After nearly 3 weeks in the blistering heat of Central America, the cold in Bogota was welcomed by our sunburnt skin. The journey into Bogota was a nightmare and the consequence of choosing a bargain over practicality. Even though Bogota is only a couple of hours from Belize, to save some extra bucks we booked a cheap flight from Belize to Bogota via San Salvador and Panama. Which meant a 17 hour transit in two extremely cold airports!
We chose to stay in The La Candelaria district or downtown Bogota. Unfortunately this area has earned a very bad reputation from American tourists and locals that live in the cosmopolitan, North of the city. In reality, it is the epicentre of Columbian culture, arts, history and cuisine. Filled with the best museums, parliamentary houses, colonial buildings, and cobbled streets, La Candelaria is a must see!!
We began exploring the city with a free walking tour organised by Beyond Colombia. The tour lasted approximately 3.5 hours and gave us a really good introduction and context to the city, specifically La Candelaria, which helped us with our explorations in the days to come. It also helped with visualising various episodes of Narcos! We walked through Plaza Bolivar (named after the country’s most loved to most hated president Bolivar), and saw the Justice building that was said to have been burnt down by Pablo Escobar to bury evidence against him. We also saw the house of Parliament where he once served as a member, which led to the truth about his involvement in the drug trafficking industry. Other places included the site where Colombia’s most famous liberal party leader Gaitan was assassinated, the former home of President Bolivar, Museo del Oro (gold museum), Museo Botero and the Santander square. We would highly recommend it!
One of the first and most interesting things you see in Bogota, especially the south of the city are graffiti laden walls everywhere! Graffiti was legalised in most parts of Bogota in 2013. The reason behind the same is a rather interesting story, and probably the ONLY good thing Justin Bieber has done for the world. In 2013 Justin Bieber performed in Bogota whilst on tour. Post concert he decided he wanted to unleash his inner Banksy and was accompanied by Colombian police officers to a wall in the city where he graffitied what is the worst street art I have ever seen. A Canadian flag with a marijuana leaf instead of a maple leaf. My 3 year old nephew would have done a better job in all seriousness.
The next day the locals were outraged, mostly by the drawing itself but the fact that the criminal justice system would stand for a ‘technically’ illegal act to be performed as long as it was by a celebrity!! A few protest rallies later, the government officially legalised graffiti in most parts of Bogota, and boy were we glad they did! La Candelaria would not be the same without its life size, three dimensional murals of native Colombians, commemorating the first settlement in Bogota.
Our personal favourite was the oldest street in La Candelaria, Calle Jon del Embudo. This cobblestoned narrow street is lined with beautiful graffiti, several cafe’s and bar’s selling the local corn beer ‘chicha’ and some of the best Colombian hot chocolate. The street ends in a small square that fills up with food and chicha carts in the evenings, where students and hipsters alike hang out, joints in one hand, guitars and the odd cello in the other till early hours of the morning. (small quantities of weed for personal use is also legal in Colombia)
During our walking tour, we also passed numerous street food stalls and restaurants with mouth watering dishes. On our way back we bumped into Ivan, a 17 year old student studying nutrition at a local university and he offered to take us on a free food tour
(He must have seen my ‘hangry’ face from a mile away). We were sceptical at first, but the sincerity in his voice got us signed up for a food tour the next day. This was the highlight of our trip. Ivan took us to the most authentic and funny enough,healthy joints in Bogota. We tried all the weird and wonderful things people ate here, and to our surprise, not all of it was beige and fried 🙂
We had traditional Colombian fried plantain wafers, several empanadas, grilled capybara, baked cheese dough balls called ‘pan de bono’ and ‘bunuelos’, columbian filter coffee, Chocolate Santaferno (hot, raw cacao chocolate served with cheese, that has to be mixed with the chocolate), obleas (wafers with multiple fillings in between) and local fruit including Freijoa (tastes like guava and strawberries), Guanabana (looks like a jackfruit but tastes so much better. Known to have anti-cancerous properties). The local fruit lady Gloria became a hot favourite for the rest of our stay in Bogota. Her mother set up this Fruitaria called..wait for it.. ‘Oh Gloria’ 50 years ago and Gloria has been here since. She serves some of the best local fruit including the above mentioned and is probably one of a very few places in Bogota that serves healthy food and juices! At the end of the walking tour, we also tried some natural coca leaves (as opposed to the tea) with some can col menta (coca activator), both of which are legal in Colombia. It is safe to say, Ivan and I did not stop jabbering for the next 30 minutes! I see why the locals use it to get over altitude sickness and tiredness, or for no reason!
During our stay we also had the chance to catch up with an old school mate who lives in North Bogota (the posh part). He went out of his way to show us around this part of town despite the time limitation and introduced us to the local liquor of choice, Aguardiente (tastes like sambuca), at one of the coolest bars I have ever been to. Andres DC. This bar has 4 floors I think? Starting with hell, moving up to heaven! It was heaving with people, mariachi bands, and people impromptu salsa dancing at most tables even for a Monday. I can only imagine what it is like at the weekend! Several glasses of aguardiente and hours of reminiscing about our school days later, we went to a wonderful Peruvian restaurant called Cuzco for dinner where we had the best arroces or Peruvian fried rice!! While this part of Bogota was no different to any other city I guess it had its own little charm!
We also managed to make it to the top of Bogota’s famous Monseratte. Despite the awful weather and gail force winds, the view is absolutely spectacular! Would highly recommend making the trip up!
We learnt a few things about Columbians during our time in Bogota. First, Colombians are a very passionate community. They are extremely passionate about their culture and heritage (and really good salsa dancers). Second, they love their food, and third, they think the Bogota summer is warmer than a good English summer! (Borderline delusion!).
Capital Cocina Y Cafe
Hands down the best food we ate in Bogota. Great for Colombia classics and contemporary fusion dishes! Really good wine too! This place will set you back about $30-50 for two with a bottle of wine.
La Puerta Falsa (The False Doors)
Open since 1816, this place is an institution for great, no frills Colombian food. The Tamales are my personal favourite (chicken with coconut and corn rice wrapped in a palm leaf, served steamed. Heaven on a cold day). The average cost of a meal for two is about $5-8.