
Please share any thoughts you might have below on travel to Colombia! Thanks as always for reading my posts.