"It’s difficult to imagine declaring your love for a city. And if by some chance you could, you would think of it being for Paris, New York or Barcelona, indisputably beautiful, enchanting cities with more than enough reasons to fall in love with them. But it’s more complicated when you’re confessing your love for a city like Bogotá; poor, cold, sealess, brutal and, to make matters worse, renowned for its violence. It’s like being in love with a vulgar showgirl with a shameful lifestyle." - La Locura de Nuestro Tiempo, Mario Mendoza
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.
Bogotá is definitely not for everyone, and as a tourist, you have to watch what you read and manage your expectations. Bogotá is not for the faint-hearted. It is chaotic and unapologetic but that’s why I love it and hate it at the same time. 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.
We absolutely love Bogotá – and we hope you will too! To help make the most of its hidden charms, read our honest guide to what you should do in Bogotá.