We’ve been in Bogotá for a few days now and have seen a lot of the city! We started out staying at the truly gorgeous Casa Gaitan Cortes, in the trendy Zona-G neighbourhood which is a fairly quiet, upmarket district with lots of cool restaurants, bars and clubs. After two nights of luxury, we had to drag ourselves away to kick off the budget travel experience, but luckily our hostel – Lima Limon in the historic district of La Candelaria – is really nice. La Candelaria is the old colonial neighbourhood – narrow streets lined with antique buildings with brightly coloured, peeling façades – so it’s really pretty, and is also pretty artistic, filled with students and loads of lively, intimate bars.
On our first day we ventured to the top of Cerro Monserrate, the huge, dark-green forested mountain towering above Bogotá, to orientate ourselves and experience the breathtaking views across the city – read about that and check out the photos here – while we’ve spent the last couple of days exploring La Candelaria, where there are tons of popular tourist sights…
Plaza de Bolívar
This is one of the focal points of any tourist trip to the city, and is one of Bogotá’s main squares. There are quite a few tourist attractions around the square and surrounding area, including the Palace of Justice, the National Capitol (where the Colombian Congress is located) and the Primary Cathedral of Bogotá – a stunning Colonial cathedral built at the beginning of the 19th century – while nearby are the Parliamentary buildings, the president’s mansion, and a number of museums. The square’s statue of Simon Bolívar – South America’s liberator and hero after whom endless streets, schools, buildings and towns are named (not to mention a whole country – Bolivia) – was built in 1846 and was the first public monument in the city. In spite of having more pigeons than Trafalgar Square, the Plaza de Bolívar was a great place to sit and watch the world go by.
Museo del Oro
One of the best collections of gold in the world, the Museo del Oro (gold museum) in Bogotá is pretty impressive. There’s a huge collection of gold artefacts – as well as some silver, bronze and platinum – from Colombia’s ancient civilisations. Entrance is really cheap, at just 3,000 COP (about £1) per person – and it’s free on Sunday’s – so this is a great cool, quiet and fascinating place to escape the midday heat and while away and hour or two browsing the ancient art works. I had a great time eyeing up all the gold – especially the jewellery – and also learnt quite a bit! I was especially interested to learn about the ancient tradition of throwing gold and emeralds into a lake from a barge as gifts to the gods, a tradition which supposedly gave rise to the legend of El Dorado.
Museo del Botero
This museum, with the largest collection of Colombian artist Fernando Botero’s work anywhere in the world, was free to enter and set in a gorgeous, cool, colonial building surrounding a tranquil courtyard. I have to admit, I’m not a huge art fanatic, but the museum was a really nice place to stroll around and escape the midday heat. Botero’s style, termed Boterism, depicts people and figures in exaggerated volume – aka fat. Not being art critics or particularly serious people, Sam and I had quite a lot of fun laughing at the cartoonish paintings and sculptures of fat nude women, portly moustache-od men, and overweight animals (I loved the fat cat sculpture). There’s also a pretty impressive collection of works by other artists – including Freud, Matisse and Picasso – which were donated to the museum by Botero himself.
Museo de Policia
Although it wasn’t particularly brimming with fascinating treasures or artefacts, the fairly nondescript museum of the National Police was probably one of my favourite stops in Bogotá. Our guide, like all the museum’s staff and numerous other police on patrol in the touristic areas of Bogotá, was a member of the auxillares – Colombia’s obligatory military service. At age 18, everyone must perform two years of military service – either in the National Police or the Army. People who complete secondary school, like our guide, seem to be given the easier jobs like working with the museum and aren’t trained to use a gun – something our guide looked a little sad about – while those who fail or drop out are given full military training and are able to use weapons.There were a few interesting artefacts in the museum, like guns and a motorbike confiscated from Pablo Escobar and his family, as well as hundreds of different guns in the arms room – but the real interest was in hearing the facts and stories from our lovely guide.