• Top 5 Things To Do in Bogota

    Travel • By Marc Nelson • 30/11/2016 • 0 comments


    I recently visited Bogota, Colombia on my way back from Cuba. Partly because I’d been hearing good things about Colombia, and partly because my girlfriend and I needed a convenient stopover on our way back to the U.S. (this was one month before the U.S. eased restrictions on travel between the U.S. and Canada). I figured a day or two would suffice as it was probably just another big city and most of the beauty of the country would be in other areas. 

    Bogota, and in fact Colombia as a whole, has a reputation for being a dangerous place, as it was once named the “murder capital of the world” and was famous for notorious drug cartels that threatened to overrun the country. The  popularity of the series “Narcos” has made sure that those events of the 1980’s are still fresh in the minds of the younger generation (awesome show by the way). But that was then, and it’s now a few decades later and a whole lot safer.  

    The Bogota of today is a pleasant surprise. I went there knowing virtually nothing, and came away wanting to learn so much more.


    Here are the top 5 pleasantly surprising things you may experience on a quick trip to Colombia’s capital:


    1. It’s cold.Colombia is a South American country near the equator who’s beaches are part of the carribbeansea. The whole place should be tropical hot, right? Wrong.  At over 8,000 feet above sea level on the slopes of the Andes mountain range, Bogota is decidedly chilly. We were there during summer (August) and the nights were cold enough for me to wish I’d brought more than a hoodie and a scarf. The plus side is that the air is so clean and crisp that you it almost feels like you’re breathing in a eucalyptus mint every time you inhale. On our first night in Bogota, we met a family of locals who introduced us to the Colombian way of keeping warm -- a hot toddy of Canelazo served from a streetside pushcart. It’s a hot herbal tea, with fresh honey and a shot of local Aguardiente liquor poured in to keep the chills at bay. Tastes delicious and warms you up a treat! A definite must try.






     A local Canelazo seller and his cart.




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    Our new Colombian friends who introduced us to this yummy way of keeping warm. 


    2. The coffee is excellent, and so is the food. Ok, so maybe it’s not a big surprise that the coffee in Colombia is amazing, but the food was awesome too. Like any big city, I’m sure it depends on the restaurant you eat at, but as we wandered around the Candelariadistrict, we consistently had wonderful meals at each place we chanced upon. Part of the reason for this is that they get a lot of their fresh organic produce from farms on the mountain slopes just above the city. A couple of recommendations are the Papaya Gourmet Café and the De Una Travel Bar, where the all female staff are always smiling and having a good laugh.



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     The eternally happy ladies at De Una Travel Bar.



    3. Gold. Lots and lots of gold. Making a trip to the Colombia gold museum is an eye-opening experience. It’s hard to imagine just how much gold there was coming out of this region back in Ancient times, even before the Spanish started carting it away in the 1500’s. Not only is the amount of gold in the museum impressive, but the level of detail in the artwork and the different techniques used to achieve them by the ancient goldsmiths is mind-boggling. My personal favorite were the 3,000 year old Tolima “airplanes”, as popularized in the show “Ancient Aliens”. I challenge anyone to identify them as anything other than figurines of aircraft, centuries before they existed. Cue X-files music here… (the museum is free on Sundays).



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    I'm going to assume this guy was the "god of fathers to teenage daughters".

    Generally feared by young men around the ancient world ...  



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     I'm sure I've see these guys in a video game somewhere...





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    Photo: Ancient Aliens

     The photo above of the ancient Tolima "aircraft" is from the Ancient Aliens website, 

    which is a much clearer photo than I was able to take through the glass case (the objects are only 2 inches across).


    4. Bogota is one big open air art gallery. Thanks in part to an agreement by the local government to allow street art in Bogota (a sometime contentious issue depending on which mayor is in charge), the entire city has some of the most amazing street art in the world. We took the free Bogota Graffiti tour (I highly recommend this) one morning and were completely blown away by the quality of the artwork and the stories behind the pieces and the artists. The local scene is a thriving one, plus street artists from all over the world also come to Bogota to leave their mark. The residents and businesses of Bogota often get behind the street artists as well, requesting them to turn their walls into one of a kind murals. This was without a doubt my major highlight of Bogota, and I was constantly snapping away everywhere we went.




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     This artist travels a lot and gets his inspiration from the last country he visited.

    He came to Colombia after spending some time painting in China, and so...




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    A lot of the Colombian artists get their inspiration from what's around them,

    like nature (Colombia has the largest bird biodiversity in the world). 




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    There's also one artist who champions the indigenous people of Colombia in his art... 



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    And one (DjLu) who makes his mark with political commentary and

    often does images of the homeless to draw attention to their plight.

    Notice his "insects of war", as well. He has even been labeled the Colombian "Banksy" because of his style.  


    5. You see some strange things on the weekend. We were really hoping to check out the Emerald Market in Bogota (Colombia produces the most emeralds in the world, and is cheapest pace to buy them), but apparently its closed on weekends. It all kind of worked out, though, as we came across some gems of a different kind at the Sunday street market.

    Awesome coffee carts (we are after all in Colombia), crazy buskers, a man walking his llama (and you thought cleaning up after a dog was tough), and one of my personal favorites… Guinea pig gambling. Yes, you read that correctly. 

    Imagine 30 upturned bowls with a door cut out, and then 20 meters away a collection of 6 Guinea pigs (And before you get worried, the guinea pigs look very well fed and cared for, which is a lot better than in some areas of the country where they’re considered a delicacy). The master of ceremonies picks one out at random and puts him at the start line. Everyone in the crowd places their bet (roughly about 10c) on top of the numbered bowl that they think will win. After everyone has bet, a command is given and the guinea pig races down towards to bowls, sniffs a couple and then decides which one he likes by going inside. Whoever had their coin on top of the bowl wins 3 to 1 odds, and everyone else gets to enjoy the cute craziness of what just happened. I’m actually surprised that they don’t do this in other countries, I imagine it would be really popular in cutesy-loving countries like Japan. 




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    Coffee-to-go, Bogota-style, sure beats the hell out of 3-in-1 coffee. 



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    Because even a Predator needs to make a living between hunts (hope he's not lactose intolerant). 



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     Llamas. Spanish for "stunted furry giraffe".



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    Trying to figure out which upturned bowl they fancy...

    (that's me down the end in blue, hoping it'll run into my lucky number 9). 



    So, long story short, if you ever have the opportunity to visit Bogota, or even Colombia as a whole, I highly recommend you go for it. I, for one, look forward to going back and exploring a lot more of this fascinating country. And if you need any more convincing, just have a look at some of the locals who want you to come and say hi. They're way too cute to resist...



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    All photos and video taken by Marc Nelson on an iPhone6 from @PowermacCenter with a Canelazo-proof case courtesy of @Lifeproof.

    Thanks also to @piquadroph for my indestructible travel luggage and @rudyprojectph for my shades.





    Marc Nelson
    WWF Philippines National Ambassador &
    WorldVision Philippines Ambassador for Disaster Risk Reduction and Preparedness


    Tags: cluster.ph, Marc Nelson, Travel, Bogota, 5 things to do in Bogota