As I never went to Latin America, I am interested to document a possible trips in the area and I started to read and find out more about the main locations and recommendations for a possible journey in an uncertain future. The main concerns I was warned about are related to the safety of Western tourists, due to the high rate of kidnappings and robberies, but I was also told that as long as you are following group guided tours and do not look for adventures, a trip in the region can be as safe as an adventure in the Los Angeles neighbourhoods.
For today, I had a long exploration of Bogota, the capital city of Colombia.
Visit to the center of the country
Situated at 2,640 meters above sea level, Bogota is situated on the eastern edge of the Sabana, a wide plain crossed from North to South by the Bogota River which flows out over the Tequendama Falls. The temperature is pleasant all round the year, with an average of 14C. The dry months go from December through March. The wettest months are April and August through December.
The main access roads to Bogota are The Autposita norte, Autopista Sur, Troncal del Occidente, Autopista de los Llanos Orientales and Autopista Medellin.
Since 1954, Bogota is a metropolitan area and has a population of almost eight million. It includes the urban districts of Usme, Bosa, Fontibon, Engativa, Suba and Usaquen. The center of the government and seat of the main state institutions, it is divided into 20 ‘localities’ or districts, further subdivided into 1,000 neighbourhoods.
The Eastern side of Bogota is flanked by mountains, out of them Monserrate and Guadelupe being one of the most sought by tourists. The Bogota River is situated on the Western side of the city. To the South are the foothills of the Paramo de Sumpaz while on the North all you can find are farmlands.
The numbering of the streets is based on a grid: the calles (or diagonales) run from East to West, perpendicular to the hills. The carreras (or transversales) are streets that run from South to North, parallel to the hills. Numbering to the North starts at Calle 1 and to the West at Carrera 1. Numbering to the South of Calle 1 starts at Calle 1S (sur) and to the East of Carrera 1 with Carrera 1E (este).
A little bit of history (as usual)
The first name of the city was Santafé, a locality founded on August 6th, 1538 by the Spaniard Gonzalo Jimenez de Quesado. It was set on the slopes of Montserrate and Guadelupe, on the site of Teusaquillo, a small indigenous settlement. It was part of the territory of the Muiscas, a large group of the indigenous culture of Chibcha. Their remarkable work was the art of gold-work, textiles and pottery.
Santafé was chosen as the capital of the New Kingdom of Granada (Neuva Granada). In 1550, the Royal Courts were established there. The city developed dramatically during the colonial period. By the beginning of the 19th century, it has a population of around 30,000 people and a rich religious life. The religious orders present here created not only monasteries but also centers of education, especially schools and universities, many of them still in place today, such as Santo Tomas, Javeriana and Rosario. Moreover, the cultural and artistic life developed as well, testimony being the heritage of paintings, carvings and sculptures and in the 18th-19th century, the French Enlightment started to manifest in the history of ideas and cultural debates. In 1802, the Astronomical Observatory was built, an almost unique initiative in the region.
Since 1740 till the independence, the city was chosen as the seat of the Viceroy. Santafé played an important role in the beginning of the independence movement. After Simon Bolivar become the president of the new republic in 1819, he decided to change the name of the city to Bogota. Till the political conflict ended at the beginning of the 20th century, the city was the affected by the war and social unrest. Meanwhile, Bogota developed as a city of arts and was called ‘the city of poets’. Since 1886, the National School of Fine Arts started to produce impressive landscape and portraits, many exposed at the National Museum. In 1882, the railway network begin to develop, connecting Bogota with the rest of the country. By 1900, the population reached the threshold of 100,000.
The modernization of the city took place at different periods of time in the 20th century. In 1938, when the city celebrated its 400th anniversary, the population was of 333, 312 and the city was in search of better plans of urbanism. The most outstanding works done was the creation of Eldorato International Airport and of Autposta Norte. In 1954, the city expanded with more neighbourhoods. Nowadays, the city has a population of almost 7 million.
Citytours in Bogota
Bogota offers many opportunities to tourists from all over the world. The list of the most recommended tours includes:
The historic center of Bogota – by foot: The historical center of the city or La Candelaria was declared a National Monument in 1963. The tour includes a visit at the main religious objectives in the area, the old streets around Bolivar Square, with their Spanish flavour and the old style mansions or the neoclassical eclectic architecture. Traditional cuisine can be tasted at the local restaurants such as La Puerta Falsa. During the tour one may see a lot of antique shops, restaurants, classic and experiemnta theatres and museums.
Walking through Jimenez Avenue – The street carries the name of the founder of Bogota, the Conquistator Gonzales Jimenez de Quesada. It markes the northern end of the historical center and was built over the old San Francisco River running east to west down from the Andes to join the Bogota River. The visitor will see the old Herb Market, nowadays the Parque Santander, many colonial-style buildings, many of them headquarters of institutions, but also jewelery shops, bureaux de change, traditional bookshops, such as Lerner. On the corner of Carrera 7 one can see the traces of the old tramlines used for public transportation in the first half of the last century. At Carrera 3 it is Parque de los Periodistas, with a Republican Monument, the Templete al Libertador, by Pietro Tenerani. The Eastern end of the avenue opens out around the walls of the Academia de la Lengua, the headquarters of the Royal Academy of the Spanish Language. The tour ends in the cloisters, now the headquarters of the State crafts organization and a crafts exhibition center.
Bogota: Amusement and Education – by car: Parque Simon Bolivar and its surroundings form a huge complex of amusement parks, green zones, recreational facilities, an interactive science center, mechanical attractions, sports centers and museums. It also includes the Botanical Garden, the Aquaparque and the Children’s Museum.
Other recommended attractions:
Banco de la Republica’s Cultural Complex includes the Art Museujm, the Republican House, the Tenporary Exhibitions Room, the collection of musical instruments.
Museo Botero. The art collection donated by Colombian artist Fernando Botero is considered as one of the most important in the country’s history. The donation comprises around 120 of the works of the artist, but also some of the most representative late 19th and 20th century artists, such as Renoir, Picasso, Degas, Chagall and Bonard.
Centro Cultural Gabriel Garcia Marquez is a building designed by the architect Rogelio Salmona, with a library of more than 80,000 books of big editorial houses of Spanish language, a gallery, an auditorium and an auditorium for children.
Hacienda Santa Barbara Shopping Center, a former large farmhouse, declared national monument. Another shopping destination is Unicentro Shopping Center where the shops offer a wide range of clothing for all ages, leather goods, shoes, books, works of art, furniture, games, toys, decorations, as well as restaurants.
Colonial Art Museum, a typical Spanish American building, with spacious galleries and a large courtyard, in the middle of which is the first fountain in the city, built in the 16th century, called Mono de la Pila. The exhibition rooms contain valuable examples of Colonial painting, carving, sculpture, silver work, furniture, porcelain and marquetry.
Museum of Modern Art was opened in 1955 and was designed by Rogelio Salmona. It houses the most complete collection of Colombian contemporary art in the country.
Gold Museum has one of the most rich pre-Hispanic metal collection in the world. Since 1968, it preserves, investigates, communicates and exhibits a collection of 50,000 objects of gold, but also of other precious metals, ceramic, stone, bone, shells, wood, textiles.
Regional Dress Museum is hosted in a house that originally belonged to Bolivar’s companion Manuelita Saenz. It displays textiles and various models of indigenous and regional dresses.
Emerald Museum is offering to the visitor extensive information about the process of the extraction of the emeralds, starting at a real tunnel that shows the streaks of the different emerald deposits in Colombia with a wide collection of exceptional pieces.
Planetario de Bogota has a large dome and a projection system which electrically, optically and electromechanically reproduces celestial phehomena. The dome, with a diameter of 25 metres, is the biggest in Latin America and can seat 482 people. The principal activies include projections of the vault of heaven, laser projections, telescope observation days, astronomy workshops, lectures on various astronomy-related subjects.
Montserrate Sanctuary – Funicular and cablecar crowns one of the hills that tower up behind the city. It is not only a place for pilgrims, but also a destination for anyone interested to have a panoramic view of the city. At the top there are two exclusive restaurants, San Isidro and Santa Clara, but also a line of small shops, which sell crafts from different regions of Colombia.
Mercado de las Pulgas flea market is situated on Calles 116 to 122, between Carrera 7 and 2.
For those interested to spend a nigh out in the town, the recommendation of the experts is to find Zona Rosa, situated on Calles 79 and 85 between Carreras 11 and 15. It is an area where the possibilities for social gatherings and partying are endless. Throughout the area, but particularly in the so-called Zona T, one may find pleasant bars, cafes, discotheques and restaurants. It is the best place for a romantic encounter, a get-together with friends as well as for a business meeting.
Other practical information
The luxury and executive hotels can be found around Calle 127, Calle 100 in the Chico neighborhood and in Avenida Chile. Many are ten minutes away from the Eldorado International Airport. In neighborhoods such as Chapinero, Teusaquillo and La Candelaria, there are smaller hotels, inns and pensions with very affordable rates. It is recommended that the reservation is made at least one week in advance.
It is possible to pay by cash, credit card or travellers’s cheque for hotels. For restaurants, it is recommended to pay cash – preferably in local currency – or by credit card.
The restaurants offer products and services for every budget and taste. There are some particularly appetizing local dishes, such as ajiaco, puchero santafereno, cocido boyancense, beef picadas, and the tamal con chocolate (recommended for breakfast). Restaurants are usually open from noon to 1 a.m. Most restaurants have designated smoking areas.
When leaving Colombia, the tourists may pay an airport and departure tax. The amounts are regularly updated and the best is to ask at a travel agency, hotel or aiport. The tax does not apply if you are in transit or leaving within 72 hours upon arrival. Travellers with a tourist visa or permit who stay in Colombia for less than 60 days and children under the age of five pay only the Airport Tax.
Bogota has some of the purest drinking water in Latin America and thus there are no problems in this respect.
For security reasons, the tourist may carry his or her original identity document. Use the hotel safety-deposit for your valuables and if you handle a camera or video recorder, handle it discreetly.
In Bogota, there are special taxis for tourists (green and cream) or yellow ones. The basic fare is about $1.5 and an hour hire within city limits is little over $4. On Sundays and public holidays some of the main streets are closed off to traffic from 7am to 2pm and used for recreational cycling or skating.
Last but not least: In Bogota it is possible to taste and buy by pounds, the best coffee produced in different coffee regions of the country.