Anne and Clemens traveled around the world with the Star Alliance Round The World Ticket. The two explored Colombia’s Bogotá on foot and by bike, only going up the mountain of Monserrate by cable car. They will take you with them on our blog.
Bogotá – a city that unites conflicts like no other city in the world. Some call it a dangerous city, others call it an up-and-coming city. We wanted to make our own judgment and traveled to Colombia’s capital to experience the city in as different ways as possible. We started on the local mountain, the Monserrate, then we cycled 13 kilometers through the streets of the big city and walked through the small alleys with their colorful graffiti paintings on the house walls. Now we know that there is more to Bogotá than violence, drugs and conflict. The city is colourful, diverse and full of potential.
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From high above: Bogotá’s local mountain, Monserrate
You can hardly miss it even when approaching Bogotá, and even on a walk through Colombia’s capital, it towers majestically above the hustle and bustle of the city of eight million: the white Cerro de Monserrate church, which is located at 3,150 meters on the Monserrate Mountain, Bogotá’s local mountain.
There are several ways to enjoy the view of the metropolis from high on the mountain. If you are sporty, you can climb the steep 1,500-step hiking trail to the top. The route takes around one to one and a half hours and leads past snack stands and is popular among Bogotanos especially on weekends. It is also advisable for tourists to hike up at the weekend, because during the week, when the hiking trail is emptier, there are said to be robberies from time to time.
Bogotá is 2,640 meters above sea level. If, like us, you might need a little time to digest this unusually thin air, you can use the cable car, the funicular, or the gondola, the teleférico, instead of the steps. Both depart from Monserrate Station.
Once at the top, we could understand for the first time how big Bogotá really is. The 1,700 square kilometer capital of Colombia stretches over several heights and is therefore wonderful to look at from above. With strong black coffee (tinto) in hand, we strolled down the little street of Monserrate to the church, which regularly receives pilgrims. There is a small market right next to the church with a few art stalls and lots of food stalls – so perfect for a late breakfast.
When: Monday to Saturday from 7 a.m. to midnight, Sunday from 6 a.m. to 6 p.m.
How: On foot along the hiking trail, alternatively by gondola (Teleférico) or by cable car (Funicular).
Cost: Monday to Friday 16,400 pesos (approx. €4.86), Sunday 9,400 pesos (approx. €2.78).
On the bike: The Ciclovía in Bogotá
If you spend a Sunday in Bogotá, you should definitely rent a bike or grab your own bike and join a bike tour, because Sundays are bike days in Bogotá. Every Sunday from 7 a.m. to 2 p.m., around 120 kilometers of all roads in the Colombian capital are closed to cars by volunteers – and opened to cyclists. Then families, friends and acquaintances meet to enjoy the paths and roads together, which are clogged day in, day out during the week by dense car avalanches.
However, the Ciclovía in Bogotá is not just a car-free Sunday, but a real folk festival with tradition. In 1976, this action was born out of a student protest on bicycles. Today it takes place not only in Bogotá, but also in Ecuador’s capital Quito, in Paris and in Mexico City .
We were also in Bogotá on a Sunday and rented bikes from Bogota Bike Tours early in the morning . We started in the La Candelaria district, the historic part of the city where you can see brightly colored colonial houses. From here we continued through the beautiful Calle 11, past the Museo Botero, the museum of the most famous Colombian painter Fernando Botero, and the Centro Cultural Gabriel García Márquez to the heart of the city and the most popular starting point for tours of Bogotà: Plaza de Bolívar.
The photogenic La Candelaria – cultural center of Bogotá
In the center of the square is a bronze statue of the South American independence fighter Simón Bolívar, surrounded by thousands of pigeons that are chased, fed or admired by small children. The square itself is lined with all politically and administratively important buildings: the Capitolio Nacional, which houses the houses of the Congress of the Republic of Colombia, the Edificio Liévano, the town hall, and the Palacio de Justicia, the court. The La Candelaria neighborhood is famous not only as the historical and cultural center of Bogotá, but also as one of the most photogenic. Because thanks to the cobblestone streets and the many colorful houses that are located here, La Candelaria takes every visitor back to the colonial times.
Leaving La Candelaria behind, we headed up Carrera 7 and straight into the city center. Admittedly, this part of the city is neither particularly beautiful nor particularly interesting. Worth seeing is the Museo del Oro, the gold museum, which has a remarkable collection of gold pieces and presents the Colombian gold history in an interesting way.
Together with hundreds of other cyclists we rode leisurely through the otherwise car-crammed capital of Colombia. Now we sometimes had to stop because there were too many cyclists on the road, sometimes because there was live Colombian music playing on the sidelines, or once again it was time for a salpicón de frutas – a Colombian mix of fruit juice and fruit salad that is perfect for a bike ride. The special thing about the Ciclovía in Bogotá is not only that all the roads are closed, but also the atmosphere, which, thanks to the many street vendors, is more reminiscent of a folk festival than a bike ride. On the right and left of the street, musicians and artists gather between a variety of food stalls selling everything you can imagine, from meat skewers to corn on the cob to fruit salads.
Bogotà along Carrera 7
After a short stop, a few chicken skewers and empanadas (filled dumplings), we continued along Carrera 7 through the Parque de la Independencia into the Centro Internacional to the Santamaría Arena – a bullfighting arena whose reopening this year led to violent protests. Right next to the arena is the Museo Nacional, housed in a former prison.
In the meantime, the sun had made its way through the thick rain clouds, so we pedaled hard, because we still had a long way to go: It was supposed to be almost 13 kilometers across Bogotá, always following Carrera 7, to Usaquén – the 1st district of Bogotá. After almost two hours we sat down exhausted on the comfortable benches of the Hacienda Santa Bárbara shopping center, drank a strong Tinto and watched the hustle and bustle on the market, which was located directly in front of the shopping center.
The Ciclovía is the perfect way to get to know Bogotá, the people and especially the Colombian culture on your own.
When: Every Sunday and public holiday from 7 a.m. to 2 p.m.
How: The easiest way is by bike, which costs 9,000 pesos (about €2.70) per hour with Bogota Bike Tours. Alternatively, Bogota Bike Tours also offers bike tours that depart daily at 10:30am and 1:30pm from their La Candelaria office and cost 40,000 pesos.
What: 120 kilometers of Bogotá’s streets will be cordoned off by volunteers. There are food stands on the side of the streets, as well as bike stations where you can have your own bike repaired.
Who: Almost two million locals and tourists are said to be taking part in the Ciclovía.
On foot: along the graffiti walls of Bogotá
From our hotel Casa Platypus we strolled through the Parque de los Periodistas in Usaquen’s La Candelaria district just before ten o’clock in the morning. Our plan: A graffiti tour through Bogotá. However, we are definitely not alone in this, because we can see large groups of other tourists at the meeting point from afar.
As soon as we arrive, Anne, a German who has been living in Bogotá for five years, struts up to us and introduces herself: “Hi, I’m Anne and I’m going to show you the graffiti of Bogotá today,” she explains, much more alert than we.
Bogotá and graffiti – they belong together like Guatemala and guacamole and the USA and its burgers. No wonder, then, that there are now guided graffiti tours through the Colombian capital. Bogota Graffiti is the name of the agency behind it, which was founded by a Canadian and an Australian and has been offering tours twice a day for donations since 2011.
The indigenous people of Colombia already shaped the graffiti culture
The graffiti culture has its origins with the Colombian natives, the Chibcha, who centuries ago attached petroglyphs – rock paintings carved in stone – to the walls of caves. Meanwhile, graffiti in Bogotá expresses social and cultural criticism. The time of “La Violencia”, the civil war, the drug conflicts and the still widespread poverty provide enough reasons to express one’s opinion publicly – and in Bogotá it ends up on the house walls and gradually transforms the city into a real work of art .
We walk the cobblestone streets of La Candelaria, past the graffiti by Australian artist CRISP, Colombian artists Guache and Rodez and along the walls painted by Spanish artist Pez. The tour lasts about 2.5 hours and ends in a new, young part of the otherwise little-noticed area of the city center. Today, it’s home to a slew of traditional restaurants and the city’s largest mural, depicting a mix of indigenous stories and pervasive conflicts.
When: Daily at 10am and 2pm from Parque de Los Periodistas.
How: On foot with English speaking guide.
Costs: Donations of 20,000 to 30,000 pesos (approx. €5.90 – €8.90 are expected).
We spent almost four days in Colombia’s capital Bogotá and can say that we saw and explored a lot of corners of the city. Our conclusion: Bogotá is definitely worth a trip and should be more than just the start or end point of a trip through Colombia. The small streets of the La Candelaria district, but also the hip corners of Parque 93 and the Zona Rosa convinced us: Bogotá is cool, young and on the way to becoming a super interesting and exciting travel destination.