Bogota is the Colombian city that’s passed over by many, though loved by the ones that take the time to embrace her charms. First inhabited by the indigenous Muiscas before being colonized by the Spaniards, it’s now enjoying somewhat of a revival, noticeable in the increasingly hip colonial enclave of La Candelaria.
Experiencing our first long haul overnight bus from Santa Marta with Expreso Brasilia we hoped this was the benchmark for things to come when travelling the renowned buses of South America (yeah ok, good luck). Arriving in a somewhat fresh state we headed for hostel Sue II (pronounced ‘sway), thankful that no effort was needed to barter in the metered taxi.
Positioned in the La Candelaria district Sue II is in the thick of it, though retains a chilled vibe with comfortable beds, kitchen, ping pong table and TV room complete with a wide range of DVDs, couches and blankets to make that hangover pass just a little bit quicker. Those of you who crave party time can easily stroll over to Hostels Fatima or Musicology for all night benders (Colombian style of course!!).
First port of call for the craft beer lovers (enter Matt) has to be the Bogota Beer Company. Too early to be banging on the doors luckily La Candelaria has a multitude of cultural offerings to keep you busy until beer o’clock, including the Botero Gallery, Gold Museum and Police Museum, not to mention the colourful colonial buildings with various religious sites hidden amongst them. Oh and not to forget some of the nicest settings to digest a budget (USD$2) almurezos (set lunch) or two.
If gold’s your preferred shine/bling then the Museo del Oro, with the largest collected of Pre Hispanic gold in the world, is a given. A thief’s ultimate fantasy the museum has several floors of shiny pieces that will either bore or dazzle the bejezeez out of our your senses. The museum is also the home of the famous Muisca or El Dorado Raft, said to depict a ritual where the Muisca chief would cover himself in gold dust and jump in the lake along with offerings of gold and emeralds (attempts have been made to drain the lake to get to the gold). At a cost of COP3000 you can be entranced for hours, as Sarah was.
Feeling cheap, the scent of the local restaurants pervades our senses, leading us to this beautifully set lunch hang out. Popular with the locals due to the university around the corner, Mele’s quaint setting has filling and tasty fare for the right price, leaving us craving a siesta.
However our hit list for the day was not yet complete. Next the Dr. Seuss-esque red and white striped Santuario Nuestra Senora del Carmen church, which at the time we visited was unfortunately closed. Styled with Byzantine and Moorish influences causing it to stand out in the skyline, we couldn’t understand why this isn’t on more people’s radar.
Heading to our second museum for the day, the Police Museum houses an array of exhibits, from uniforms to guns and even including Pablo Escobar’s Harley Davidson. A blood stained roof tile and the jacket he was apparently wearing when shot can also be seen within the exhibit on the capture of said infamous drug cartel bad boy, a guy supposedly so rich he once offered to pay off Colombia’s foreign debt….in full.
If guns are your thing then head for the third floor where there are all sorts of lead firing arms. Entrance is free and the police here are friendly, giving mini tours within their assigned rooms (ask one of them to show you how Pablo’s custom made desk works), which we figured they have to do this as part of their formal training. Giving children lollies as they left was a heartwarming touch though.
Our third and last museum (thank Christ) was the Botero Museo. For those unfamiliar with his works, as Matt was, it will soon become apparent that Fernando Botero is responsible for painting, drawing and sculpting ‘the fat people’. An artist who paints his subjects in an obese sense, thus predicting the results of the excess of the western world, Botero’s images exude a unique type of elegance. Putting a romanticized flare to his fetish for everything large, he manages take away the harshness and drapes canvases in a softening tone that can only produce beauty, but left us feeling like a bit like stickmen.
The streets of La Candelaria swell with a youthful vibe, it’s alleyways and squares are fast becoming an art gallery of their own. No wonder the graffiti tour we passed had tens of participants all admiring the same pieces as us. Plazoleta del Chorro de Queveda seems to be the hangout place for the youth of today, and passing through we made our way down the pedestrianised Calle 2 back to familiar territory.
Glad that the Bogota Beer Company was now open we entered only to find that they only had the Classic larger available at an extortionate price. Heading next door to the far hipper Rosas, with dim lit interior and Apostol on tap (at a good price to boot), we settle in for a couple of quite jugs.
After a long day it was now late, and the last thing on our minds was cooking. Lucky for us right across the road is the best fast food hot dog and burger joint in the entire world – MEGABURGER – just try saying it withMout using a booming voice. Hotdogs so loaded you can’t see the dog, burgers ridiculously overflowing with toppings and so many sauces it’s impossible to choose. If burgers aren’t your scene just around the corner you can indulge yourself with the plethora of options at Poutine & Poutine (we tried it, it’s pretty genuine!).
Beer, Burgers, sleep.
Glutinously guilty after last nights burger binge, there’s no better cure than the trek up to Monserrate. But first we had to top up the hostel free breakfast so stopped in at recently opened Australian joint Nimmo St in La Candelaria where you can get traditional hollandaise sauce smothering a plate of poached eggs and hash.
Short for some of the stupendous weekend fitness warriors or a gruelingly painful effort for the rest of us (the caretakers find it morbidly fitting to erect signs at various point to remind you that you’re a heavy drinking slow bastard), the trail switchbacks to eventually open up to what is the best vantage point of the city.
Thankful that the Colombians love a chat and lovingly love to have you in their happy snaps, we were more than happy to indulge the various people who stopped to politely ask us to pose with them, glad for a rest from the steep climb. Colombians are such a friendly lot, possibly due to the recent turmoil their country faced during the Cocaine Wars, that every opportunity seems to be embraced happily with open arms, and foreigners are made to feel like part of the big happy Colombian family.
Managing to negotiate the 3km 55om climb without much difficulty we reached the summit in just over an hour at a lofty 3,152m. From here you can explore the Monserrate Church which sits atop, with Cerro Guadalupe being a small distance along the ridge.
As a highly religious site for the Colombians, it’s best to hike on a Sunday as we did, as the large amount of locals keep it relatively safe. During the week when things are quieter there are still people around who are happy to take your camera, not just your photo. Up for more? Head over to the national park beyond which offers up another area for your exploration pleasure. If you’re not up for more take the cable car or telerifico down.
Feeling like celebrities, eyes dazzled from the many camera flashes we tip heads inflated with egos downhill to catch up with an old work colleague of Sarah’s at an Irish Pub simply called The Pub. If you’re looking for a break from Colombia, the music, dark wood interior and bright and happening rear courtyard will fool you into thinking you’re in Ireland or London. Until you order a bottle of the local fire water, Aguadiente. You’re not likely to find that on any Irish drinks lists anytime soon.
After a good catch up all we could think was MEGABURGER? Hell yeah, smash a burger each shall we? Perfecto. Content with the holy redemption and our new found status as local celebs we call quits on Bogota and wait for the night bus to Medellin.
For more photos of Bogota’s awesome street art check out our Flickr page.