If planning a trip to Bogota, you really must reserve four to five days in order to appreciate the city’s cultural institutions, as well as its many diverse neighborhoods. I crammed a little bit of eating, drinking and walking into my three days in Bogota.
My first day admittedly was a flop, which meant I needed to make the most of my time on day two and three. I started the day early arriving at Museo de Oro (Gold Museum) when it opened at 9AM. It’s worth an hour or two to explore the beautiful pre-Colombian gold collection and to learn how gold, emeralds and macaw feathers play into the history of what is now South America. The craftsmanship is quite impressive.
Back on Carrera 7 (the main thoroughfare), I navigated the National Geographic Traveler Walk Through La Candelaria. It covers most of the historical district and sheds a light on colonial times with an eye on the present. The obvious start to the walk is Plaza de Bolívar named after Simón Bolívar, known to Colombians (and many South Americans) as El Liberator. His name graces public parks everywhere and statues and sculptures of him proudly occupy squares throughout Bogotá.
Making my way toward the Presidential Palace, Casa de Nariño, a police officer shooed me away from the gates as I set off some sort of invisible alarm. I moved undeterred because a picture without security bars is essential to portraying the beauty of the building but when I went to exit the area two officers wanted to rummage through my bag a second time in case I was planning some sort of assault. It seemed like a good idea not to upset the officers so I wandered down an alternative route until a gentleman asked me where I was going. When I replied, “I don’t really know” in English. He politely said, “If you don’t know, then it is better for you to go another way” and he pointed me back to Plaza de Bolívar. Point taken and I returned though the security gates to tourist land. It is possible to spend an entire afternoon tackling the sights of Plaza de Bolívar but bring tuppence for the birds or an umbrella for cover. The pigeons are ripe for the taking.
With limited time I moved briskly through Museo de la Independencia (you must have an English guide unless you speak Spanish) and Museo Botero. I’ve never been a huge fan of modern art but I really enjoyed Fernando Botero’s work. Botero is a figurative artist and sculptor originally from Colombia. He transforms plump into sexy appealing, and chic. It’s a free museum and houses 85 other artists like Claude Monet and Pablo Picasso. I highly recommend.
I finished my walk at Plazoleta del Chorro de Quevedo, where Bogotá was founded in 1538 and then rewarded myself with a tamale and rice pudding from Antigua SantaFe. After consulting with my waiter, I settled for something less filling but when the 8-inch corn stuffed tamale arrived with a chicken leg fixed atop I negotiated I would not eat the arepa and only half of the tamale. When my waiter presented me with dessert choices, I completely caved and powered through a rice pudding topped with raisins, a local favorite.
The most important thing I learned in Bogotá is how to follow directions. Why is this necessary? The avenues or carreras move east to west and the streets or calles move south to north. Otherwise, I walked in circles not completely understanding why I passed 1 and then was back at 11. It’s very confusing and necessary to grasp quickly. As you move south, the neighborhoods change drastically and the discrimination in social classes becomes visible. It’s best to keep to the center or the north in the city. The northern neighborhoods of Zone Rosa, Chicó, Parque 93, Usaquén remind me more of fancy suburbs in Los Angles or New York City complete with modern shops and the likes of Jimmy Choo and Dolce & Gabana. I am convinced the drug industry is funding but my guides informed me there is money to be made in Colombia.
I wrapped up my sightseeing with a Spanish speaking mass at Santa Veracruz in Plaza Santander off Carrera 7. My Catholic guilt got the best of me after I visited approximately 15 churches and prayed that I would not get mugged at every one of them. There was a big crowd for a Saturday 6PM mass maybe 100 people. Crying babies drowned the choir, women pushing strollers down the aisle and in front of the alter provided a distraction and men holding up their hands as if they were surrendering (maybe to God) provided more entertainment than a Broadway show. Adding to the chaos, Malonga (tango) music blasted outside the church the entire mass but the priest preached unfazed for 33 minutes. When mass ended, I admired the furnishings and the beautiful design and then giggled for a few minutes. At the very least, my parents and Godparents will be proud.