Total distance travelled: 42,265.1 kilometres (26,251.61 miles)
We honestly didn’t know all that much about Colombia’s capital, although from the reports we’d had from fellow travellers, we didn’t envisage we’d spend all that much time here.
A couple of different folk we’d met along the journey (at least in Colombia) had said they would be happy to not go back there, which always gives a place a vote of confidence!
Still, we were all for checking it out ourselves, so that is how, after yet another overnight bus, our 3rd in 8 days, we found ourselves at Bogota’s main bus terminal on a brusque, clear morning around 6am.
We stood waiting where we understood that buses could ferry us to La Candelaria, the area of Bogota in which we planned to stay, when a couple of English speakers approached us (turns out they were Americans) to advise that they’d been standing here for an hour already and no bus had stopped!
We got chatting, and discovered that these 2 guys hailed from remote Alaska, at which point, quite offhandedly I mentioned we’d met an Alaskan couple over New Years in Nicaragua, who lived just outside (50 miles) Valdez (yes, that mostly infamous place thanks to the Exxon Valdez).
This caused their ears to perk up.
Turns out these guys also hail from the Valdez area.
When we mentioned the name of the couple, Gareth and Laurie, how small this world can really be was proven, as Spencer, one of the 2 guys actually knew them and went skiing with the often (small world, hey)!
We proceeded to check with a couple of waiting locals, and quickly found ourselves on board a bus and headed into town.
It was there we parted way with the Alaskan boys, they seeking a hostel, and us headed to ours, something we eventually found after walking several blocks too far!
We couldn’t fathom where we’d gone wrong… until we discovered that the street names had been changed at some point, so our map no longer made sense like it should have!
Still, finally there, we left our bags so we could wander until check-in was an option, and that is how we found ourselves in Plaza de Bolivar, ready to live a scene out of Mary Poppins.
If Pigeons are not your thing, then you are dead out of luck in this place!
Sure, the plaza is skirted by a grand cathedral and palace, there’s even the option to take a ride on a Llama (or was it an Alpaca?), but well and truly, this roost is ruled by fat, warbling birds, in whites, greys and even the occasional brown.
In their defence, locals in the business of selling bags of corn to hapless tourists are surely the key ingredient in this infestation of the heart of the city.
Still, it seemed to appeal to some.
There was certainly no shortage of law enforcement officers, and it was one of these friendly folk, who lured us to our next destination (after a frustrating search for breakfast), the Histórico de la Policia Nacional.
It was free, and we had no other firm plans, so we made our way along, ready to experience a tour of the historic building.
A tour was offered to us by a young 19 year old (National Service is compulsory for all males in Colombia, in either the Police, Military or Prison systems) who spoke decent enough English, however we encourage him to communicate in Spanish, primarily to see how I’d get along with my comprehension.
We found the tour pretty interesting, the most obvious source of pride for the police force being their efforts in turning around the war on the countries drug cartels, top of the list being the 1993 elimination of Pablo Escobar and his Medellin Cartel.
We found ourselves quite enjoying the tour, but I was as impressed by the tour as by my own efforts to comprehend the majority of what our young guide was saying!
Our further explorations of this revealed, for the first time since Nicaragua, a plethora of grand, extremely photogenic churches (it had been slim pickings through Costa Rica and Panama truth be told).
Although fronting Plaza de Bolivar, we had the countries chief institution in the form of the Catedral Primada de Colombia, just minutes away we found it upstaged already by the colourful, almost jovial Iglesia del Carmen.
We made plans to catch up with Chris & Faye, our English friends from Plymouth on a Sunday excursion outside the city, which meant we’d left ourselves the Saturday to tackle Cerro Monserrate.
Tackle what you ask?
Why the large peak that overlooks the city, accessible by cable car, teleferico, or something more suited to our crazy ways, a steep path that takes you almost 2 kilometres higher (in fact the path actually climbs 2350 metres) than the bulk of the city!
We expected a hard slog, but hoped for some stellar views as a reward, so it was with some trepidation (we were both panting a fair bit just from our walk to the start of the path), we began our morning ascent.
I should also mention, it was extremely busy as well, the location being popular with locals keen on a weekend walk or run… yes, some crazy fools do run up and down!
Should you earn a thirst or feel a little peckish, fear not, as at many locations along the climb (or descent) you’ll find vendors set up, ready to hawk their wares.
About two thirds of the way through the climb however, the cloud, which seemed to be hovering above the mountain, began to dump some of its contents, thankfully fairly lightly, although still heavy enough to make us rather wet and the path incredibly slick for a pair of walkers in their trusty flip-flops.
Eventually we made it to the top, a height of around 3200 metres, so therefore the highest point we’d yet reached across our whole 7 and a bit months on the road (queue the applause).
Sadly however, the rains meant we couldn’t fully enjoy the views, so after a brief wander and inspection of the church sat at the top (with a full flock of devotees present for a morning service), we began our descent, sampling a Gelatina along the way.
Did I mention it only took us 50 minutes from bottom to top? We did however doubt how quickly we’d be able to descend along the now slick stairs.
Thankfully it wasn’t too far below the clouds that the rains were not present, which also meant that the city views were also much better, giving us another glimpse of how large and expansive this city of around 7 million inhabitants really is.
Other sights that we dabbled in included the Museo de Oro, our 2nd gold museum for the week (after another in Medellin), which was an impressive affair and we thought quite worth the entrance fee.
As well as living up to the expectation that there’d be a ridiculous amount of gold on display, it also had a lot of other indigenous pieces that only added to the experience.
Now if more free museums are more up your alley (or suitable for your budget), Bogota knows how to truly pack them in.
On one particular block of the centro historico sits the Museo de Botero that we found ourselves seeking, housing the works of that man again, Fernando Botero.
We actually missed it a couple of times as we walked by. Why? Well because the site also includes the Casa de la Moneda, another free museum dedicated to the currencies of Colombia.
Want more? Well there is also an attached art gallery, housing works by Dali, Picasso and others! Again, all for free…
This city also delivered us some economical culinary gems and curiosities, first and foremost in our minds being Lechona.
Imagine a whole pig, roasted for about 10 hours, stuffed with rice, herbs and yellow peas, then served up in a cheap delicious pile (complete with pork crackling and a stodgy Arepa), and that is this artery clogging pile of delicious warmth!
We’d also read in our guidebook, with some curiosity of, and wondered about Tamal Santafereño con Chocolate.
On our side excursion with friends Chris & Faye, they mentioned a nearby place where they had sampled it. Now when they mentioned that the place also sported an open fire place, we figured it the perfect option for our final night (which happened to be a rather chilly one) in Bogota.
Now this fare with such a fancy sounding name, Tamal Santafereño con Chocolate, is in fact nothing more exotic than Hot Chocolate with Cheese & Bread, 3 elements which we most certainly love!
As a combination, especially for dunking in the spiced Hot Chocolate, we weren’t completely sold, although as individual elements they were indeed delicious, in fact it was probably the best cheese we’d devoured in months!
And with the open fire, it certainly did warm our cockles on that cold, final night in Bogota…
* Our overnight bus from Armenia to Bogota was haggled down (without any effort) to $30,000.00 COP per person.
* Entrance into the interesting Museo de Oro was a reasonable $3000.00 COP per person.