Bogota was my first stop on my mini South American adventure. As I mentioned in previous posts, Bogota wasn’t initially my intention this trip. I’ve certainly wanted to go to Bogota, however, with this trip, it was simply just a way for me to maximize my travel time. I did not expect to fall in love with this city.
As soon as my plane was landing and broke through the clouds to the point where you could actually see the ground my jaw was dropped. Picture lush green landscapes mixed with beautiful mountains, and towns not completely overtaken by grey buildings and chaotic city landscapes. This would definitely be in one of my top ten plane landing experiences.
The airport created a wonderful first impression as it was extremely navigable and user friendly for a foreigner. It was so simple to figure out where I needed to go, which lines I was supposed to enter, and even getting a taxi was so simple. Believe me when I say you never know what you are going to get when you enter a new airport. In some places you don’t know if signs are also going to have english, or even in the states I’ve been to airports that definitely are not simplified.
During my stay, I stayed at La Selina Hostel in La Candelaria area. It took about a 40 minutes I would say but it was a nice little drive that got me more and more excited to start exploring the closer we got.
Once we got to the point where we turned to actually be driving in the little La Candelaria streets my heart began to flutter a bit. Imagine little cobble streets lined with small brightly colored buildings, hinted glimpses of simple yet intricate architecture. When my cab arrived I was super content with my selection as the hostel was a pretty good size, had a lot of other travelers coming in and out, and was in an absolutely perfect location.
We were may four small blocks from the Simon Bolivar Plaza, and a super simple, maybe 25 minute walk to get to the entrance for Monserrate. In between these two attractions the colored buildings contained shops, cafes, restaurants.
I arrived at my hostel a bit too early to check in, however, I was able to leave my backpack in a storage area, grab a map, and begin exploring. My initial thought was to try to get to Monserrate, because I would have a fair bit of time to do that. Well, as I was walking I think the way was almost because I thought I was going the wrong way and turned back. Once I was back on the same road as the hostel I chose to pop into a little cafe and relax a bit, but also take some time to look at the map.
My first major struggle came to me when I had to pay for my coffee. When the barista showed me the receipt it showed 8000 pesos. I was a little panicked because the money I did have I had a few bills that showed ‘1000’ and then bills that had ‘2’, ‘5’, ‘10’, ‘20’ etc. So as I did not happen to have 8 ‘1000’s I panicked thinking I did not have enough money and grabbed a card to pay with.
Fortunately when I got back to my hostel I was able to ask for clarification about the bills and laughed at myself for a little bit after realizing that ‘1000’ was basically like 1, therefore, the ‘20’ would have been like ‘20000’. So I really had plenty of cash on my for a cappuccino and water, which came to literally 2.5 American dollars.
The good news, was that this was literally the only issue I encountered. Yes, there was definitely a language barrier but I found that as long as you show gratitude, people were happy to help you out. In fact, I did not encounter one person who was not polite, helpful, kind, or hospitable. I was overwhelmed my kindness and I think that is part of the reason why I fell in love with this city so much (of course the natural beauty and scenic streets played a massive part too).
So after checking in, I decided to go for another little walk to go see the Simon Bolivar square and then just continue roaming as my heart desired. Like I stated previously, the Simon Bolivar was simply right down the road from where I was staying.
As I walked towards the square I was kind of having one of those moments of excited anticipation where you sort of know your about to see something wonderful yet at the same time don’t know what to expect.
The square was amazing! The first thing that immediately caught my attention was the literal thousands of pigeons hanging out. A quick second attention grabber would be the Cathedral of Colombia, which stands strong and magnificent in the square. I think one of the best parts is that because La Candelaria area is on a bit of a hill, at the base of a mountain, everything is constantly backdropped by mountains, or lovely little buildings. So when you stand from a far looking at this church, you see the lush green mountain in the back and something like that turns an already gorgeous building into a gorgeous landscape.
So after taking a quick walk through the square I found myself walking through some more of the little streets. The colorful buildings truly continued to amaze me. As you walk from block to block you go from bright royal blue buildings to rusty red tones to greens and aquas, to bright sunflower yellows, and then to brick buildings and then to white buildings with colored accents, and so on.
As I was walking I saw peaking above the tops of the building the steeple of a church, so I continued in that direction. As I turned the corner to see the church in its entirety, I was super struck by its decided. The church had this fantastic stripe pattern unlike anything I had ever seen before. The red and white striped exterior made me excited to go inside to see the interior decor. I was surprised to see that in the inside, all the pillars, arches, and other main supports featured this same unique red and white striped pattern. The rest of the walls were painted an aqua blue color. Out of everywhere I have ever been I have never seen a church like this. Experiences like this just kept adding to my intrigue and love for this new city.
I walked back from this church over to my hostel with much ease because the area is basically gridded with streets that are literally numbered. For example, if you know you are supposed to turn on street #3 and you are at 4 you have to turn around.
I then decided that I was going to try again to get to the Monserrate entrance. Literally all I had to do was just continue along the one street and then continue kind of up the hill until you literally run into it. The only thing I would note about the walk is that it is quite hilly- so if this could present an issue I would figure out a way to make accommodations as necessary.
Once I arrive I thought I would try to go up the mountain, but as I went toward where the line was, which was very long and had not moved in the 10 minutes I stood there I walked over to where the entrance was to walk and was quickly yelled at by guards because the path was no longer open. So I decided to add Monserrate on my to do list for the next day, hoping for a little bit less of a line.
I started back toward my hostel and made a couple stops on my way back. I managed to find myself in what looked like a cafe called Distrito Chocolate where instead of finding food I was easily tempted to sit and enjoy a hot chocolate because who needs lunch when you are drinking the best hot chocolate you have ever had in your life.
The menu had several options and the boys working new pretty good english, and were happy to explain everything to me. I ended up selecting what the one boy recommended, which was a Choco Coco Vanilla – basically a hot chocolate with vanilla and coconut. To my surprise the boy also came by the table to explain a bit about how chocolate is made showing me, and letting me taste a bit of cacao fruit, and some cacao nibs.
Like I mentioned earlier, as the day went on I was simply overwhelmed by such kindness, and people so willing to help even if we didn’t understand each other.
After I took the time to savor and enjoy this hot chocolate, I found my way back to my hostel to shower and do a couple things on my computer. The other thing that really caught my eye as I was walking around was all the beautiful street art the covered several buildings. In fact, some were actually decorated almost entirely with fantastically intricate murals.
After I refreshed up and rested my legs, I walked back down toward the Simon Bolivar plaza because I was curious to see what it may look like at night. First off, there were no more pigeons and the square was far less chaotic, and the church and buildings still as beautiful in the day time. Afterwards, I popped into a restaurant for some dinner and opted again for the recommendation of the server, which ended up being Ajiaco. My meal featured a soup/ stew soft of dish which has a delicious base filled with chicken, corn, and other flavors. On the side was about a sixth of an avocado and some rice. Taking a bite of a little bit of everything was pure heaven. After finishing as much as a I could, I left with a full and satisfied stomach and happy heart. To put it in perspective too, this meal, which could have easily fed 2-3 people, was about 10 USD.
I took another quick little walk around and then went back to my hostel for bed. My plan for the morning was to go to Monserrate and then catch a cab around 10:30 am to the airport. Catching the taxi from Monserrate versus my hostel would not only save me time, but also money.
I left my hostel around 8:15 and got myself a good workout as I walked these now familiar hilly streets with my somewhat heavy backpack. By the time I got to the entrance, everything was just beginning to open up so I fortunately had very little line to wait in. I took the funicular up since the cable car was not running yet and I did not have enough time to walk up. If I were to do it again however, I would probably make a whole day out of it and do the full walk up and down, and eat and explore more at the top of the mountain.
I was able to spend about a total of an hour once I got to the top of the mountain. The view from the top is out of this world. There is an outstanding view of Bogota, but at the same time, you have this amazing view into the valleys on the mountain side, where everything is so green and lovely.
The other thing I found to be quite interesting was that doing the hike up Monserrate is actually something that the people of Bogota actually do. It was cool seeing the Colombia people at the top in designated areas for exercise and rest enjoying the morning with their friends and families.
When I was looking at the hours of Monserrate the day before I stumbled upon a review that said if you walk all the way through the little market behind the church you have another nice lookout to the mountainous side. This was certainly correct. If you love mountains and jungle scenery as much as I do, this is definitely worth checking out. It’s also a great option if you want to sit down for a good bite to eat afterward. I didn’t have the time to sit and eat so I opted for an empanada to eat as I waited in line for the funicular down.
I made a small error here as I was waiting in a line for people that needed to buy a ticket for the way down. Of course I didn’t realize this until I had already waited about 10 minutes, but if that was the worst thing then I would say I am more than lucky. Once I got down, grabbing a taxi was very easy and the ride to the airport was probably closer to 25- 30 minutes. As well, I’m pretty sure the taxi was only 20,000 pesos– which is literally absurdly inexpensive when you think about how much a 30 minute taxi ride would cost in the USA.
As I spent those last minutes in the taxi I tried to just soak up as much as possible as I was feeling a little bit bittersweet to be leaving so soon. I honestly did not expect to enjoy Bogota as much as I did but now I am so so so happy I went and am looking forward to heading back and getting to see more of this country.
So my best advice? Don’t be scared of Colombia and certainly don’t skip Colombia. In fact, when you see a great flight deal for a long weekend, book it. I promise you will not regret it.
Enjoy your day!