Visiting Bogotá

A few weeks ago, I had the privilege to visit Bogotá, Colombia. It was also my first time in South America. This trip was a bit different than my other trips. I did not do as much tourism as I ordinarily do. I was focused on taking care of a few things in my personal life. However, I did get to know the city, and I have a few thoughts for those who are considering travel to Colombia. For reasons I will explain below, this is probably useful for people who are considering traveling to other parts of Latin America as well.

Bogotá and the Tourist Areas of Latin America
There are many parts of Latin America where American gringos can go and enjoy a great time. Latin America is beautiful. The people are friendly. The culture is interesting. The dollar goes a long way. It is often cheaper to travel in Latin American than in the United States. In most of Latin America, you can travel easily with a few precautions like you might take in traveling to bigger cities in the United States, i.e., keeping on eye on your valuables, not getting drunk and wandering around the city, and avoiding the rougher areas of the city.

Based on my experience, Bogotá is just like that except for one qualification. It is very easy to visit, if you know Spanish. In traveling to Colombia, you will not encounter a lot of people who speak English like you would in the major tourist areas of Latin America. It is difficult for me to gauge exactly what it would be like to only speak English there, but it would seem to me that it would be a bit difficult to orient yourself. For example, I took Ubers wherever I went. I had great experiences with them, and I had great conversations with the drivers because I can speak Spanish. One driver told me of the frustration of someone who was not able to speak Spanish. They started to panic, and he didn’t know what to do. I am not saying that you will have big problems, if you do not know Spanish. I am just saying it will be more difficult to orient yourself to what is happening.

So, if you want to travel to Bogotá or the heartland areas of many Latin American countries, learn Spanish to the point you can have a decent conversation or go with someone who speaks it. With this ability, you can easily travel in Bogotá or countless other wonderful places in Latin America securely and without much hassle.

However, if you still want to try and do it, let me give you a few thoughts. Consider going with a company that will organize the whole trip for you. It is not that expensive compared to the U.S., and it will give you a guide throughout the country. If you do not want to do that, you can hire a private transport that will probably have English speakers, but it will cost quite a bit more than an Uber or other forms of transport. You can stay in many hotels where people will speak English. The reason for this is that not only Americans but foreigners from all over the world use English as the means of communication. Consider staying in a hotel that is part of one of the many wonderful malls or commercial centers (centro commerciales). These are the securest places in Bogotá, and you can walk around them freely. They are big and feature all sorts of amenities. Finally, take some tours that will pick you up at your hotel and feature an English speaking guide.

My Experience of Bogotá
If you do speak Spanish or have someone who does, then you can easily move around the city. Let me share a bit of my experience. I really did not know what to expect of Bogotá. I had heard so many stories. I read advice from all sorts of people. Two things were clear: Do not have your cell phone out because people may snatch it, and do not be out at night, especially alone.

Our plane arrived at 11:00 p.m., and we had to go across town to our Airbnb. In addition, we had to get the key at a different place than where we were staying. This meant that we would either have to trust the Uber or get out of the car at night and then wait for another Uber. But, wait, weren’t we supposed to not be out at night? In regards to crime, the Colombians say “no dar papaya.” This means, don’t do things that attract the attention of criminals. Standing outside late at night with our luggage in a place we did not know seemed like giving a lot of papaya.

Fortunately, a friend of ours came and got us and took us to our Airbnb. The whole exchange of keys and being out at night seemed not to be a problem at all. However, I still was a bit unsure, especially after we went through two locked gates to get into the house where our Airbnb was.

The next morning, we opened the large window and looked out. There, we saw innumerable people walking around. Almost all of them had their cell phones in their hand and were doing what anyone here would do without paying much attention. So much for that. Granted, we were in one of the nicer parts of the city, but everywhere we traveled in the north of Bogotá, seemed relatively safe.

We walked to our destinations with extreme caution the first couple of days, but we realized we didn’t need to be on the sort of high alert that we thought was necessary. The zona or suburb where we were was really nice and not much different than a nice area of a city in the United States. In some ways, it was nicer. The malls are certainly nicer than ours. The restaurants are great places, and they feature many interesting dishes and a variety of experiences.

Features of Bogotá

The food in Bogotá is somewhat plain. It is very different from Mexican food, for example. One thing Colombia does have in abundance is great fruits and great drinks made therefrom. You can see in the picture the variety of fruits that Colombians harvest all year long. You can also find a variety of other ethnic restaurants. I especially recommend trying the Peruvian restaurants there and making sure you get a ceviche and the lomo saltado (a dish featuring strips of steak and vegetables.

One added bonus of traveling in Bogotá is that the water is safe to drink. As someone who drinks a lot of water, this was a real plus. If you go to a restaurant, they will not serve water from the tap. You always order your drink, generally at the same time as your meal. Try the variety of fruit drinks that they make and the variety of ways in which they make them.

The traffic is intense. However, I did not think it was that much worse than many other cities I have visited around the world. You just factor the traffic into your time of travel.

The Colombian climate is extremely interesting. Most places don’t have seasons. In Bogotá, the average high is 67 the entire year. If it is not raining all day, which can happen, it is like a nice fall day you would experience in most of the United States. I thoroughly enjoyed the weather. Don’t like 67 degree highs? You can travel 30-40 minutes outside the city and find much hotter temperatures. If you want colder, you can travel up the mountain.

Colombia is a beautiful country. It is filled with mountains. The people are friendly and curious. There is much to explore here. I was able to visit the city center, Candelaria, but I did not do much else besides that. There are many things to see with short trips from Bogotá, such as Monserrate, a mountain that gives a view of the city; the salt cathedral; and Colombia´s highest waterfall. These will all await another time. In addition, you can generally find flights for under $50 to visit other parts of the country from Bogotá such as Medellín, the city of eternal spring; Cali, the home of Salsa; Cartagena, on the Caribbean coast; the island of San Andres; or many charming pueblos that are a short drive from Bogotá.

If you like to travel and are tired of visiting American cities, consider Colombia and Bogotá. This city has a lot to offer, and, like travel to other parts of the world, can open up your eyes to many new things, including a new appreciation for things you have at home but have not noticed or taken for granted.


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