When I first decided to go to Colombia, I spent quite some time trying to figure out whether I should spend my time in Medellín or Cartagena. Thankfully I quickly realised that inter-city travel is extremely reasonable and opted to visit both. Flying into Cartagena is extremely expensive because it’s where most tourists go, so Medellín seemed like the best bet. It was only after some intense searching for cheaper tickets (because flying to Colombia aint cheap) I realised flying into Bogotá was actually the cheapest option. And that’s how we ended up visiting Bogotá.
Flights were so much cheaper than the other cities that after flying into Bogotá at the start of the trip, it was cheaper to fly back to Bogotá at the end of the trip to catch the flight back to Trinidad rather than leave from another city.
Truthfully, when I return to Colombia there’s a chance I may not go back to Bogotá, but I am eternally grateful that the budget travel gods led me there. It’s a chilly, busy city, completely unbothered with the warmth, tourism and friendliness of Medellin and Cartagena but with quite a bit to see and experience. If you’re flying in from the Caribbean don’t think twice about it – definitely fly into Bogotá and then take a flight/bus onwards. Don’t fly in and leave on the same day though, spend at least two days discovering Bogotá – you won’t regret it.
You should stay in La Candelaria – a mostly nice neighbourhood, central to almost everything you’ll want to do in Bogotá. The best AirBnb I’ve stayed in to date was there. It was in this brand new apartment complex, very spacious, modern, safe and central with an amazing view all for $40 USD per night. Up to four people can sleep there comfortably so you’re looking at $10 USD per night if travelling with a group – that’s crazily cheap for the apartment quality.
The first thing to do is pack a jacket and sneakers or boots. Bogotá gets ridiculously chilly and if you’re unaccustomed to this type of weather it can dampen your trip. On your first day there I recommend the Bogotá Bike Tour. We started the day at La Puerta Falsa which is this really popular (and rightfully so) cafe in La Candelaria.
We had their ajiaco soup and tamales. Ajiaco is a chicken soup with potatoes and corn which is heavenly especially if you’re freezing. It came with a thick slice of avocado and rice. I wasn’t a fan of their tamales – or tamales on a whole – which is seasoned cornmeal with meat in the middle wrapped in a banana leaf. I had a chicken tamale with a whole chicken leg, rice and beans inside. It was more something I would have liked to sample versus eat a whole plate of. If for some reason you’re not interested in either, you can just order pandebonos (cheesebread) with coffee – so good!
After breakfast we took a ten minute walk over to Bogota Bike Tours. This was a good way to take in the landscape and the people and save money. The bike tour was a whole scene. It is more than worth the $15 USD but if you’re not accustomed to riding bikes on highways, main roads and in narrow alleys alongside cars and pedestrians, know what you’re getting yourself into.
It was a fantastic experience as the four hour tour took us to various historic sites, graffiti sites and neighbourhoods and even included a tour of a coffee factory, local market, parks and a game of tejo – Colombia’s national game.
The guides were very knowledgable and it was a great way to learn a lot about Bogotá. Graffiti is legal in Bogotá so it’s also an experience to see and learn the history behind some of the best art in the city. The tour was also tiring (four hours of bike riding) and scary as we don’t have a bike riding culture in the Caribbean so the first 30 minutes of the tour was a bit shaky. We shamelessly kept back the entire tour because biking on highways isn’t something you warm up to in five minutes. On a whole, it was one of the best value for your money tours I’ve ever been on and I would recommend it in a heartbeat to anyone.
After the tour we were really tired but with only a couple hours left in Bogotá we pushed ourselves and took a walk on Carrera 7 which was a strip of performers, shops, stores, and restaurants – the perfect place to people-watch and then visited the Gold Museum. The museum is huge and fascinating but I will admit we were too tired to appreciate it as much as we could have. If you have the time, I’d recommend sleep and only sleep after the bike tour but if you’re only in Bogotá for two days like we were then sleep is secondary.
Outside of the Gold Museum we made friends with a Rastaman who suggested some good places for cheap, tasty food but they were all closed. Thankfully we stumbled upon a real hole in the wall and ended the day with some local, hearty food.
Our second day in Bogotá was Old Years Day. We flew in from Cartagena a bit upset because Cartagena was a dream and Bogotá was even colder than when we left it. We had lunch at Casa Vieja which is another popular spot and then got lost trying to find our AirBnb. In retrospect, getting lost wasn’t the worst thing because we got to see some beautiful graffiti. We thought we would find an Old Years party to go to that night only to be told that most Colombians ring in the New Year with family. The only place we could find open was KFC.
The KFC wasn’t horrible and we were surprised with food at midnight from the family in the apartment next to our Airbnb who was celebrating the New Year. After an epic trip, it was a bit of a quiet Old Years night but I think we were all low key thankful as we were exhausted.
On our final day we headed up to Monserratte which is known as ‘the mountain which dominates Bogotá.
It was a beautiful experience with amazing views of the city. You can get up to the mountain via cable car or train. Some people even hike to the top but that’s crazy talk to me. I recommend the cable car but we took the train as the cars only go up in the afternoon.
Once at the top, we were blown away by the view. We continued climbing, shamelessly taking pictures until we got up to the church. It was a lovely chapel – and a good space for some quiet prayer time if you like.
We walked over to the craft market and food area (where you can get some very reasonably priced souvenirs and local food). The train works regularly so if you go, you won’t be stuck there. It was the perfect way to start the New Year.
Bogotá may not be on the top of the list of places for tourists to go in Colombia. People were not as warm and engaging as those in Cartagena and Medellín and black people were few and far in between as I mentioned in my first blog on Colombia. However, overall it was a great city to explore and experience.
If you’re on a budget and flying from the Caribbean, definitely make it your first stop!