Probably all first-time visitors to Bogota arrive with a lump in their throats and so did we. The city has (the locals like to believe it used to have) a bad reputation and it didn’t help much that on the very first night we ended up disputing with our taxi driver and finished walking some unknown streets at midnight with all our luggage:) Nevertheless we found a really good hostel, and were ready to embrace the city.
The good news is that Bogota is not that dangerous as one might think. If you don’t go to places where they don’t recommend to go, you can have a pretty decent experience. We had the luck though to be at places they don’t recommend at times they don’t recommend: the Candelaria district on a Sunday night can be quite deserted except for the drugged bums hanging around to ask for you change. If you don’t give any, some of them might yell at you using an inventive combination of “gringo” and your family members, but if you speed up your steps, you should get into a safer zone easily:)
The bad news is that most part of the city is dirty and polluted. Much of the pollution is coming from the thousands of minibuses, called corrientes that provide the standard bus service. These buses cruise along the main avenues, and you can hail them down at any place. They are painted in eye catching colors, usually have a fake brand of a Mustang or a Cadillac or similar, and they are super uncomfortable. Once you hop on, you walk past a mini turnstile and pay your fare. There is a night price and a day price although most of the time the passengers don’t care much about paying extra for the night. If short on money, it is even possible to signal the driver that you get on in the back (thus avoiding the turnstile counter) and pay less than the regular fare. Pretty often some musicians or other kind of bums get on the bus and ask for your change. The oddest though are the ones who sell you candies per piece and explain the long list of health benefits the given candy can offer.
An alternative way of transportation is the Transmilenio. It is a supposedly fast-lane bus service constructed a couple of years ago, and most of the times it works well. However the sheer size of the city can turn a single Transmilenio ride into a one and a half hour journey. At peak times it is also super crowded and takes long even to get off from the bus.
Another remarkable feature of the city is the so called minutos. It took us some time till we figured out what it was:) On practically every corner you will find “minutos” vendors, who will hand out a cellphone for you on a chain, you call whoever you want, then you pay for the minutes you phoned. Pretty useful when you want to call a local number, since most foreigner simcards will fail to deliver calls or text messages to local numbers, a phenomenon that we experience a lot in South America.
Architecturally speaking Bogota has an interesting mix of architecture, but it is easy to get disillusioned between the ugly concrete buildings. The city center has some nice churches and palacios and a nice mirador on the top of the hill and also on top of the Colpatria building. The two major sights are the Museo del Oro and the Zipaquira salt mines. There is a lot of gold in the former and a lot of salt in the latter:)
The nightlife is surprisingly vibrant in the discos and bars of the zona rosa, and all across the city a number of salsa discos cater for the dancers. The atmosphere is so relaxed that it can even happen that a girl asks you for dancing. A thing that hasn’t happened to me since my timid high school years:)
Ajiaco and some local dishes are pleasant and fulfilling, The coffee is soft and tasty, the Colombian beer however is a turnoff and when I desperately tried to ask for a Mexican Corona, they brought a warm bottle without lime or lemon, no comments:)
We have met a number of friendly people in Bogota and I admire their passion for their city.