Colombia is the one place at the tip of every travellers tongue. The ultimate must see country, the highlight for many venturing through Latin America and, in our experience, the most recommended country. We started our three month Colombian adventure in the big and busy Bogotá.
Travelling from Central onto South America, unless you fork out the €400 for a 4-day San Blas boat tour from Panama to Colombia, flying is the only option. Unfortunately, there is no way to pass between the two via land. Dear god is there a market for an affordable route and if anyone with such facilities just so happens to be reading this, sort it out will you?!
So if you go for the San Blas cruise, you’ll start your Colombian adventures in the city of Cartagena. Take to the skies and, like us, you’ll most likely land into Colombia’s capital.
Either way, since it’s the transport hub of Colombia, Bogotá is a place you’ll pass through, probably on more than one occasion.
A wonderfully diverse yet friendly city, sitting over 8,600ft above sea level, the remarkable contrast in scenery is outstanding and was the perfect introduction to why everyone says that Colombia is so ‘green’.
All over the world Ireland is so famously associated with the colour and meaning itself but it’s not until you stand on busy main road in Bogotá, a crazy city with the worst transport system and traffic we’ve encountered, full of pollution, skyscrapers, high apartment complexes and just generic bedlam, do you realise the definition of green.
Rising above the madness, is the Monserrate mountains that so contentedly hugs yet dominates the city. Find me a street that isn’t under its watchful eye and your next pint is on me.
Look ahead in the city of Bogota and find something new to enjoy, look left or right and meet a new friend, look behind and see a city bursting with plenty of tales, look up and you’ll find nature watching. What about looking down? Oh I did that too and what I saw where plenty of puddles!
It might sound strange but having the perfect combination of nature and city life reminded me so much of Dublin. Include the fact that there is very little sun and lots of rain in Bogotá, and what you have is somewhere I can run to if I ever feel homesick. It’s also the reason why, despite having our pick of English teaching jobs, we decided that we couldn’t call Bogotá home. We already had one like her.
So while we enjoyed our one-week stand, we left knowing that we had no intention of seeing her again, and no, we didn’t leave our number.
From Panama to Bogotá:
After a lot of research into ways of crossing the Panama/Colombia border, for budget reasons, we decided against the San Blas trip. Plus, we had enough of boats for a while.
Our trusted Jetcost.ie showed there were plenty of flights and airlines to choose from, but the prices were less appealing.
And then we discovered the airline Viva Colombia. It’s Colombia’s answer to Ryanair, so much so, it wasn’t a huge surprise when we did find out it’s owned by Mr. O’Leary himself.
If you are flexible with travel dates, you are guaranteed to grab one way flights from €40-€50.
[x_icon type=”pencil-square-o”] NOTE: If you’ve flown with Ryanair, you know what to expect. If you haven’t, have low expectations, and remember…
- When confirming your booking, be vigilant and ‘untick’ all the optional services they tag on. Hoping you won’t notice. Oh, we notice Ryanair, we notice.
- To print your boarding pass BEFORE you arrive to the airport, otherwise they will charge you extra.
If you keeping an eye on certain flights another great tip is to clear your browser’s cookies before revisiting the site. It prevents a price hike.
- Whatever way you choose to travel onward to Colombia, don’t let any price deter you. This is a country that is worth every second of your time.
Accommodation in Bogotá:
Like any capital, you will have a variety of options in accommodation. But sometimes, the size of a city can make it difficult to find your base. We always choose to steer clear of that one popular and overly tourist area, but since Bogotá has many of these, it’s unavoidable and you will be thankful of it. Here are two districts we favoured:
We based ourselves in the northeast district of Chapinero, a very cosmopolitan and cultured neighbourhood, one where we felt very safe. It’s the least touristy of the three and its location means walking distance from Bogota’s most popular attractions (if you enjoy walking, that is). The main Carrera 7 road runs right through, from Candelaria to Parque 93, with frequent and cheap public transport links.
We stayed at CX Hostel on Carrera 7, a cheap and basic hostel with nice vibes, fantastic staff, a tasty café, a kitchen, hot showers but the worst share bathroom ever. Who thought it was a good idea to place the flimsy plastic-door-toilets right next to the eating and ‘common’ area.
Let’s just say not a day went by where we didn’t have sounds affects with our food. I would seriously dread pooing. And the ‘lace-the-toilet-bowl-with-toilet-roll-to-prevent-impact’ trick won’t work, since flushing toilet roll on this continent is a no, no.
The backpacker favourite is the historic Candelaria neighbourhood, with cultured vibes and a more authentic feel. On our first visit, we could see why. Art splashed across every brick, people scattered on every corner drinking chicha, a perfect mix of stunning architecture, old city vibes and a bohemian feel. There is an abundance of hostels.
Thanks to Carmen for suggestion Swiss Martinik Hostel (Carrera 4 – La Candelaria).
“I would highly recommend it to your readers. Cheap, central, clean and great kitchen…”
Sure what more do you want?
Let us know where you decide to stay or if you have any other suggestions to pass onto our readers.
Things To Do in Bogatá:
Teleférico de Monserrate:
Take a break from the city, without leaving its doorstep, and visit the surrounding Monserrate mountains. Think of it as a day in the clouds.
Here you have the perfect combination of hiking, a little sense of adventure riding on the cable car or train and panoramic view of the city beneath.
Take a hike but arrive as early as possible to do so. They don’t allow the public to hike up after 1pm and down after 3pm. We wish we’d have known this beforehand.
For the latecomers, the cable car and train are also available, run regularly and cost 9,000 COP (€3) each way. Even if you do hike, I’d definitely suggest taking the train down. The floor to ceiling windows and the drastic descent makes for such a fun ride.
There is a small market, some food stalls, a church and a cafe at the top. As expected, it’s overpriced so bring what you need.
The view will make you appreciate Bogotá even more. The greyscale cloudy weather won’t help but, unless it’s raining, when there is a break in the clouds the colourful concrete city will meet your gaze with gusto.
Sitting at 10,341ft above sea level, the altitude will kick your ass. Grab a coca tea at the cafe. It’ll help immensely.
NOTE: Check the weather beforehand for the best view. However even on a rainy cloudy day, it is beautiful as you’ll find yourself walking amongst the clouds.
Free Walking Tour:
A quick lesson in history, politics, culture and cuisine. A lot of ground is covered on this 4 hour tour. Probably the most walking we’ve done on a walking tour, ironically enough.
Stop and taste coca tea, made from same plant as cocaine (it’s legal!). Indulge in some exotic fruits such as guama (a delicious pod fruit) and sample some chicha, a corn based alcohol popular in South America.
Visit the Palace of Justice, where in the infamous siege took place. Learn about Colombia’s emerald industry, and how it is the biggest producer and exporter of these pretty gems.
Our guide Paula also brought us to an art gallery and it was here we were introduced to the famous Colombia artist, Fernando Botero, a name worth knowing whether you’re into art or not.
There are two tours a day, one at 9am and the other at 2pm. It leaves from Chorrde de Quevedo square in Calanderia and as per usual it is donation based. Just show up 10 minutes beforehand, no need to book.
Pound the Path:
On Sundays, the city is pedestrian heaven. Many of the main roads close and become foot and cycle paths.
Even if you’ve done the walking tour, Bogotá is a big place so you’ve still so much to see. Make the most out it, grab the umbrella and float your way from Calanderia to Chapinero and onto Parque de la 93, getting lost in-between.
Better yet, ask your hostel for local bike rental and get your ass in shape while you discover Bogotá.
Bogotá Bike Tour:
The guys who run the Free Walking Tour also run a Bogotá Bike Tour and we’ve heard nothing but good things about it. If it wasn’t for the rain and lack of waterproof clothes, we would have done it.
Tours leave every day at 10:30am and 1:30pm from Carrera 3 No. 12-72. It costs 40.000 COP (€12) for a 4 hour tour including the bike. Show up 20 minutes before the tour is due to start.
Food Glorious Food:
We didn’t eat out much so we cannot recommend any decent places for grub.
For bargain groceries, head to the nearest Exito (basically a Tescos) and for all your staple needs, head to D1 Tienda (Colombia’s answer to Aldi, only cheaper).
Walk any street and see stands selling snacks. Now these you have to try:
A thick savoury pancake made from corn flour. Nearly every meal is served with an arepa, and the similar taste would remind you of a tortilla. Hit a stall and ask for one with mozzarella. Mouth. Orgasm.
Thin flat wafers filled with arequipe, dulce de leche, jam etc.
Cornmeal and cheese balls; crispy on the outside, fluffy on the inside, so filling but highly addictive. Just ask Luke.