WanderingTrader

Continuing Confusion When Visiting Bogota

Visiting Bogotá has always caused mixed feelings.  The city is the capital of Colombia and the only real large cosmopolitan center in the country with just over 7 million inhabitants. The next largest city is Medellin with roughly 3 million people (Medellin is a city with a small town attitude).  Bogota is the only city in Colombia that can offer everything in terms of variety and convenience. It also happens to be the financial and political capital of the country, which brings Colombians young and old for opportunity and resolve.

The first time I visited Bogotá I was far from impressed as the city seemed as though it was in a constant state of flux and there was construction everywhere. It was dirty, messy, and it just didn’t feel like a place I wanted to be.

I was continuously warned about the dangers of the city and I arrived with a chip on my shoulder.  I always try to have an open mind but it’s hard to stay impartial when so many people are declaring the same thing.

Most times when someone states a place is dangerous I find it to be perfectly safe

It could be my experience of living in third world countries for over 10 years but I have always taken the opinions of others with a grain of salt when it comes to safety.  After walking around the city and interacting with locals the Wandering Trader is on record stating that Bogota is one of the most dangerous cities in Colombia.

View from  Monserrate in Bogota

“View from Monserrate in Bogota”

This is partly because of the normal dangers associated with a large city combined with the logistics of getting around as well. More on those situations below.

Upon my second visit to Bogotá my feelings changed.

It definitely wasn’t love at first or second site but Bogota began to sweet talk me into her arms.  I was able to spend more time experiencing the city’s attractions and I began to have an affinity for the city.  A small affinity.   Perhaps I stayed in a better part of town or maybe it was because I connected better with the community.

The conclusion was drawn that I was too quick to judge and needed to explore the capitol more.

I was there on a Sunday and was able to experience the city’s endless amount of museums and also interact with more of the locals. Bogota has a weekly event called the Ciclovia where many of the streets are shut down for cyclists.

It’s a great way to really experience the city.

Whit it was still chaoticit came to light that there are great things to do in the city and it does have a certain beauty to it. And no that is not physical beauty.

Monserrate Bogota

“A different angle of Monserrate in Bogota”

I have just returned from a third visit to Bogotá and I still have mixed feelings.

The assessment of the city may be unjust but I believe I have finally figured it out. As I am always transparent and candid about places I visit, Bogotá, for lack of a better description is run down and neglected.

The city is filthy, everything is normally half done or incomplete, there are potholes everywhere, and traffic is as bad as any other capital of the world.  The people of Bogotá aren’t as friendly as other places I have experienced in Latin America either.

High in the mountains the cool rainy weather is subpar to what people normally prefer, sun and palm trees. I however love the weather in Bogota.

Upon my third visit to Bogota over the weekend I stayed in a better part of the city.  The northern part of Bogotá is much safer and also much nicer than South.  Staying in the north does pose a significant challenge as the endless and blasphemous journey in traffic to some of the popular tourist attractions is unexplainable.

At one point it took us over an hour just to arrive at the popular historical La Candelaria district.

The North is much safer but at the same time there is still a higher level of inconvenience because of the travel times and the chaotic traffic.

 Architecture in La Candelaria Bogota

“Architecture in La Candelaria Bogota”

The taxi situation in Bogotá is almost as disrespectful as selling ice to an Eskimo.  Most taxi drivers will ask you where you are going before allowing you to enter the taxi. They have the all too common practice of driving away the moment you share the location. The taxi drivers just look at you, mumble, and drive off.

Many times taxi drivers will just drive right past you when no one is in the car.

Upon interacting with many taxi drivers some have told me it is because it is dangerous to stop and pick people up.  It is not uncommon to find taxi drivers who have extra mirrors to watch rear passenger windows on the off chance “something may happen.”  One day I walked around aimlessly for nearly an hour searching for a hotel that could call a taxi.

Most visitors are only going to stay in Bogotá for a few days, or possibly a week maximum, and that is where the problem lies. It isn’t that Bogota is that dangerous it is that it’s so inconvenient and complicated that tourists can get in trouble much easier.

Because Bogota is so complex a few days isn’t enough time to find out how the city works.

If you have read this far one should know that the city isn’t that bad once we peel the outer cover; Bogota has a buzzing arts and culture scene, masterful cuisine (four restaurants are considered the top 50 in the world), enough class to shake a stick at London, and enough outdoor activities in a short drive to make an adventure junkie go back to rehab.

Most people are not going to experience the city properly because they simply aren’t there long enough.

I would dare to say that one would need to live in Bogotá for a minimum of 1 to 2 months in order to really experience the city properly.

Botero Sculpture

“Botero Sculpture at the Botero Museum in Bogota”

Bogotá, unfortunately, is the only large metropolitan city in Colombia as stated earlier and this comes with both its positives and negatives.  Bogota also has the ill-fated circumstance of competing with another unique city, Medellin, Colombia.

It’s hard to say nice things about visiting Bogota when Medellin is slowly rising to become one of the most unique cities to experience not only in Latin America but in the world.

My disdain for the city of Bogotá has to do with my passion for Medellin. The people aren’t as nice in Bogotá because I am used to the graciousness and kindness of the people in Medellin. Bogotá is filthy in comparison because the city of Medellin is one of the cleanest, if not the cleanest, cities in all of Latin America.  The weather is colder and more rainy in Bogota because it sits at a higher elevation than Medellin.

It is ironic because the people from both cities have a furious rivalry and are known to not enjoy each other’s company. While I visited Bogotá to make the initial groundwork to open a day trading center I will not be living in Bogotá any time soon as I now call Medellin my home.

When you visit Bogotá I would encourage you to keep an open mind and try to experience the city for what it is:

A disorganized corrupt city that is meant to be explored on the inside, not on the outside.

Bogotá deserves justice but I’m afraid we just don’t have time for everything.

17 Comments

  1. Aside from an enjoyable field trip by local bus to the Salt Cathedral of Zipaquira, I found little redeeming value in my (admittedly short — 3 days) trip to Bogota.

    The newspapers were filled with reports of a recent deadly bus crash and warnings about purse-snatchers using machetes. I did not venture beyond my hotel at night and was constantly on alert during the day.

    As instructed, I used hotel-approved taxis to go anywhere — but as you discuss above — hailing a return cab is a frustrating exercise in pushing your luck.

    I found Mumbai and Palermo less stressful…

  2. True, Bogota doesn’t hold a candle to Medellin in terms of organization, cleanliness and climate. But for me it more than makes up for it in terms of intellectual environment, cultural offerings and economic opportunity — most of which, as you mentioned, can’t readily be experienced on a short stay. Where one person sees filth and disorganization, I see one of the best street art scenes in the world, amazing displays of improvisation, and an infectious energy in street life. Unfortunately, corruption and lack of a strong mayor are continuing to damage the city.

  3. I was in Bogota twice. The first time I was less than impressed, however Monserrat was great! The second time was a bit better. No problems with safety, I think in part because I speak fluent spanish and more-or-less know how to handle hustlers, since I have always lived in a city. I hailed taxi’s, and just found that striking a interesting conversation and/or telling the driver the Colombians are very nice people eases the situation. One cab driver tried to “accidentally” forget to give me another $5,000 in change, because the change was something odd like $8,550, and he showed me the $5,000, then set it down and fumbled for the rest and counted it and handed it to me. I reminded him of the $5,000 and he said he was so embarrassed, etc. I think that just goes back to knowing a lot of the old tricks and staying current with the newer tricks to sneak a couple bucks out of someone.

  4. Hi There Marcello! Such a shame that we’re not visiting Medellin! You write so positively about it – and it IS hard not to compare cities sometimes so it always seems biased. But Maybe next time we will be able to visit Medellin. 🙂

    Thank you for providing information about The restauraunts – i’ll have to check them out! We’re staying at the Hilton so hope it’s in a safer location. I think it is in the financial district. I get a little paranoid before all my trips! And like you, I’m an experienced traveller! Am LOVING all of your posts! Especially because it gives me such an insight for my upcoming trip to South America!!

    – Kara

  5. “… are known to not enjoy each other’s company.”

    I don’t think this is true. you can find Paisa people everywhere in Bogotá, a lot of bogotanos are of Paisa ancestors, etc. I remember a lot of paisa mates in my classes at Universidad Nacional in Bogotá. a lot of the women in the “cabarets” of Bogotá are Paisa, etc.

    I think what brings down Bogotá is that most foreigners arrive to downtown Bogotá, which is indeed very messy and chaotic (and a lot of Bogotanos avoid it because of that), but the city is way much bigger and diverse than downtown. also homicide rate is like 1/4 that of Medellín, so, Bogotá is way much safer in many ways for its inhabitants than Medellín.

  6. People that like Medellin tend to not like Bogota and vice versa. From my experience most travellers prefer Medellin mainly because of its warmer climate, less rain and friendlier people. However, I must admit I’m in the Bogota camp. It wasn’t always like this. I’m a Londoner of Paisa ancestry (Armenia to be exact) and when I was younger I craved the warmness of Paisas especially after spending year after year having to look at miserable London faces. Things are changing though thank goodness! Or maybe as I’ve gotten older I value more the cultural diversity and open mindedness of a population rather than a more superficial, sometimes ignorant, happy go lucky attitude that many Paisas have. Bogota is far more real, rustic and interesting as a city, the music and restaurant scene is good and varied with so many nooks and crannies to discover. I agree with the comment about neglected look of the buildings & infrastructure but I see this more as potential rather than a bad thing. I can see the British influenced architecture of Teusaquillo one day becoming a cultural hot spot of promenades and cultural activity and the really run-down Candelaria district cleaning up its act and enveloping the nearby slum-like areas of Belen, Las Cruces and Martires that also holds some really interesting but abandoned colonial architecture.
    Also everyone complains about the traffic, but that’s what transmilenio is for. Ok so the buses are packed as if it was constant rush hour but I’d prefer to be squashed for 20 minutes in an express transmilenio bus on its own lane than be stuck for hours in a taxi. Not to mention its cheaper, less than 2.000 pesos or $1 US dollar per trip. Also about that picking up a taxi on the street? Just phone the free toal number and the taxi will pick you up in less than 10 minutes even if its 4am, not to mention how much safer this is. It just takes a little bit of planning and knowing what’s going on in the city. For this the website ‘Vive.in’ is fantastic! It’s Bogota’s ‘Time Out’ and although its all in Spanish you can gage the gist with a Google translator.

    1. Thanks for the note Jonathan.. I think that once you are in Bogota for more than a month that people do learn to start appreciating it more. I wrote a follow up to this article about it. Thanks for the note those are some good insights.

  7. Colombia is on my to-go list. Huge capital cities are not exactly the nicest places in many countries. I heard many good things about Medellin, and your article enforces this.

  8. I already visited Bogota a few years back and fell in love with the place. As for me, no one warned me about any danger. Fortunately, nothing really happened. My personal favorite is La Candelaria. Something happened there that really changed my life. 🙂 I’m planning to visit Colombia again after 2 years. For now, I’ll just satisfy myself in watching Colombia on TV.

    By the way, I’m a huge fan of your blog. 🙂

  9. Hi. I was born in Bogota and I’ve lived here for many years.

    I’m sorry to read at your post, though I know most of the things you’re writing are true. You do find anything in Bogota in a broad sense. It’s really not a good city to live, but believe me, you do find hidden treasures in people and places that you might not find anywhere in the world.

    In Bogota everyone complains about the city and yet we’re all incapable of making things change.

  10. I was in Bogotá twice and I didn’t like so much. I didn’t have so many time because I was always on traffic jump 🙁
    Hope next time, on April, I’ll enjoyed and liked.

    But really prefer amazons 🙂

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