MESSAGE : Bogota, Colombia

Bogota is the capital and largest city in Colombia, and one of the largest in South America. It has about 8 million inhabitants and is the South America’s third highest (in terms of altitude), right after Quito and La Paz.

I stayed in the city for more than 3 weeks. The first week I was in an area called La Candelaria, the historical old city. Most of the architecture here is Spanish Colonial and Baroque style, which would be charming, if it wasn’t so dangerous.

The next two weeks, I stayed in my friend Christian’s apartment while he was away in NYC. This was a total treat, a swanky apartment in the affluent Zona Rosa area where most of the embassies – and the nightlife –are situated. Bliss!

While I was squirreled away being spoiled and studying Spanish in my posh digs, I didn’t do a lot of sightseeing. So here’re the tourists attractions that I missed out on and would definitely hit on a return trip.

MEET (Cool Meet Ups) – TransMilenio. The TransMilenio is Bogota’s above-ground transportation system and pride & joy. It only opened in 2000 and has 9 lines, covering 84 kilometers (54 miles). The cost build the system was $US240 million and it sees a daily ridership of more than 1.4 million residents.

Just about everyone told me I should take a ride on it, but I’m sort of glad I didn’t since up to 30% of the riders are afraid of pickpockets during their commutes. Yikes!

EAT (Tasty Eats) – Ajiaco. A hearty chicken and potato soup, ajiaco is a local favorite from the hills surrounding Bogota. It’s full of 3 different types of potatoes, chicken parts, and large-kernel South American corn, which gives it a sort of waxy flavor.

The soup is flavored with guascas, a native mountain herb which is said to taste a bit like bay leaf, catnip, and parlsey combined. A half of avocado is traditionally served alongside.

Aijaco is super filling. In fact, I took half mine home in a doggie bag to eat the next day. Interested in trying a bowl? Here’s a recipe:

SEE (Must-see Sights) – Monserrate. This mountain dominating the backdrop of Bogota is more than 10,000 feet above sea level. At the top are a church built in the 17th century and a shrine, making the mountain a destination for pilgrims.

There are 3 ways to reach Monserrate: aerial tram, funicular or climbing (which is said to take 3 hours). And the view is said to be worthy of the trek.

SHOP (Gotta Have) – Usaquen Flea Market. Known in Spanish as the “Mercado de las Pulgas,” this famous flea market is held every Sunday in the neighborhood town square. You’re sure to find plenty of treasures there. Or at least you’ll be charmed by the old world colonial vibe of the surroundings.

ACTIVITY (Gotta Do) – Biking Bogota. Quite a few of my friends took a bike tour around the city and they all raved around it. The experience would be really great on a Sunday, when the city shuts down many of its main streets to traffic.

In fact, Bogota’s system of bike paths, called the Ciclorutas, is one of the most extensive in the world. As many as 400,000 inhabitants ride the paths daily, quintuple the number of cyclists before the system was built.

GIVE (Greatest Need) – Safety in the City. Bogota used to be considered one of the most violent cities of the world. But in the 1990s, the police began a new security policy and murders fell dramatically: from 81 per 100,000 people in 1993 to 19 per 100,000 in 2007.

Unfortunately, after great strides, violent crime seems to be on the rise again with grisly murders and robberies, including assaults on foreign in tourist hotels, headlining the news.

Ironically, the police think it’s the new TransMilenio system that is creating opportunity for crime gangs that prey on riders beset with long waits and congestion. The city government has recently pledged a force of 350 police officers to patrol the subway to combat this renewed city violence.

ENJOY (Extra Fun) – Museo de Botero. Fernando Botero Angulo is one of Colombia’s most famous artists. His work features a distinct style called “Boterismo,” which gives his subjects and still lifes a melon-like appearance. This exaggerated treatment helps him convey a sense of humor and irony in his painting.

In 2000, Botero himself donated 208 pieces to establish his namesake museum, the Museo de Botero, in the city’s La Candelaria. While I saw many of his pieces at Bogota’s National Museum, the Botero museum would be my first stop on my return visit to Bogota!


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This entry was posted on Wednesday, October 10th, 2012 and is filed under Messages by Country, South America.

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