Once again, the media had succeeded in making me mildly nervous before traveling to Colombia. I was told not to take taxis, not to dress provocatively (um, do I normally dress provocatively? Sheesh) and to watch my back at every turn.
I read travel blogs talking about how men catcalled and whistled, even grabbed foreign women…that I shouldn’t talk to anyone, shouldn’t walk around alone, shouldn’t wear jewelry, shouldn’t flash around large quantities of cash…and of course, I must plastic wrap my suitcase because Colombian narcos would surely use me as a drug mule, unbeknownst to me, of course.
Lies! All lies, I tell you. I felt perfectly at home in Colombia. Of course, it was tough adjustment because I’m used to walking around practically dripping in diamonds and frequently count large quantities of money on street corners, but I managed it.
As a frequent traveler, I always suggest caution, especially at night, when alone or when taking public transport. If something feels shady, it likely might be, so get out of any situations that don’t feel right as quickly as possible. But you definitely shouldn’t miss out on visiting Bogotá, and here’s why:
Monserrate mountain is incredible
Bogotá has a population of almost nine million people, making it a rather dense city, to say the least. But smack on the edge of the city center is a mountain dedicated to a black saint** Monserrate. For a few dollars you can take the cable car or the funicular up to the top of the mountain, which rises to about 3,200 meters above sea level. You can also hike up the mountain if you are in the mood for some major exercise. In any case, seeing the massive urban sprawl of Bogotá from up above is simply mind-blowing.
The street art is colorful & creative
I’m a huge supporter of the arts, especially street art. Street art, though it recently has become more acceptable and mainstream, has always been a way for people to express themselves creatively when they don’t have access to expensive canvas, oil paints or art classes.
There’s a big movement to clean up Bogotá, as some parts of the city aren’t considered beautiful.
Street art is a way for locals to not only express themselves and put their energy into something positive, but also makes the city look unique, interesting and colorful. You can find street art all over Bogotá, but the Candelaria zone, which is the historic center, has many bold examples.
You can eat lunch for $8 — or even less!
I love a country where you money stretches. I made it a point to see if I could find some cool places where I could eat lunch for around $5-8, and I did! Here are some of my faves:
A quaint patio and vintage wooden house hides behind this unassuming shopfront. You’ll have to ring the doorbell to get it and it’s likely you’ll have to wait for a table if you want to chow down on one of their pollo relleno, or filled chicken breasts – their specialty. You can get a set lunch menu for about 19,000-22,000 COP which includes a drink, salad or soup and their famous stuffed chicken. You can choose from a variety of fillings, but I recommend the basil and sun-dried tomato covered with melted cheese, of course.
Quinoa Y Amaranto
This spot, which has a quaint little shopfront, offers different lunch menus: the omnivore menu and the vegetarian menu. The empanadas are especially yummy here!
Native y Arte
I’m by no means a vegan, but this vegan café was super cute and offered a daily lunch menu for about 9,000 COP. The menu changes daily but mine included a freshly squeezed juice, cream of vegetable soup and a quinoa and yucca curry with rice. Afterwards I sipped a coca tea (not included in the menu) to combat the altitude headache I had after being up on the mountain.
I didn’t get a chance to eat here and I was really bummed about it. The space is a small house-turned-restaurant and features a charming little garden I was dying to eat in, but I just couldn’t get there during my three-day trip to Bogotá. Apparently their lunch menu is cheap and delicious, and they also offer takeout. Next time!
Botero (y sus gordas!)
I’ve been a Botero fan since I moved to Madrid 10 years back and discovered his ‘ample’ statues around the city. The Colombian artist loves to paint and sculpt oversize versions of people and items, and they are simply wonderful. There’s a free museum dedicated to Botero in Colombia, and the collection is fantastic, featuring some of his most famous works, like the Mona Lisa, Adam and Eve and more.
**The Virgin of Monserrate’s skin tone changed color from a lighter tone to black thanks to either prolonged exposure to candle smoke or some type of chemical reaction with the paint or varnish. Now known as the black virgin, replicas and the statue itself have been repainted black and she is considered the black Madonna.