Bogota: Eating my way through Colombia’s Capital
Onwards to Colombia’s massive capital, Bogota! In this post, I’ll discuss the different things to do, see and experience in the bustling Colombian capital.
How exciting to finally be in Bogota, a colorful city with 8 million people. I had an early flight from Medellin in order to check into my (9th floor!) Airbnb, just in time for my Free Graffiti Tour! I took an Uber from the airport. Like all Uber rides in Colombia, I had to sit in the front when the driver picked me up, because Uber is technically illegal here.
Free Graffiti Tour
My Free Graffiti Tour was much different than I’d expected. I was one of three people, plus the tour guide. The other two participants were vacationing from England and Germany (they didn’t know each other), and had been here for over a month, so they’d already taken all the pictures they wanted to take. I, on the other hand, love me some pictures! (Clearly haha)
However, the altitude was getting to me and I was starving, as I hadn’t eaten since Medellin, so I asked the unfriendly, short and scruffy tour guide if he could point out a good food cart if he saw one during the 2.5 hour tour. He agreed, but walked faster than an angsty, 40 year-old mom with hand weights who was trying to not think about her Desperate Housewives-esque lifestyle.
Needless to say, taking any good pictures – or finding something to eat – seemed entirely impossible. I had to literally RUN after him if I stopped for more than 3 seconds, as he’d speed around the corners and never looked back. I asked him if we were in a rush, and he said that we wouldn’t be if I “hadn’t taken so many pictures.” (At this point I had taken THREE FREAKING PICTURES in a span of 25 mins, all while I was walking.)
After 35 minutes of trotting behind him and nearly passing out, I asked him about food again to see if I should just leave the tour, but he promised food was coming.
Another 20 minutes went by, and he pulled me into this touristy place with disgusting looking empanadas that tasted worse than they looked. He hugged the guy behind the counter, clearly called me an unfavorable name in Spanish, and told me to eat at this place or not to eat at all. He said I should buy something here. I’m usually very straightforward, but at 8,000 ft and insanely hungry and lightheaded, I honestly just needed any kind of sustenance. I didn’t realize how uncomfortable he made me until after the tour.
A few minutes later, I felt much better, thanks to my uber-dry and flavorless empanada. I could finally take more pictures! After a few clicks, the guide told me that I could either take pictures or take his tour. I asked why, and he said that in his mind, people don’t remember things that they take pictures of. I told him that these pictures weren’t for me, but for my family, who can’t travel often. He rolled his eyes, mumbled that he hated people who took pictures, and continued to speed through some of the most beautiful and photogenic places in Bogota.
What a waste. The other two people on the tour and I kept looking at each other, out of breath and confused why we were walking so darn fast!
They were delightful, by the way. The guy from Germany was about 20 years old and just adorable. We laughed about the various German stereotypes and I told him how I’d loved living in Germany the past few years. I said that I’ve met German people everywhere I’ve traveled, and he said that, “The more you travel, the more you will find that an uncomfortable amount of German people are often there with you.” 😂😂😂 I nearly spit out my food, I was laughing so hard.
The gal from England and I talked about how beautiful the Cotswolds were, and how the English countryside is seriously no joke. We murmured that we have both discounted our home countries as places to travel, as we have sort of taken them for granted. “We can always go see those places.” She promised me that she’d see more of England, and I her, that I would see more of the States.
These were the only two conversations that the three of us were able to have, because the guide told us not to speak in between locations. He said he needed quiet time to relax and breathe deeply and that our chattering was distracting.🖕🏻👎🏻🖕🏻👎🏻
All that being said, Bogota’s Street Art was amazing. It wasn’t quite like Comuna 13 in Medellin, but it was everywhere and freaking beautiful. There were specific artists who were allowed to use the giant mural spaces, and Mr. Impatient and Unkempt told us that each artist tried to highlight certain aspects of life in Bogota. Some brought attention to the indigenous roots while others focused on current events: immigration, hunger, politics, creating a safer Colombia.
We passed by a beautiful park and then these incredible scenes on the sides of the buildings. Our guide explained that everything was given a face and a pair of eyes – or three, in order to show the trouble makers of the neighborhood that people are watching.
We saw the most amazing murals and adorable fluffy puppies. There were all kinds of animals on these murals, too. Half a dog face next to half a human face, lions and hummingbirds, and an entire wall of famous cat characters – Garfield, Grumpy Cat, Tom and Jerry, etc. At the time the wall was painted, there was a lamp post in the middle of one of the cat’s faces, and the artist painted the lamp post to match/become a part of the mural. A few weeks ago it was painted over, he said. So sad, but what a cool idea!
There was this beautiful street that had tiny shops and adorable cafes. Plenty of individual paintings and glorious murals here, too. I wish I had more time to see them, but our crazy, speed-walking guide decided for all of us that we had better things to see. 🙄
We passed by a bright red door decorated with flowers and leaves, intensely abstract paintings and somewhat toned down murals that, at first glance, showed beautiful scenes and smiling people, but in the background, there were people being portrayed as puppets, nuns worshiping TVs and small children playing with bombs. A way to say that things are not always as they appear from the outside. Sometimes the truth is much more complicated than we expect. People are not always smiling because of genuine happiness.
Our little speedy tour group burst into one of the cafes off the main street (not on the cool, eclectic street), where the guide told us how coca leaf tea is, indeed, from the same plant that makes cocaine. However, the coca leaf tea simply has iron in it, instead of mind-altering chemicals. It works the same way as, even though beer comes from wheat, eating grain or having some bread doesn’t get you drunk. He explained that it was helpful for altitude sickness. We tried a small cup of it, which tasted like diluted black tea.
He also, in the middle of a sentence, ate some coca leaf powder, placing it in the side of his mouth and rolling his eyes back in his head and MOANING as us three watched in horror and fascination. He didn’t tell us what the powder was. I asked the gal at the counter afterwards. She said he stores his little jar of powder here to eat after the tours. The cafe was super cool with paintings for sale and an entire mural on the upstairs wall. The cafe was great. The tour guide was bizarre. I was so glad when it ended.
I didn’t want to tip him at all, but explaining why would have been more trouble than it was worth, as he clearly had no remorse for being such a jerk. He held his hand out to each one of us and waited for us to give him money. I gave him $3 and practically ran down the stairs and into the restroom. I waited until he had left. When I came out, the gal at the counter said that the tour guide was looking for me. I told her what a jerk he was, and she agreed that he comes in after every tour and is just as rude to her as he is was to us. Barf.
She then went on to tell me how she’s saving money to buy a one way ticket to Germany to be with her boyfriend whom she clearly hadn’t known for very long. I wished her luck and I silently hoped that she would find someone else to crush on. By all means, go to Germany – but not for a guy. 😂😂
The Botero Museum
I said goodbye to the cafe girl and went to the Botero Museum, which was right down the block. There were three museums all in this shared courtyard, and and a combined entrance price: free!
The Botero museum was my favorite. I just loved all these “disproportionate” paintings and sculptures. There was a massive hand sculpture in the front of the museum modeled after a painting. It looked like it was emphasizing its middle finger, but the painting was just supposed to be a hand “in motion,” and this was the scene his vision caught.
The Mona Lisa remake is one of his best known works, clearly resembling the original, but he just said that he made her facial features and arms, etc, a bit smaller than the rest of her. He didn’t see her as – what some people commonly call – “the fat Mona Lisa.” She just had different sized lips and fingers. This museum also had some of the best WiFi in Bogota, just FYI.
I went into the modern art museum (same courtyard) where I found a beautiful view from the balcony and some *interesting* art haha. The Museum of Money was the third museum and had some super old bills and coins and printing presses.
As I was walking, I saw one of the famous Bogota buses racing down the road, JAM-PACKED full of people. I’ve never seen a bus so packed. (Then again, I haven’t been to India haha)
La Puerta Falsa vs. La Puerta Catedral
I walked La Puerta Falsa, one of the most famous restaurants in Bogota. I didn’t realize that I’d then walked into the restaurant right next door, La Puerta Catedral. After trying the food – and seeing the tourist prices – I wasn’t impressed. I had the small empanadas which ended up being super greasy with beef and onions inside. It was served with guacamole, though, so that was tasty. I’d ordered the Ajiaco soup, the famous stew of this region with chicken, potatoes and corn.
I also had the scariest situation I’ve ever had during my first day of travel. My phone entirely shut off and wouldn’t turn on, no matter what I did. All “silly technology-addicted millennials” jokes aside, I hadn’t written my address down, and it was my first day in the city, so I didn’t know how to get home. Also, my host – whose number I didn’t know – had warned me that certain streets were extremely risky to walk on alone at night. I started hyperventilating and crying, madly asking my server – who spoke no English at all – if there was a phone service repair shop anywhere. My phone was entirely charged and I had an external battery, so I was convinced that my phone was broken. The server said not to leave my phone with any shops around here, and moved my phone/charger around from plug to plug around the restaurant. FINALLY, my phone turned back on. I was so relieved. I started crying even harder. The server was now seriously confused. I thanked him profusely, tipped him big time, and explained why I was so upset at first. I immediately wrote down my address/host’s number and stuck it in my bra.
Paloquemao Market Tour and Cooking Class
The next day, I had a market tour and cooking class with a local couple named Gerardo and Sandra. We met at the Paloquemao market, which is the smaller of the two markets in Bogota, but this is the market where all the moms of Bogota shop.
We had such fun at the market! I saw all sorts of fruits and veggies I’d never seen before, bough ingredients for lunch and then headed back to their place to cook and eat.
We made a salad that had onions, tomatoes, avocado and cilantro, and chicken bathed in garlic and oil. We made mashed potatoes and fried arepas. We made passion fruit juice and some flavorful beans to go along with the chicken. I wished I could have eaten it all, but I could barely finish half of my plate. haha. For more info and pictures of my experience at the class, click here. (This is not a sponsored blog, I genuinely had the best time with these two.)
I took an Uber home. My driver didn’t speak much, but he was friendly and told me a bit about how people from Bogota never leave Bogota, because the city is so big that you can have all kinds of fun experiences. Especially in the most recent years, Bogota has become much safer and more tourist friendly, so he was glad to hear that I had come to see his city. My 25 minute Uber ride was $3.
Finally home. I admired the view from my window and spent the evening in, working and preparing for my last (busy!) day in Bogota – and in Colombia. 😭😭😭
The Gold Museum
In the morning, I quickly popped by the gold museum! This is the most popular museum in Bogota, and has over 55,000 pieces of gold and gets half a million visitors per year. Considering tourism is only just beginning (again) in Bogota, these numbers of quite impressive. I highly enjoyed all the gold jewelry and shadows of people made from a screen with gold jewelry attached to show where a person would have worn these ornate pieces.
Bogota Free Walking Tour
Onto my Bogota Free Walking Tour! Not to be confused with the Graffiti Tour from before, this tour was superb! With my guide, Santiago, I finally got some good info on Bogota, great pics of the street art and even got to taste the drink that Bogota is famous for – all without the drama of the other lame-o tour guide.
Santiago told us how Bogota, the capital of Colombia and a city of 8 million people, is finally starting to get the recognition it deserves as a tourist destination.
Santiago showed us these little groups of men holding small pieces of paper that had emeralds in them. The jewels might have been real, but he predicted that the tourists were probably buying extremely beautiful – and extremely expensive – pieces of green glass 😂😂😂
As for buying real emeralds, a highly desired commodity in Colombia, there is an emerald museum, which is the official emerald shop of Bogota. It has real, fairly-priced emeralds. They also give short, informative talks to interested tourists, so you don’t have to be in the emerald market to learn a bit about them – and it’s (supposedly) pressure free.
Our group settled into a cafe, where Santiago let us taste some of this local drink that resembled apple cider. It was fermented with a fizzy texture, but I didn’t dislike it. He then passed around a bottle with the famous energy drink, Chucula. Or rather, he showed us the ingredients in a bottle and our group had to guess all nine: corn, coffee, chocolate, cinnamon, cloves, chickpeas…and 3 others that I forgot.
We finished our lengthy walking tour with a visit to Bolivar Square. In the square, there were tourists, locals and everyone in between. Vendors selling desserts and fried plantains, magicians doing magic tricks and old ladies with baggy coats, feeding the pigeons.
We saw the Palace of Justice, the building that the guerrilla groups had taken over in 1985. Half of the Supreme Court was murdered, some by the extremists and some by the Colombian government. The entire square had become a bloodbath, as both parties carelessly shot at each other. They wounded dozens of civilians, and a tank drove right through the front door of the building and mowed down everyone in its path. The government did some very shady stuff to end this situation, because people who were seen leaving the building unharmed were later found dead inside the building, supposedly to have been shot by the extremists while they were inside, as if they had never walked out at all.
The current Palace of Justice is the newest building in the square, as they had to rebuild its entire front entrance in order to preserve the court building and help the city move on from this violent tragedy.
Bogota Restaurant Tour
After the free walking tour, I took a Bogota Restaurant Tour! We ate seven different dishes at five different restaurants and I made some great new friends.
The next morning, I had just enough time to climb up to Montserrate, the “hill” (aka mountain) in the middle of Bogota that stands at over 10,000ft and has a church at the very top.
I got up early and walked halfway up the super steep hill, breakfast in tow, ready to take the funicular up the mountain. I got in line behind the three other people who were waiting and realized that I didn’t have my wallet! Oh no! I was so sweaty and out of breath and had climbed so high to get here. I went back home, though, ate breakfast, and took a cab to the bottom of the Funicular (best $1.30 I’ve ever spent).
At this point, the Funicular had a HUGE line. I was only gone for about half an hour – what a difference that time had made!
The ride was roughly 5 minutes long, $6 round trip, and took us all the way up to the top of the mountain. I was still out of it because it was so early, but the lack of oxygen was astounding. I could barely make it up the tiny hill to the church at the top. Stopping every few steps to gasp for air, I met a nice family from Belgium. They spoke French with me and it made me homesick for the past 2.5 years I’d spent in Europe.
The view was amazing! I also saw a man intensely working out on top of the mountain. He was sweating and breathing so fast, but clearly had been doing it for a while, as he wasn’t dying haha.
Back at home, I said goodbye to my hosts and headed for the airport. I had taken about a dozen Ubers in Colombia, and most of the time, they were nice, 20- or 30-something dudes who wanted to practice their English. During this ride, however, my driver was easily in his 70s, and spoke perfect English. He reminisced about studying in California in the ‘80s when he was getting his second PhD. 😱😱 He said that his son is now in Arizona working as some incredibly-important engineer. I told him, as an English teacher, how impressed I was with his excellent English. Like all incredibly skilled English language learners, he said, “Noooo! I still have so much to learn.” 😂😂😂
I had a 4 hour trip back to Florida. I sat next to this 18 year old who had no accent whatsoever, knew English slang and was whiter than I was, so I had no way of knowing that he was Colombian until he told me. He said that his parents were very well off and could afford to send him to school in the States. He said that even though he had a Colombian passport, he was treated so much better by the Americans than many of his friends at school, simply because he was lighter in skin tone and didn’t have an accent – even though those people were born the States.
We sat on the runway for over an hour, “dumping fuel” because we were too heavy. Well, my layover in Florida was only an hour. Everybody on my flight missed their connections, myself included.
In Florida, I quickly had the airlines rebook my flight for the next day, found a hotel and spent the night in the crappiest room in the crappiest hotel in the crappiest city in the crappiest state, waiting for my flight back to Denver. I barely slept at all because of the noisy and rude people shouting at each other down the hall. I was then up at 430am for my early, early flight. What a mess. I hated every minute of that. For $100 in Colombia, I could have stayed in a palace, but here in the USA, I barely got a bed and a chair. 🙄😂🙄😂
See you next time, Colombia!
So sad I left Bogota, but I was thrilled to learn just how wrong I was about Colombia. You really cannot assume something about a country if you’ve never been there (or spoken with someone who’s visited in the last year or two).
Countries change, and our negative assumptions should change with them. ❤️
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