Bogotá at last. I say “at last” because this is my last stop of the trip and I’m heading home tomorrow morning.
In my only morning in Armenia (after arriving the previous day from Salento), I took a little walk around to explore Parque de la Vida and stumbled upon Café Fika. After my coffee, I was listening to some podcasts on the walk back when my headphones shorted out, which was a bummer with the upcoming 8 hour bus ride to Bogotá. After packing at the hostel, I said goodbye to my new friends at Casa Quimbaya (all working there, as no one else was staying) and went to the terminal to catch the bus to Bogotá. I chose Bolivariano as a service as I had heard good things but also because it was also the first desk I saw upon walking into the terminal. I bought my ticket 8 minutes before the bus left making my time at this terminal about two and a half hours less than my time in the Periera terminal. After boarding the bus, and thinking about how I would survive the ride without podcasts or music, I found that each seat (which reclines all the way back) comes with its own personal TV loaded with movies AND they hand out free headphones… which you can keep. Thanks, Universe.
I arrived to Bogotá some 8 hours later, paid to use a phone to find my friend, Stephany, and left together for her house. Stephany and I had met in Medellín and she had offered a place to stay in Bogotá if I decided to come visit. After booking my departure ticket from BOG, we made plans for my visit. It was now Tuesday night and she had taken the rest of the week of so we could enjoy the city together for several days before she had to work again the following Monday. This split my time in Bogotá into two disctinct experiences: one with a local and her car and the other on my own. Here are some tips* of things to do if you find yourself in either situation…
When you’re in Bogotá with a friend you should:
1. Go to their friend’s fiesta
Here you will celebrate Día de las Velitas (Dec 7 or 8th) and even though you don’t have a specific religious affiliation, you will light and candle and make a prayer. You will graciously thank the host for so warmly accepting you into their house, into their social group, for all of the drinks; and you will shed a tear when his grandmother comes out to shave off pieces of jamón ibérico for the party to munch on.
2. Ask your friend to drive up to Calera
You’ll get a fantastic view of the city from way up on a hill on your first night; this is not the famous Monserrate but a stunning view at night nonetheless.
3. Hike together in Quebrada la Vieja
Wake up early for this one because the enterance gates close at 9AM. A not too strenous but not too easy hike will take you up to another great vista of the city. Still not Monserrate but you’ll have time for that later. On the way back down, you can drag your friend to one of the upscale coffee shops (Amor Perfecto) you had read about online, realize they don’t like coffee so much, and make plans to visit the other shops on your own later.
4. Take a road trip to Puente de Boyacá
Located about 3 hours from Bogotá (4.5 if there’s traffic and your headlights temporarily break on the backroads), Puente de Boyacá is a national monument to a Colombia’s independence as the Battle of Boyacá occured here. During December, you will see a huge field of Christmas lights as well as the permanant installation of flags from each of Colombia’s municipalities. The following day, before driving back to Bogotá, you can stop at the Pozo Azul hotel in Truja. Drive past all of the onion farms and then eat the best trucha in the world, prepared in their house cazuela.
5. Visit Usaquén
A neighborhood north of Chapinero (where you’ll find all your favorite coffee later). Here you can enjoy some cafés and see the christmas lights throughout the park. You can eat some excellent sushi at Osaki and in the evening you can watch a spanish subtitled Café Society to satisfy your Woody Allen diet.
When you’re in Bogotá on your own you should:
1. Use the public transport to get a better sense of the city
Refill your friend’s Transmileno pass as ride the city buses til your heart’s content. For only $2.000 COP per entry, you can ride pretty much anywhere you want in the city. They’re well organized and pretty quick to get around the city (with their own priority lanes) though can be asphixiatingly crowded during rush hours.
2. Visit the various (cheap or free) museums
- Museo Botero (FREE) has works by Botero and many of his contemporaries. This museum is free AND leads into some other fanastic museums (also free) such as the Casa de Modena and another really great art collection.
- Museo de Arte Moderno Bogotá (MAMBO) ($2.000 COP) will help occupy your afternoon and offers all the multiformat works you’d expect in a city’s modern art museum as well as an entire third floor dedicated to an installation by Spencer Tunick.
- Museo National ($2.000 COP) is full of political and artistic history ranging from the indiginous people (more than 15,000 years ago) until today.
3. Sate your coffee addicition (and let the coffee lead you to more of the city)
Now that you’re on your own, you can go well out of your way to track down the best coffee in the city.
- Amor Perfecto (previously mentioned after the hike to Quebrada) will show you that Bogotá knows its coffee. They come with their own coffee lab which you may not necessarily use, but it will show that Amor Perfecto knows what they’re doing.
- Café Color is located in the Candelaria district. You won’t think it’s amazing but it provides a great location to watch the hustle and bustle of people through a main plaza. After watching where all the graffiti tours are headed from your seat, you can take your own self guided tour of the neighborhood’s graffiti. After, you can relax in one of the city’s many parks to catch up on writing or try to read one of your spanish books (for children).
- Bourbon Coffee Roasters roasts their beans in house, can make a fantastic pour-over for you, and will play all your favorite artists on the stereo.
- Café Cultor is located within the Impact HUB co-working space in Chapinero. You’ll drink the best machiatto you’ve had so far in Colombia and feel the buzz of energy from all the social entreprenueres around you. You’ll take a red-eye for the road and feel ready to conquer another museum.
- Café Azahar will be a great place to sit up at the coffee bar and chat to the baristas about anything you may have missed in the city. They’ll recommend Cine Tonalá which you can visit in the evening. You’ll come at the wrong time to see any movies but the chic vibe and awesome cocktails will make the visit worth it. From here you can also wander around Parque de la 93. You can also stop at a nearby Bogotá Brewing Company brewpub because sometimes, right before you finish your trip, you get a little homesick and just want a lunch of pizza and craft beer samples.
4. Talk to strangers
You should be doing this in every city. Whether in cafés, on buses, or walking down the street. Use your best judgement to avoid getting kidnapped but take comfort in the fact that more often than not, most people are exactly like you and happy to show their city to a complete stranger, or pratice their english with you in exchange for some spanish practice. At the very least, they’ll probably give you some interesting tips and insights for the locale, they may invite your to come visit their own city, and after a few drinks, they’ll probably even give you some salsa lessons.
5. Take in the view from Monserrate
After enjoying several other mirardors of the city, you can go to arguably the most famous one and take a spectacular view of the city from above the clouds. You’ll be slightly upset that you had to pay for the cable car since the walking path was closed for the season. Then you’ll get wistful as you realize that these are your final days in Colombia. You’ll feel slightly bitter but mostly sweet for the two months of experiences you’ve had in Colombia including the discovery of many amazing cities, towns, and people. You’ll not worry too much about leaving because you’re going to be spending time with your family for the holidays, and because you’re about to be distracted by the next chapter of adventure leading into 2017.
*disclaimer: these suggestions are probably most helpful if you are EXACTLY like me in December 2016