My First Impression of Bogota, Colombia
I made it! On July 12, I arrived in Bogota, the capital city of Colombia, as my first city during my long-term South America trip. For the first few days, I walked around the city center, explored the country side, tried the delicious local food, and went up to the mountains to have a 180-degree view of the city.
I have enjoyed the city every day and have been too busy to write any posts about it or post pictures from my camera. So, here I reveal my first impression of the capital city of Colombia, from the lens of a first-time traveler.
Bogota is not as dangerous as it is made out to be
With all the negativity on the news media, the drug trafficking, and the bombing activity, it is hard to believe that Bogota is anything other than a chaotic place. I told myself to ignore these messages (I had enough of it before my travel to Mexico) but still had worries about my safety and my personal belongings and felt a bit uneasy when waiting for the plane.
Now that I have been in Bogota for a week and have explored many parts of the city, what I want to say is that it is just a common metropolis like Toronto and Mexico City. There are places in Bogota that are dangerous and have illegal activities, but why would I want to go there and get myself involved?
I did not visit all parts of Bogota but what I can say is that never in a day did I feel Bogota was unsafe. The vendors will not pester you with their wares and people will be busy minding their own business. At the hostel I stayed, the dorm rooms are left unlocked and the window is left open all day; nobody in the room and nobody has lost anything. It is safe to walk a few blocks at night as a solo female traveler and take the yellow cab by yourself, as long as you know where you are going and have common sense.
Mount Monserrate offers stunning natural beauty
The pathway to the summit of Mount Monserrate is gorgeous. I cannot believe that such big city in Bogota has a variety of pieces of flora and fauna, old trees, and verdant green mountains, with the often added contrast of the cloudy sky.
Walking up Mount Monserrate, my attention was drawn to the colorful flower blossoms, the tranquility of the pathways, and the colorful view of the Bogota skyline. I stopped at the Santa Clara restaurant, an antique white house built in 1924 perched on the top, took an outdoor seat, ordered tinto (small coffee) and dessert, and sat there for an hour to take in the view. All the noise from the city was far away, the mountains and trees were in the distance, and the fresh aroma of coffee, the cool morning wind, and the tranquility made it a perfect pit stop. I wished time could pause so I could stay there all day every day to relax and not think about anything.
I have not yet been at the top at night. I have seen pictures of the night scenery, and I can only plan to have a return visit.
Local people are laid back and welcoming
Unlike people in other metropoles, I found the locals in Bogota to be quite relaxed and friendly. They treat foreigners the same way as they do the residents, at least from my experience at the restaurants, vendors, and bus stations. They do not go overboard like people in South-East Asia, and they are friendly and helpful enough without being pushy.
People here are honest and peaceful. In the cab I hailed from the street, the driver quoted me the price that showed up on the meter, and recommend a local reasonably priced seafood restaurant where I had the best lunch. The local shops and restaurant quoted me the local price. The street vendors allow me to take a picture of them and did not mention a word of selling their stuff. Within two hours of arriving in Bogota, I went to a pastry shop and met a few locals. They spoke with me, told me to take care of myself, left their phone numbers, and asked me to call them if I had difficult times. I never felt any danger or threat even walking by myself at night.
Bogota is a city full of contrasts
Bogota has old colonial buildings and modern skyscrapers, peaceful neighbors and frantic downtown streets, street vendors and fancy restaurants, and greenish parks cutting through the bustling avenues. Here you meet the nice people; meanwhile, just across the street, you can find groups illegally trading emeralds.
I found it interesting to walk around the historical center of Bogota, with every street corner and building telling important historical events that made Bogota what it is today. La Candelaria, the old capital of South America, houses museums, Bolivar Plaza, century-old churches, outdoor squares, and narrow hilly back streets with graffiti. The international center has modern buildings, financial institutions, banks, hotels, coffee shops, region office, and multinational corporations.
Bogota has both Spanish and French influence and none of this happened in any city I lived in USA and Canada. Coming from Toronto, these appear to be new and invigorating to me.
But Bogota reminded me of Mexico City, with its historical square, the modern architecture, the dense population, the altitude, and the complexity of the routes and public transport system. I’ve been told that Bogota is just as safe as Mexico City, but walking in Bogota requires a different level of energy, as it is located at an altitude of 2,600 meters above sea level and has many hilly streets.
Bogota has many things to offer
I do not know what others think of this capital city of Colombia, but I’ve read that Bogota is an extremely polluted, violent, and poor place. The traffic is insane and the police offer no help but to deceive travelers.
Perhaps these assumptions work only in someone’s imagination. However, I swiftly learned that Bogota is a very diverse and bustling city. The historical center alone has many beautiful colonial houses, architecture, and colorful graffiti that take months to explore. I only visited a tiny part of downtown and the countryside, and experienced the following:
I have visited the Gold Museum and seen the world’s largest collection of gold and learned the history of Colombia.
I joined the free walking tour and experienced its traditional food, history, and the culture at the historical center.
I have found restaurant and pastries at every twist and turn offering fast food, local food, and delicious coffee and sweets, and I was a bit overwhelmed by the variety of food choices.
I walked to Santander Park for three times in two days. In front of the park, I found Nuestra Senora de la Paz church and the bank of the republic. There are huge green spaces and benches for me to sit down, read books, and people-watch.
I did a morning tour through the Catedral De Sal, a cathedral that is 180 under the ground in a salt mine setting that is suggested to be the 8th wonder of the world. It has 14 small chapels, water mirrors, various tunnels, underground shopping malls, and a movie theater.
I have visited the Sunday market at Usaquen, which offers many local crafts, live music performances, salsa dance, and a variety of Colombian pastries and the food.
I was lost and confused with directions and the police and the locals stepped up and helped me with the routes. I talked with the locals at the restaurants, shops, and hostels and was amazed at how friendly and accommodating they were.
And I have only seen 10% of Bogota; there are other parts of the city that present more diversity in culture and landscapes. There is so much to see and to explore.
If you plan to visit Bogota, do not get paranoid. Come and experience this vibrant capital city of Colombia and enjoy your stay!
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