Many tourists come to Bogotá and are disappointed by how little the capital corresponds with their stereotypical image of what Colombia is – Bogotá isn’t hot and it doesn’t have any beaches. Moreover, recent articles claiming that Bogotá has a “European atmosphere and brilliant museums” (The Telegraph), the Transmilenio is “unrivaled for size and efficiency” (World Travel Guide) and that it is “about as bike friendly as Copenhagen” (Forbes) is laughable and disingenuous. Bogotá is many things… but none of the above. These kind of gushing, sycophantic descriptions paints Bogotá to be something it’s not, and gives unsuspecting tourists a completely false idea of it.
Bogotá is not love at first sight, that’s for sure. It is gritty and crowded and polluted. It is a smokescreen of black car fumes, terrible traffic jams and drivers who don’t give a shit about red lights or one-way roads. Bogotá is potholes, uneven pavements and the horror of transmilenio at rush hour. Now throw in some serious bipolar weather with miserable, torrential downpours one minute and sunny blue skies the next… Bogotá is changeable, to say the least.
However, when you look beyond the hazy grey smog, shrouded in the mist of low-hanging clouds, lies the majestic lush-green cerros orientales, red-brick apartments buildings dotted along its foothills. In the unpredictable chaos of the city, the mountains are the one constant you can rely on. And for all its faults, Bogotá does have its charms: street vendors selling delicious street food such as arepas, mazorca, and obleas and freshly squeezed juice on every corner, office workers eating their packed-lunches in the park, evening walks around the tree lined streets of Chapinero Alto, everybody out and about cycling, running, and dog-walking on Sunday morning ciclovia, the buzz of Usaquén at the weekend, the eclectic mix of arcade-like activities and street performers in the Candelaría, people casually walking down Carrera 13 with an armful of mirrors or mops or chairs for sale, the fact you can buy a cigarette for 500 pesos, or have a beer at the cigarerría (like going to the local newsagent for a beer – shop price, but you can drink there)… How the sun sets at the same time every day, flooding the sky with a radiant orange glow.
It’s definitely not for everyone, and as a tourist, you have to watch what you read and manage your expectations. The best way to describe my feelings for Bogotá is like your relationship with your family – you complain and bitch about them all the time, but nobody else is allowed to – and you give hell to anybody who tries to insult them.
Bogotá is chaotic, unapologetic and no for the faint-hearted – but we wouldn’t change it for the world. We absolutely love Bogotá – for us, it is home. And we would love for you to love it like it we do!
Help make most of your time by reading our guide on the Top 10 Things to Do in Bogota – and please, venture beyond the Candelaria!