Bogotá has seen a lot in its 500-year history. Growth, retraction, invasion, crime, calm, innovation, sights, sounds and always beautiful scenery. Now with over 7 million inhabitants (as of 2005) these days the city is not simply a metropolis, but more of a conglomeration where the arts, politics and industry all play off one another in a safe and civil fashion. I couldn’t have felt more comfortable swimming around in that cultural soup, as if all the negative talking points I’d heard from foreigners who are exposed only to hearsay and speculation were in fact just the opposite, liike all the unfortunate events of the previous decade had never even happened. Or chalk it up to President Uribe’s Communidad Segura, a social contract placing heavily armed policemen in almost every neighborhood.
The city is progressive, with a North American-style environmentalism taking center stage everywhere, in hotels, businesses and restaurants. Couple this with a fitness that’s hard-wired in the collective consciousness and you have a very modern city. I loved all the bike lanes around town, a simple courtesy that is painfully lacking in so many other major cities.
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With a median age of 37, Bogotá’s nightlife is animated, the Zona Rosa giving glitz to the club, bar and café scene. The local party kids will come out, and man are they good looking, paying as much attention to fashion and good grooming as any Italian 20-something in Rome. This also gives strength to the local arts scene which explodes all around town—sculpture is pervasive and elaborate graffiti art is rampant on many a surface outside of the city center.
Don’t forget to take a trip up the Monserrate for a panoramic view. There’s a Hong Kong-style cog train to the top with a luxurious glide down in a hanging gondola. Tool around La Candelaria, Bogotá’s historical neighborhood, for colonial era architecture and for the historical perspective check out the Gold Museum. Many of the more valuable pieces are in an actual vault (complete with 2 foot thick combination-lock door).
In any case, the hang-up most people have about Bogotá, and Colombia in general, is probably the best reason to go there: it’s off the normal South American tourist track. You won’t see a huge number of international travelers there, making it all the more enjoyable as a traveler and giving you a freedom you won’t find in Rio, Lima or Buenos Aires. Colombians are a super-friendly people, with a language that’s easily assessable. I’m sure it was this friendliness why I felt so comfortable there, as a visitor, a tourist and a human being.
Next stop, Cartagena.
* all photos courtesy of the author