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:
A local Canelazo seller and his cart.
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.
The eternally happy ladies at De Una Travel Bar.
I'm going to assume this guy was the "god of fathers to teenage daughters".
Generally feared by young men around the ancient world ...
I'm sure I've see these guys in a video game somewhere...
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).
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...
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).
There's also one artist who champions the indigenous people of Colombia in his art...
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.
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.
Coffee-to-go, Bogota-style, sure beats the hell out of 3-in-1 coffee.
Because even a Predator needs to make a living between hunts (hope he's not lactose intolerant).
Llamas. Spanish for "stunted furry giraffe".
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...
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.