When I set off for Bogota, I had no idea what to expect. I hadn’t browsed any photos, nor had I researched much. I wanted to be surprised by the city. My first impressions of Bogota were tainted by jet lag and a bit of altitude sickness, but the Colombian capital still managed to steal my heart, as I managed to avoid getting robbed.
The City is Unexpectedly Clean
Every big city that I’ve ever been to shares one common characteristic – it’s dirty. Bogota, however, is surprisingly clean, especially considering its population of 8 million. You can’t even see cigarette buds on the streets, and the garbage is neatly collected in plastic bags, early mornings or late evenings. One of the first people I met at the hostel, who’s been living in Colombia for a few months, said that the government recently introduced an ambitious city cleaning program. It seems to be working surprisingly well. They only recently started putting in trash cans, because not long ago the guerilla rebels used to put bombs in them. But there are workers who pass by to gather cigarettes and other trash.
My hostel’s neighborhood, La Soledad, was the first district that I explored. Since it is of historical importance, contractors are not allowed to build houses more than 4 stories high. In the neighboring areas, the buildings are covered in gorgeous graffiti (which the government encourages) and painted in bright hues. These lovely houses make for are an absolutely charming walk around Bogota. On the other hand, they are also belted by barb wire and high fences. Cables hang from the power poles, the old collective buses (there’s always room for one more) spew out black clouds of exhaust, while beggars and transvestites push you to buy knick-knacks and candy. This grotesque side of Bogota is in complete contrast with the prim houses and the stunning view of the mountain. Or perhaps the contrast is what gives this city its spirit and charm.
Don’t Walk Alone at Night
I arrived at my hostel after 10 PM and wanted to grab a bite to eat at the nearby shop. My new roommates, who had gathered in the common room, warned me that it’s not a good idea to go out by myself. One of them came with me and admitted that he had been wanting to go buy water all night, but was worried about walking around alone. And the supermarket was no more than 2 minutes away!
Another guy at the hostel, who has been living in Bogota for over a year, told me a few stories that almost sound made up. According to him, the canals are home to people who come out at night and make the city unsafe. He said that many of them are transvestites with AIDS and when a friend of his was going home late one night, one of them robbed her with a syringe full of blood. The guy at the hostel also told me about two friends of his, who decided to include a whorehouse in their Bogota experience. As a result, they woke up with their apartments completely emptied – even the shampoo bottles had been stolen from the bathroom. Apparently, prostitutes sometimes use a drug called Devil’s Breath or Scopolamine which is how they turn their clients into zombies who are willing to give up all of their money and worldly possessions. It sounds like science fiction but all of us at the hostel agreed that Colombian prostitutes are best left alone.
The Women Are Beautiful and Want to Make an Impression
Before I left for Bogota, I posted in a Facebook group for expat women in Colombia, to find out how people dress here. I didn’t want to stand out like a gringo tourist from a mile away, and because of the diverse weather in the country, I had to pack for 4 seasons. That’s why I wanted to pick clothes that both fit the local culture and the climate. Most of these expat women said that Colombians dress rather conservatively and heels are not particularly popular, because of the uneven sidewalks.
However, arriving here, I witnessed the exact opposite – many local women, even those who really shouldn’t wear short crop tops and there are more heels than in Europe. Every corner features a beauty salon, where the price of a wash and blow-dry starts from €2! On the streets, you can see lots of beautiful women, with a typical Latin look a la telenovela.
The Locals Are Nice and Tolerant
I don’t know about the canal people, but the rest of the locals seem to be friendly and have so far been really patient with me, while I am attempting to utter a few words in Spanish, as well as my general tendency to be completely dazed and confused.
For instance, in one sweets shop, I argued that I had given them a 10 000 bill, instead of 1000 (1 EUR = 3564.84 COP). The ladies patiently took the bill out of the cash desk and took me back to the second grade, explaining what the zeroes in a number mean.
I spent the night before my flight to Bogota packing and unpacking. Not surprisingly, my 35-liter backpack refused to fit clothes and shoes for winter, hiking, spring, summer, the beach, the jungle, partying, exercising, etc. Even after I left half my staff at home, what I took was still bursting out of the seams of my backpack. So, I decided it would be more convenient to buy a larger backpack, upon arriving in Bogota. At the Casa Capital Hostel, they were absolutely wonderful and agreed to keep my backpack for 3 months, while I travel around Colombia and Ecuador.
Someone I met at the hostel took me to buy the said backpack, but we got a bit lost in translation. My new friend had understood that at the shop they would add padding to the back of the backpack, so it would be more comfortable. However, what the salesperson had actually said was that they would go over the seams with a sewing machine, to enforce them. When I returned to the shop to pay the rest of the price and get my bag, we discovered the misunderstanding and even though they had done a lot of work on the backpack, the salespeople agreed to give me my deposit back. Google translate and another client, who knew a bit of English, were a great help.
Besides, even though Colombians are religious people (one of the most popular churches has 5 masses per day), they seem tolerant and accepting. The very first time I went out into the city, I saw two boys happily holding hands – unlike some other cities I’ve been to, it doesn’t seem to cause discrimination here. Besides, the biggest gay nightclub in South America is here, and same-sex marriages have been legal since 2016.
The Food in Bogota Is Special
There are plants that only grow in Bogota. The markets offer a huge abundance at low prices. You can fill an entire bag of fresh tropical fruit for around €5. And avocados here are as big as children’s heads! Near the hostel, there is a man selling avocados out of his wheel cart. All you have to do is tell him when you’ll eat the avocado and what you’ll combine it with – he’ll pick the right one for you.
Bogota is a huge city and even though most tourists don’t stay here for more than 2-3 days, I decided to explore it for a whole week. From what little I have seen, I am convinced that this city is full of secrets waiting to be discovered.
And what have you heard about Bogota? Share in the comments below 🙂