What to do when you have one day to explore a city like Bogota, Colombia???
I recently found myself faced with this question, when I had a Saturday free in Bogota during a work trip to Colombia and Costa Rica.
Bogota, and Colombia in general, have a rather poor reputation in terms of violence etc. I think it is quite similar to Johannesburg’s reputation, and so I was adamant that I wanted to see the real Bogota and not justa few key touristy sites. I feel like most tourists that visit South Africa, avoid Johannesburg for safety reasons, and although this may be justifiable, it means they miss out on getting to know an increibly diverse and interesting city. So reputation aside, I was determined to explore Bogota and make the most of the weekend I had there.
But, being intelligent and knowing that it would be difficult to explore the city on my own, I did a quick google search to see what my options were. I was really happy to find Bogota Bike Tours (www.bogotabiketours.com) since Bogota is famous for the number of cycle lanes across the entire city. The city also closes most of the large avenues in the city every Sunday to make space for people to cycle, skate, run and basically enjoy the city without traffic, noise and car fumes. Unfortunately for me, the weekend I was there, Colombia was having the run-off in their presidential elections and so the sunday bike routes were not operating.
But, back to my bike tour…
The tour started from the “La Candelaria” neighbourhood to the west of the city centre. Its narrow cobblestone streets, old Spanish architecture and bohemian atmosphere make it an interesting place to explore.
This pedestrian street in La Candelaria is named after the bars that sell local “chicha” (cider)
After cycling through a few of the narrow streets of the neighbourhood, we headed down to the bustling city centre, which had a particularly festive atmosphere as Colombia were playing their first world cup match that morning against Greece. (I will write another post soon about my world cup experiencies in Colombia and Costa Rica, so won’t mentioned more about this now).
Although the city was getting ready for the kick off, one of the key sites of Bogota’s city centre was particularly dull that day. Plaza de Bolivar, the heart of the city centre, was completely closed off in preparation for the elections the next day.
Besides the fact that the plaza was closed, I found it pretty dull since apart from hundreds of pigeons, there are no trees or fountains or benches for people to sit on. It made me appreciate Santiago’s Plaza de Armas even more.
Bogota has an incredibly long, troubled history and I will not even attempt to give you a history lesson in this blog, as I will surely make many mistakes. But one thing I did find interesting about the main streets in the city centre is the evidence of many protests – paint splatters on the cathedral and most of the buildings, such as the one below:
Paint spatters were a common site on various buildings in the city centre.
One of the advantages of exploring a city by bicyle is that you can cover more ground than you would on foot and you can experience the city more closely than you would in a car or bus. We rode through streets packed with stalls selling everything from air time to football shirts, through many small plazas, down a street which was packed with small hardware stores and through many typical nighbourhoods. Sadly I didn’t manage to get many photos as it was not always easy to stop, take out my camera and snap away.
Riding through Bogota’s city centre (Photo courtesy of Mike, Bogota Bike Tours)
I felt rather at home in Bogota with the constant view of the mountains to the east of the city, just like in Santiago. Obviously though, the mountains here are green and lush in comparison with the Andes in Central Chile.
“Don’t turn the other cheek” – Bogota is full of interesting graffiti. Photo courtesy of Mike, Bogota Bike Tours.
Apart from the graffiti we saw in the city, we rode through the National University which is known for its protests and conflicts. The university buildings were covered in political messages:
“The memory saves, chooses, filters, but does not kill. Memory and desire know that the present is not alive, if the past is dead, and there is no future without both.” Carlos Fuentes, Day of the revolutionary and combative student.
Che Guevara overlooking the plaza in the University, in front of the main library, which has just been renamed after Gabriela Garcia Marquez (One of Colombias most famour authors who died recently).
Although the highlight of the tour for me was just riding through the streets of Bogota and seeing life in all its forms, we did see the main sites as well, such as Bogota’s Bullring. The Mayor of the city is the person who decides whether or not to permit bullfighting, and the current Mayor of Bogota has banned the activity. Apparently during the week bullfighters still train here, but on a rainy Saturday afternoon, we had the place all to ourselves.
After riding around for about three hours, we stopped near this very pretty park for a break and some yummy Colombian fruit. We were also treated to a quick downpour – Bogota seems to be a city in which you can have all sorts of weather in the same day.
So within 4 hours or so, I got to see many different aspects of Bogota, which I definitely wouldn’t have experienced on another type of tour. It is well worth it to hop on a bike to explore the city and if I am lucky enough to return to Bogota soon, I will definitely explore more of the city via the amazing network of bike lanes.
Stay tuned for more posts soon on some of the yummy food I got to try in Colombia and also my World Cup experienes in Colombia, Costa Rica and Chile!