We spent the first three full days of our trip to Colombia in Bogota, the capital. We flew in late on Saturday night (July 16) and had all day on Sunday, Monday, and Tuesday there. Bogota was probably the city we were most concerned about in terms of street crime and muggings, and I’m happy to report that nothing bad happened (in Bogota or elsewhere). We weren’t sure exactly what to expect, and we were cautious about our belongings, used a money belt, avoided carrying unnecessary valuables around with us, and stayed away from neighborhoods that might be especially risky.
Our hotel was in La Candelaria, the historic part of town, which contains the most tourist attractions and museums, but was reputed to be dangerous after dark. We avoided hanging out in the streets here after dark and took cabs back to the hotel if it was late, and never had a problem. I’m glad we were prepared and cautious, but we did not find Colombia to be the frightening den of would-be kidnappers and muggers that some people make it out to be! The country has changed a LOT in the past decade, largely due to the leadership of President Alvaro Uribe, who served from 2002-2010 and made strides in cracking down on drug cartels and investing in public infrastructure, among other things. Another important figure in shaping modern Bogota was the former mayor, Enrique Penalosa, who was responsible for many urban development projects in the late 1990s, including the city’s mass transit system, Transmilenio, and the parks and bike lanes, and is now considered an expert in creating more livable, sustainable cities. I really encourage anyone who is interested in visiting South America and taking a trip “off the beaten path” to do some research on how much Colombia has changed since the grim news headlines of the 1980s and 90s.
We stayed at Hotel Casa Deco, and were very pleased. The location was good, and the amenities were comfortable. We had an excellent breakfast every morning, this was the only hotel we stayed at that had a hair dryer, there is a cool rooftop deck, and the front desk person here was one of the few people we encountered in Colombia who spoke English.
Our breakfasts each morning began with a different type of fresh juice; lulo was my favorite. There were also fresh warm rolls, excellent coffee, and a fruit salad full of exotic tropical fruits. We then had a choice of eggs, pancakes, or a nutty, granola-like cereal.
On our first day, we set out to join Bogota Bike Tours, a group run by an American expat. I love biking around a new place to get the lay of the land, and we had heard good things about this trip. We spent an hour or so walking around La Candelaria on our own, checking out the narrow streets and brightly colored buildings, then joined the tour which started at 10am.
There were about 15 people on the tour, a mix of Americans, Brazilians, Europeans, and others. Mike leads the tour, and he is assisted by Christian, a local teenager. We started off in La Candelaria, and ended up biking over nine miles throughout the city, which took about 5 hours since we stopped every few minutes for a lecture from Mike. He tells interesting stories about the history, culture and politics of Bogota at a number of landmarks, and delivers these in both English and Spanish; I enjoyed hearing the stories told in Spanish after the English version, and tried to pick out new words and phrases for my vocabulary.
The biking was a little treacherous at times; we didn’t go on any bike lanes, even though Bogota has the most comprehensive system of bike lanes in the country, but rather biked on city streets, plazas and sidewalks, and parks (parques), which were teeming with pedestrians, mopeds, other bikers, children, animals, vendors, all sorts of things going every which way! I wouldn’t recommend doing this tour if you’re not comfortable with urban biking.
The worst part is….I am comfortable with biking and I STILL took a tumble! Right after the above photo was taken, we were going pretty fast and I aimed to go over a curb that was too high for me to clear safely, and I fell right over. I was so embarrassed. And it hurt like hell, too! I didn’t have time to stop myself and literally fell right on my face; my cheek and chin were bruised, my chin had a cut, my hand hurt, and my legs had big bruises, too. How awful. I also had a headache, and was so glad to have a helmet on. But mostly, I was embarrassed, as well as thankful that it wasn’t serious. I picked myself right up and went on with it. I really wanted to see everything on the tour, and we were only an hour into it! I was determined to keep going, so off we went…TBC