10 Basics of Bogotá

on Jul 1, 2014 in Departure | No Comments

Take a humdrum day in the life of a modern metropolis, sprinkle a little fairy dust and there you have the Colombian capital. The realism is stark and found in the imposing skyscrapers that are dwarfed by the Andes, in the hurried steps of its inhabitants and in times gone by. That magic has to be discovered! In the facades of the centuries-old walls of La Candelaria, in florid oases, in the hybrid sensuality of its culture, in the sophisticated exoticism of its food, in the Caribbean religiousness of its churches, in the poetry of the gestures and words by these people. The Colombians are the reflection and soul of a diverse country found on every street corner in Bogotá. “Aqui hay un poco de toda Colombia”, they say. This must explain why there is mud traversing the Transmilenio, tie-wearing Indians and the permanent aroma of coffee in the streets.


1. Magical

Raul says that thoughts are as blue as daisies; Don Guillermo swears blind that everyone has a curriculum vitae; Selma explains with her wide open Indian eyes that a solitary flower-box is precisely that, the house of a single flower. And on a Bogota rooftop, the silhouette of a poet etched against the light tells us a love story. It’s hardly surprising that García Márquez is the Columbian and universal magician of words. In the soul of these people chiselled out of the Andes, the heirs of Spaniards, African and Indians, whose bodies enshrine the rhythm of the Caribbean and a collective imagination stretching from the Atlantic to the Pacific coast, daily life is there to be swathed in verse, dreams, metaphors and myths. Whether it’s in the tangle of streets of a metropolis with over eight million inhabitants, or in the green parks, cafés, bars, restaurants, galleries and shopping malls of cosmopolitan Bogota, on the graffiti-covered walls and ancient gateways of the historic quarter of La Candelaria, or at the top of the Cerro de Monserrate.

Que le vaya bien, they say. And the soldiers, armed with machine guns, smile and give the thumbs-up. The kind and friendly nature of the Columbian people, their passion for life and for their country, almost make us forget the complicated years of civil war and the high crime rates which, not so long ago, made this a dangerous place. None of this is true today. Bogota breathes to the rhythm of a country where economic growth and peace carry the name of hope, and it’s an exciting modern city where business, culture and leisure blend with the impressive historical and ethnic legacy “Colombia? El riesgo es que te quieras quedar”, they say.


2. Historical


Bogota, or Santa Fé de Bogotá, was founded in 1538 by the Spaniard Gonzalo Jiménez de Quesada. After conquering the territory from the Muisca Indians of the Bacatá tribe, he built twelve huts and church there. The city gradually grew and became more important, especially after 1717, when the Spanish named it the centre of the vice-kingdom of Nova Granada, before making history in 1810, when it became the site of the first declaration of independence against Spanish colonial rule. It was only in 1819 that the independence fighters, led by Simón Bolívar, took Bogota, naming it the capital of Great Columbia (an empire dreamt of by The Liberator and which, until 1831, covered what is now Columbia, Ecuador, Panama and Venezuela). Troubled times followed in which several revolts broke out, culminating in the deadly Bogatazo, in 1948. The guerrilla groups that came about as a result of this turned Columbia into a lawless land, given over to drug trafficking and crime. But since the victory of Álvaro Uribe in the 2002 presidential elections, peace has been negotiated. Anyone arriving at Bogota today will find a bustling metropolis, a commercial, industrial and cultural centre that makes it the sixth most attractive city in Latin America in terms of investment.


3. La Candelaria

La Candelaria

The bustling historic centre of Bogota coincides largely with the quarter known as La Candelaria. And it’s here, among steep, narrow streets, among squares and ochre-coloured colonial houses once home to the Creole and Spanish aristocracy, among small cafés, souvenir shops and boutique hotels, theatres, churches and museums, that the casual visitor will feel the city’s pulse. To really take in the spirit of La Candelaria, you’ll have to pay attention to detail. To the wooden doors bearing families’ coats-of-arms that remind us of the Old Continent, the decorative windows, the balconies, the plaques evocative of the city’s history and historical characters. You should also pay attention to the signs of various eras and architectural styles, but, mainly, to the people. From the rolos and cachacos (those born in Bogota) to the young arty and hipster population, who follow the trends of the cultural whirlwind.

This sort of anachronistic or multi-era puzzle makes La Candelaria the emblematic centre of both the old city and the new. Start at the heart, in the Plaza Bolívar, then let your senses guide you between this square, the picturesque Plaza Chorro del Quevedo and the Piazoleta del Rosario. Lose yourself, find yourself and revel in the streets steeped in time, museum, churches, graffiti, daily life and sensual coffee aromas.


Urban art

The walls of Bogota rival those of the great world cities when it comes to graffiti. They are gigantic designs that occupy the walls of streets and houses and where anything goes. From political and social irony, to song lyrics, 3D self-portraits, including works signed by the great world names of urban art, such as the Portuguese VHILS.


4. Cultural and bohemian

Museu do Ouro

There are 58 museums, 45 theatres, 62 art galleries, 19 libraries and countless concert halls. It’s hardly surprising, then, that Bogota is known as the “South-American Athens”. And rightly so. Here’s a selection of the places and events not to be missed (in our opinion).


Museum of Gold

It’s not only because it boasts one of the biggest collections of pre-Hispanic objects in the world that it’s worth spending a good few hours here. The visit is a journey into the culture and way of life of the native people, told through over 50 thousand items in gold, other metals, pottery, stone, bone, shell, wood, textiles and even mummies. Apart from the rooms that portray the metal cycles, those dedicated to people, symbology and cosmology are a true lesson in anthropology.

Botero Museum

Known globally for his “gorditas”, the Columbian Fernando Botero has a showcase here for the 208 works he donated to the Banco de la República. 123 are his own and 85 are signed by great masters such as Picasso, Chagall, Dali, Renoir, Matisse, or Bacon.

Manzana Cultural of the Banco de la República

This complex, which occupies a block in La Candelaria, comprises (apart from the Botero Museum), the excellent Luiz Ángel Arango library, with a concert hall, the Art Museum of the Banco de la República and the interesting Mint.

Ibero-American theatre festival

Held every two years (the last was in April), this is the most famous theatre event in South America, bringing together the world’s top companies.

More culture

The list is endless, but it’s worth visiting the National Museum, the Museum of Colonial Art, the Museum of Modern Art, the Church of Santa Clara, the Colón Theatre and Maloka (the interactive science and technology centre).

Sexy moves

Night life is hectic, varied and lasts until morning. Put on any beat, whether it’s salsa, rumba, reggaetown, hip hop or electro, and you’ll see rolos, cachacos and hipsters shaking it like there’s no tomorrow. Everyone dances and everyone dances well. In La Candelaria, try the salsa club Quiebra Canto. In the more sophisticated zona Rosa (or T), check out La Villa, Armando Records or Maroma. Other options include the open air Le Coq, Theatron, with electronic music, and Radio Berlin, for after-hours.


5. Religious

Iglesia de La Candelaria

Whatever your religion, get ready to be blessed! You don’t need to be Catholic, but you’ll need plenty of devotion to do the church route. There are 28 temples of cultural interest, including some of the churches in the historic centre, such as the Primada Cathedral, La Candelaria, San Ignácio, San Agustín, El Carmen and San Francisco. The local iconography and a spirituality haunted by the spirits of the past are worth the visit. Apart from that, in these parts, the squares and churchyards continue to be a kind of sociological observatory. Trinket sellers, bumbling politicians, smiling families, girls in frilly dresses, pensioners throwing corn to the pigeons, executives moaning about the pigeons, nuns with parasols and just anonymous folk, passing by continuously, making the sign of the cross.


Sanctuary of the Fallen Christ of Monserrate

One of the city’s outstanding features visited by pilgrims from around the world. Standing at an altitude of 3152 metres, it affords a magnificent view over the city and the Andes. Go on foot, by funicular or cable car, but be sure to go. Even if it’s just to feel as though you’re on top of the world and to open your arms, as free as a condor.

Zipaquirá Cathedral

Only 50 kilometres from the capital lies one of the wonders of Columbia: an underground salt cathedral. This imposing temple was inaugurated in 1995 inside a salt mine that was worked by the Muisca Indians. 180 metres deep, its outstanding features include the Via Sacra, the Dome, the columns, the 16-metre-high cross, salt statues and the naves that represent birth, life and death. Just feeling the unparalleled mystique of the place is an amazing experience. There are activities, acoustic concerts and mass every Sunday at midday.


6. Green


The colour and aromas of fruits and fresh flowers in the streets, the varying shades of green on the Andean slopes and over a thousand parks, gardens and humedales make the capital a city filled with chlorophyll. They let it breathe. Covered by a lake thousands of years ago, the Bogota Savannah still preserves 14 small but very important ecosystems: the humedales. These swampy lakes are home to typically Andean flora and fauna, including 153 bird species, 81 invertebrate families, 12 species of mammals and four of reptiles and amphibians. The botanical lesson centres around the José Celestino Mutis Garden, but the field work can be done at the weirs, lakes and flower plantations on the outskirts of the capital.

Not only do the gardens and hothouses work at preserving species, they are also a showcase for the fascinating flora endemic to Columbia, a country where biodiversity abounds.


7. Epicurean


When it comes to the range of distinctive flavours, Bogota – and Columbia in general – in no way lags behind its fashionable Peruvian or Brazilian neighbours, whom the whole world’s talking about. Literally. Options include creations based on the exotic and juicy fruit of the earth, or making the most native flavours and colonial traditions, which never lose sight of the contemporary nature of textures and other gastronomic trends. Creole, mestizo, Afro-Hispanic, diverse, creative, cosmopolitan, choose your flavours and travel through a world filled with arepas, empanadas, papas criollas, arequipes, patacones, ajiacos and fruit juices too delicious to ever forget. Have you ever tried lulo or guanábana?


Casa Vieja

French and traditional cuisine to delight in the national and regional specialities such as the ajiaco (a soup with meat), arepas (a kind of corn pancake stuffed with cheese, guacamole, beans or meat), patacones (similar, but with a banana base), bandeja paisa (mix of meats) or a delicious coconut rice.


It’s worth taking a walk around the pretty colonial zone of Usaquén, where you’ll find, among other famous restaurants, Bistronomy. A relaxed atmosphere and high level cuisine with creative recipes inspired by local and world flavours.

El Cielo

A totally sensorial experience, as if Gandalf the wizard were the head of service. In a pretty interior garden, mysterious explosions occur, cryogenic phenomena, aroma-filled potions and other tricks with the flavours, yet always made with the rigour of Chef Juan Manuel Barrientos’s kitchen.

Central Cevicheria

A surprising variety of fish, octopus or shrimp ceviches in as many mixtures and combinations.

Andrés DC

The menu is longer than a cookbook, but fame is sometimes inexplicable and this kitsch and glamorous space, nestled in a shopping mall in Zone T, is the place to be seen. Be prepared for loud music, a party atmosphere and justifiably expensive, tasty food.

La Mina

The atmosphere is refined and tasteful and the service is excellent. It’s known for having the best steaks in town as well as lobster that still tastes of the sea. The wine list offers over 350 different choices.


Under the ownership of the famous musician Carlos Vives, it combines the best of the coastal cuisine with live tropical music. Enjoy a good parrilla and whirl round the room to the sound of cumbia, porros and mapales.


8. Trilogy of experiences


Bogota? Of course! But this huge and incredibly diverse country that spans an area as big as Portugal, Spain and France put together has so much more to see and offer. Of the multiple possibilities (nature, cultural, adventure or sun and beach tourism) and possible combinations, we recommend a tour featuring both historic and natural heritage.


Cartagena of the Indies

Beautiful, romantic and legendary. Founded by the Spanish in 1533 on the Caribbean coast and coveted by pirates such as Francis Drake, the city’s an open-air museum. Small streets of colonial mansions, balconies adorned with bougainvillea, old cathedrals and lively squares make the casco viejo a universe of discoveries. A piece of advice: toss away the guidebooks and maps and stroll through the city wherever the wind takes you. In Bocagrande and El Laguito, further south, there are trendy tourist developments and an hour’s boat trip away, you’ll find the exotic Islas del Rosario, where you can spend a memorable day on the beach among the corals and fine sand.

Coffee Cultural Landscape

Amid stunning natural scenery, traditional Columbia combines with coffee aromas to offer us a trip tailored to the five senses. Don’t miss the report in the September issue of UP about the magical journey into what is classified as World Heritage Landscape.


9. Gabo

Gárcia Márquez

Creation is a power of the gods; however, there are men who dare to reach so high and become immortal as a result. Gabriel Garcia Márquez (Aracataca, 1927- Mexico City, 2014) did just that with the brilliant novel, One Hundred Years of Solitude (1967), his greatest work of his creation: magic realism; where stories occur in a parallel world that combines the unreal and odd and the everyday; where the sensory is an essential part of perceiving what is real. Literature of the fantastic, of the marvellous, as it was called; finding space where other great names of South American writing could fit, such as Jorge Luís Borges and Júlio Cortazar. Gabo, is he is otherwise known, won the Nobel Prize for literature in 1982 and became one of the most widely-read authors of the 20th century, due in part to the seven generations of the Buendía family, the heroes of One Hundred Years of Solitude. From law student to journalist, sociological observer with a just cause, Gabo gave us new perspectives on the world seen from that complexity that is being human. He visited Portugal as a journalist in the hot, post-revolution summer of 1975, returning home with the impression that Lisbon was “the largest village in the world”, “everybody talks and no one sleeps”. His interest in the Portuguese capital of revolutionary times is unsurprising. Much of his work, from Autumn of the Patriarch to The General in his Labyrinth, focusses on the solitude of power and the victims of power. A model fiction writer, Gabo believed that the best narratives were those of realities; however, combining them with the story of a tropical dictator (Salazar), followed by a monocle-wearing general (Spínola) in a country “forced to sit, wearing worn out shoes and patched up jacket, at the table of the world’s richest and most sophisticated”, he had the ingredients of magic realism of his books.


10. A day in the country

Um dia no campo

Leaving the metropolis behind, we slowly come into a colourful rural world. Rustic and high-tech trucks pass us by, roadside towns, flower plantations, greenhouses, lakes and dams, the Boyacá bridge (where one of the battles of independence was fought), green landscapes stretching into the distance. Night has already fallen when we reach Vila de Leyva, a settlement lost in time, where the cobbled streets and whitewashed walls echo the voices of the past. Declared a national monument in 1954, the town has been preserved and breathes a tranquillity that pervades the small rural hotels, the tourist shops, the flower-filled patios and balconies and the restaurants of the main square (the biggest in Columbia) where we dine amid dimmed lights to the sound of salerosa music. The following day, we wake to the glory of the fields and to one of the high points of this trip. A horse ride as far as the Pozos Azules, gazing across at the desert on the horizon. Then we go to Ráquira – a quaint town known for its handicrafts – where we have lunch right before a new experience: the pottery workshop in a country atelier. This hands-on approach to working with clay only confirms what I’d already suspected: I wasn’t born for these arts. I focus on the magnificent mountain landscape and take notes for posterity. We all have our virtues. Columbia’s is being an amazing country that morphs at every twist and turn. Truly magical!


By Patrícia Brito photos Raquel Castro and Patrícia Barnabé

Up would like to thank Proexport and Diana Caicedo for their support and the helpfullness and patiente of our excellent guide, Marisa Fonpibon, and our driver, Don Julio.


City design

The metropolis grew on a north-south axis. In the north there are chic residential neighbourhoods and multinationals. In the south, the middle class houses and the poor suburbs. The street system is alphanumerical, divided up into calles and carreteras.


Sprawling across a giant plateau in the high lands of the Andes, at an altitude of around 2600 metres, Bogota has an average temperature of 14 ºC throughout the year. Wrap up well and be prepared for rain. Here, you never know. What you do know is that you’ll suffer from altitude sickness at first, but it’ll pass after a day or two.

Cycle path and the TransMilenio

The alternative movement of registration plates resulted in family’s doubling their investment in cars, but the cycle paths, whose invention is accredited to the Columbians, are increasingly popular (around 2 million cyclists a week). On Sundays, some of the main thoroughfares are closed so that the population can stretch their legs: cycling, running, doing yoga, capoeira or just lying out in the sun in the various parks. Another futuristic project is the TransMilenio, a public transport system based on the Integrated Transport Network of the Brazilian city, Curitiba.

Letter by letter

The best culinary options in the capital can be found in variety and quantity in the areas known as Zone G (for gourmet), Zone T (or Pink), Zone M (la Macarena, in the centre), 93 Park and Usaquén. In these places with their Latin-American soul and hipster vibes, you’ll find concept restaurants, beer houses and bars, designer and international brand shops, malls and galleries. For something completely different, the street food is tasty and cheap.

Anyone for coffee?

Yes. Coffee. On every street corner, any time of day, on every occasion, even straight into the bloodstream in extreme cases. Columbian coffee is excellent (the best in the world when it comes to smoothness) and the Columbians are totally addicted to this natural stimulant which is among the top raw material exports, along with flowers, fruits and emeralds. If you want it with milk, ask for a perico.

The Cartagena of García Márquez

This is a literary tour through Cartagena, which includes an audio guide and proposes a circuit round the magical and mysterious places (or everyday ones) mentioned in Gabo’s work. The tour was the brainchild of the Nobel prize-winner’s brother and includes, among other points, the writer’s house, which served as the backdrop for the home of Fermina Daza in Love in the Time of Cholera, the newspaper where García Márquez began his career as a journalist and the square where Sierva Maria, in Of Love and Other Demons, is bitten by a dog.

Gabriel García Márquez Cultural Centre

This is one of Bogota’s most popular spots: a multidisciplinary space where culture, reading, art, architecture and gastronomy find a common voice, paying tribute to the writer. Go up to the third floor for a different perspective of La Candelaria.

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