There is something to be said about the charm of capital cities. Oftentimes they wow the visitor with stunning monuments, they can be the eclectic gathering of an entire national identity and they can be unique places to discover. In the case of Bogota I felt like its own defining motto is unique: A city 2,600 meters closer to the stars. This is a creative perspective and an accurate one too. The major altitude is inescapable and it forms much of the city’s unique natural layout. Bogota is not the type of capital that melds all the various aspects of the country, in fact it has very much its own identity as is typical of all the major cities and regions in Colombia. The city is best described as a massive plateau that sits around 8,600 feet above sea level. It is surrounded on all sides by huge peaks, which make something of a bowl shape that encompasses the millions of homes and streets in this massive capital city.
Arriving to the airport is the best way to get in as Bogota is connected with many international destinations. Flying in is areal treat as one can view the lofty mountain peaks and lush greenery of this entire region on a clear day. The new airport will be opening very shortly and from all accounts it will be a state of the art facility and it looks impressive from the outside as well. The best way to get into the city is to take a certified cab. Once you exit the terminal simply go right until you see a grouping of taxis and a stand where you can give you destination to the attendant and they will issue an official receipt. This will save you any worry from haggling with the driver. The city is really large and diverse, yet in terms of tourism things are still on their way. For instance in a city approaching the 10 million mark, one may be surprised to learn there are only 8,000 rooms available among the combined hotels. This is changing for the better as bigger hotel chains and growing tourist numbers each year are coming in. The J.W. Marriott and the Hilton are two examples of new city hotels that are now gracing the city skyline.
Something should be said about the security factor, after all this is what has caused much damage to the tourism industry in the past and still affects the numbers today. In all my experience across many cities of Colombia I never felt threatened or in any danger. There are plentiful numbers of friendly police everywhere and one needs to exercise the same prudence one would have to in any other big city. Stay out of bad neighborhoods, don’t wander into places you don’t know at night and keep a hold of all your belongings especially in crowded places. Too often many bad moments could be prevented with a little prudence here or anywhere else in the world.
Bogota is a center for commerce, it has many neighborhoods and it also has many attractions for the traveler as well. I think the best way to get acquainted with the city is to head first to the Sanctuary of Monserrate. This is an old church that is probably one of the city’s first landmarks. It is located on a high summit overlooking the entire plateau of Bogota. The best way is to arrive in bus or taxi to the bottom of the mount. It is located in the Las Aguas district not far from the downtown. Once at the base of the mountain one may choose to walk the thousands of stairs, take a funicular or a cable car. It operates every day of the week in normal business hours. From atop here one can get stunning views and photos of the city and on a clear day sunsets are magnificent.
Heading back down the mountain one can take a 10 minute cab or bus ride to the most historic and populated downtown area known as La Candelaria. This is where the city was founded and still today it has streets, squares and buildings in the Spanish colonial style. The main highlight is the grandiose Bolivar Square, which is surrounded by impressive buildings like the Primada Cathedral, The Senate of Colombia and other government edifices. Here in the square one will see a buzz of activity all day long as this serves as a major pedestrian crossroads and meeting place for the district. The area is literally packed with famous and one of a kind wonders. Head just a few blocks down Calle 11 to discover the Gabriel Garcia Marquez center and the Luis Angel Arango Library. The Botero Museum and the Bogota Museum are just a few steps away as well. It would really take days to explore these places in their entirety so plan ahead according to which you’d most want to spend time with. For those looking to an alternative to the luxury hotels or for accommodations set in this district there are many hostels and small hotels that make use of the colonial buildings for an experience of classical architecture and antique décor. Many of the classic structures serve as schools, small museums and it’s worth poking your head in and taking a look around if that is allowed. Oftentimes one can find beautiful interior gardens surrounded by finely carved furniture and colonial architecture.
There is more to discover in this busy part of town and in fact so as not to get too overwhelmed it is suggested to break up the sites over a couple of days. A visit to the Museum of Gold is definitely in order to see some of the most stunning Pre-Colombian collections of gold artifacts in the world. The museum itself is a work of art and its treasures immense. Know that the Museum of Gold is closed on Mondays and it is free admission on Sundays. Just across the street one can find two historic Churches with impressive interiors known as Iglesia San Francisco and Iglesia de la Veracruz. These are monuments to the city’s history and possess precious works of art. Other options to explore different parts of the city are to head to the modern malls for some great shopping, try the varied plates of delicious Colombian food, especially recommended is the famous Andres Carne del Res Restaurant, an unforgettable experience and arguably some of the tastiest cuts of beef you’ll ever try. There are many good schools here for studying Spanish, many opportunities to get out of the city and explore the majestic mountains beyond or simply to take in all the sights and sounds of this city that will put you closer to the stars.