Bogotá - December 2008

When we told people we were going to Bogotá, Colombia for our winter vacation, the typical reaction was "isn't it a dangerous place" or "aren't you afraid of being kidnapped?" For as long as we can remember there have been warnings to avoid travel to Colombia, but current reports from travelers say differently. People who have actually been to Bogotá recently have painted a different picture. One of good food, a beautiful city and friendly people. We decided to risk it all and find out for ourselves. (In case you don't read all the way to the end, we made it back home safely).

We had a planned to fly from NJ to Panama, continuing our journey to Bogotá the following morning. We spent the night at the Hotel Riande Aeropuerto in Panama City. It served its purpose but the last renovation was probably.... never? Even with a good dose of mold on the bathroom ceiling we survived and made it to our early morning flight to Bogotá. Unfortunately this is the only airport hotel and given the alternative was a $33 cab ride (30 minutes) each way into the city, it was a good choice.

We arrived in Bogotá at lunchtime and Elliot was introduced to some new foods that he had never seen before. He was a little skeptical of the rainbow colored empanadas so he chose the ham and cheese arepa (a flat cornmeal patty) instead.
No matter how much planning we do, we tend to take the first day pretty easy. We planned to walk around the Candelaria neighborhood, but it started pouring rain 2 minutes after our taxi dropped us off. We tried to wait it out but after 15 minutes of patiently waiting under an awning, we flagged down a taxi and headed to the Museo del Oro to see some ancient treasures. Elliot is just shy of 5 years old and the idea of going to museums not high on his list. In the gold museum we referenced one of his Dora the Explorer books where Dora finds ancient treasure and has to get it to her mother who is an archaeologist . The idea of looking at ancient treasures kept him interested enough and we got through the entire museum. After the museum we strolled around our North Bogotá neighborhood and had some yummy ice cream at Crepes & Waffles. Elliot loved the police Hummer. The next morning, we got an early start and headed towards the Plaza de Bolivar which is the main square in Bogotá. The square, like many others in Latin America is surrounded by a cathedral and government buildings.

Wherever you go in Bogotá, there are police present, especially in parks and tourist areas. There was not a time during our stay, even outside of the tourist areas where we did not feel completely safe.

Vendors sell packets of corn to feed the pigeons around the square. Four tubes were about $.30
The pigeons are certainly not shy and a little aggressive. They will come to the corn if you don't throw it to them. Normally we have a list of restaurants to try but there is limited information on Bogotá dining on the Internet. Some friends had given us suggestions for lunch and dinner, but it was 8am and we were on our own. We followed our senses which led us to a small restaurant called La Puerta Falsa. We shared a tamal, some pastries and chocolate caliente which was one of our most memorable meals of the trip. The next stop was the Botero museum where we had to make it interesting for Elliot. It was a lovely collection of works by Botero and other paintings and sculptures by the likes of Dali, Renoir, Monet, Corot, Toulouse-Lautrec, Picasso, Miro, Chagall. Elliot gave each painting a new name. The one above is now called "Pile of Socks" and we can't really disagree.

The "giant high five"!

There are many food carts throughout Bogotá. Many of them sell fruit or fresh fruit juice.

Our next stop was to the top of Monserrate which is the mountain that dominates the eastern edge of the city. There are three ways to the top; hiking, an aerial tram and a funicular. We ruled out hiking for several reasons and chose the funicular to take us to the top.
The peak is over 10,000 feet and offers a spectacular panorama of the city. At the top there is a church and some restaurants.
We tried as many typical Colombian dishes as we could. Above is Sancocho which is a typical Colombian Stew which is made from chicken, corn, yucca, plantains and potatoes.
The primary public transportation system in Bogotá is the Transmillenio bus system. It is a system of buses that operates on it's own dedicated roads and has stations like a subway. The buses are very efficient and inexpensive. The highlight of our trip was the Salt Cathedral of Zipaquirá which is located inside a salt mine, about an hour north of Bogotá. Everything inside the mine is carved from salt. There are 14 small chapels that lead to huge caverns with an actual sanctuary. The chambers are amazing but they are difficult to photograph because they are dimly lit.

Elliot, being a normal skeptic had to repeatedly test the walls to see if they were really made of salt.
On the way back from the Salt Cathedral we stopped at Andres Carne de Res which is probably the most famous restaurant in Bogotá, even though it is really not in Bogotá. It is about 30 minutes outside of the city in Chia. We almost decided to skip it but we were very glad we didn't. Aside from yummy food there is a extremely eclectic atmosphere with roaming "performers." Elliot had a good time but he got scared when he thought this alien was trying to take me away. Definitely worth the trip. We had a wonderful time in Colombia and will definitely be back to explore other parts of the country. Do not be dissuaded by past violence in the country. Be low key and alert, as you should be in any city and enjoy. ...Off to Panama.


duke said...

Really a wonderful trip!

Tamara Rice said...

The plaza looks amazing.

Sean said...


I could not find an email contact so decided to leave a comment.

We just wanted to drop you a note to say that we enjoy your website/blog and thank you for sharing your personal story and travel adventures.

We also wanted to introduce ourselves. We are Sean, Gina, Grant, and Genevieve (Gigi) and our blog tracks our travels in Latin America for the past year and our decision to change our family’s lifestyle.

Anyway, we just wanted to connect with kindred spirits - a small but seemingly growing group – and let you know how much we enjoy reading about your adventures.

Safe Travels…

The Lannins