Greetings from South America 🙂
I guess I should start with letting you guys know that our level of Spanish is akin to that of a non-Spanish-speaking ten month old (and that’s the two of us together) so if we can do this then anyone can! We’re trying though and that’s all that matters – people are happy to help…and happy to laugh at us too. The weather is actually pretty similar to Ireland at the moment, quite chilly at night though.
We arrived at Bogota’s airport late on Sunday night after a few Delta movies and caught a taxi (from the official line outside and not the myriad of touts inside) which took about twenty minutes to our hostel in the Zona G (in the northern region of Bogota city). We stayed at 12:12 Hostel, which was a great spot for meeting people and the neighbourhood seemed very safe – even at night (Maria, the owner told us that Zona G is the gastronomic zone of Bogota and there were some fantastic restaurants in the neighbourhood). I’m so glad we stayed here as opposed to the popular backpacker area of La Candelaria in downtown Bogota which has a pretty notorious reputation. That said, we had no issues around the La Candelaria area during the day – it was mostly people just going about their business. However, there’s probably a policeman for every three people in the area so that might have contributed to our feelings of security. The two most notable things from Bogota would definitely be police presence and reckless footpaths – you cannot look anywhere but at your feet for fear of having to call that dreaded emergency insurance company number!
So the award for the tastiest granola and most delicious almond (almendra) croissant goes to Masa in the Zona G area. Worth a stop in for sure. We also tried pizza and quinoa salad in nearby Oliveto which was scrumptious. God I love my food. We obviously stopped into the famous Bogota Beer Company (BBC) in the Zona G area for a few drinks with some new pals and had a great night. Hilariously for a craft brewing spot with an extensive menu, they only had 3 beer options! The biggest cafe chain here is called Juan Valdez and they’re everywhere – wifi and air-con so yes please!.
The main area here is probably Plaza de Bolivar (named after Simon de Bolivar who overthrew the Espanols back in the 1800s). Essentially a big plaza with a cathedral and the Palace of Justice surrounding it. The president lives just behind the square in a beautiful palace (you couldn’t walk on the footpaths outside the place for some bizarre reason though – the police kept telling people to walk on the road. Random). Just across the road from here is the Iglesia de San Agustin (church) which was nice to step in to for some respite from the heat. There are actually loads of churches in the area worth stepping into for a look.
Museo Botero – this Botero chap is literally the only artist who has ever made me laugh by just looking at his work – Exhibit A. This dude seems to enjoy voloptuous women and genetically modified fruit…gotta love it! This museum adjoins the Casa de Moneda or mint museum which had some amazingly large old school money presses (mint machines? I don’t know!) from Brooklyn. They were all free to get into which was pretty nice too.
The Museo del Oro or Gold Museum would have been pretty cool to see but unfortunately we were in the area on a Monday and of course it was closed. C’est la vie. There were some indoor market type spots across from the Museo del Oro with Colombian handicrafts, emeralds and the like but I’m sure it’s the most overpriced place you could purchase this stuff.
We had a lovely 3 course set lunch in a vegetarian spot called Quinua ye Amaranto for about $15 for both of us. Not too shabby.
EDIT: We have since returned to Bogota and ventured to the Museo del Oro and I’m so glad – it really is worth the trip – it’s 3,000COP or about $1.50 to get in – ridiculously cheap. There was an exhibition on about the Wayuu people from the La Guajira peninsula in the north – my readings within the museum lead me to believe that there’s essentially a whole load of marriage counsellors up there. Random. On to the gold…I think they have something like 33,000 pieces here. You could easily while away a few hours in here. John had what he thinks is the best coffee in Colombia so far in from a little cafe called Cafe San Alberto on the first floor. Apparently we have to visit their coffee farm down the country now! The absolute best thing about the museum from my point of view is this room called ‘The Offering’ – a darkened room which lights up hundreds of gold pieces to music – a re-enactment of a chiefain’s offerings of gold and emeralds from a raft in the middle of a lake. Awesome picture here.
So this is supposed to be the upmarket shopping district but I definitely felt more unsafe here in the middle of the day than anywhere else in Bogota. There are a couple of shopping centres but nothing to write home about…so I won’t. They have a huge Pull & Bear store here with a great selection of rain jackets if you forgot to pack one. Oh and Zara and Massimo Dutti were here too.
Day trip to Zipaquira Salt Cathedral
We took a day trip about an hour north of Bogota to the underground salt cathedral at Zipaquira. To get here we took a taxi to the Portal del Norte bus station (about $7.50) and then hopped on a bus for about $4 each. It takes much longer than it should to get here as the bus driver has an attendant that you get your ticket from who stands at the door shouting Zipa, Zipa, Zipaquira all the way up touting for business. We were singing those words for a while afterwards…Once we arrived in Zipaquira we strolled up through the town to the salt cathedral which is about a 15 minute walk (no signs though so you pretty much need to follow people or ask). Costs about $10 to get in – contrary to all the guidebooks you don’t need to go in with a Spanish speaking tour-guide – they ask you if you’re happy to go on alone. We ended up getting in between tour groups so we had loads of time to potter around on our own. So basically it’s the second cathedral they’ve built in the salt mine (the first collapsed), this one is 180 metres underground and is very impressive. As you walk down to the main cathedral you pass the stations of the cross and many crosses carved into the mine with bloody disco LED lighting which is completely random to be honest. To get back to Bogota we just meandered down to where we got off the bus and just got on a other bus towards Bogota’s Portal del Norte bus station. THEN we got on a bus there to what we thought was the Zona G area (since that’s what it said on the timetables) however we ended up far, far away from our intended destination. Other side of Bogota city far. So that wasn’t anxiety inducing at all.
The following morning took us back to Bogota’s airport for our next destination in Colombia – Cartagena on the Caribbean Coast!