I’m writing at the moment from the UK, where I’ve returned for the Christmas period. It’s the first time a lot of my friends have seen me for a while. After the usual small-talk a couple of talking points usually crop up. First, ‘is it safe out there?’, and second, ‘I thought you’d be more tanned?’.
Many people still travel to Colombia, and especially Bogota, with their expectations way out of line with reality. I recently went to the dentist and had to tell them I wouldn’t be back for the next scheduled check up as I was living in Bogota. ‘Really?’ she replied. ‘Is it just mafia and everything everywhere?’. When I picture myself back in Colombia’s capital city, with the high-rise flats, the swanky restaurants and the dogs wearing designer coats I can’t help but have a chuckle to myself. I’m not saying life’s completely peachy in Bogota, but it’s certainly safer than many other big Latin American cities I’ve been in and you can achieve a good style of life just by choosing the right area to live in.
To be fair, Bogota has surprised even me. I arrived and, like many, wasn’t blown away by what I saw. It seems the whole city is under construction and for first-time visitors, most of what you see isn’t far away from the traffic-choked chaos of the centre. This, I feel, is why many people leave Bogota after only one or two days. But this city is one that rewards patience. Once you start to really discover the city, you’ll find independent bookshops (cll 45), smart little cafes (La Candelaria), hidden bars (Chapinero), clandestine parties, amazing galleries (the Botero Museum is a favourite) and international-standard restaurants (Zona G). Moreover, you’ll find areas of unexpected beauty such as Usaquen, Parque Chico and Parque Simon Bolivar. Culture and art follow you around the city in the form of elaborate, innovative graffiti. Travel to Bogota unveils a city full of character, but it’s a place that might require you to work just a little harder than usual to find it.
There are also myriad options for people that love the outdoors and adventure sports. Just outside the city you can find Guatavita, the Salt Cathedral of Zipaquira, the mountains of Suesca and much, much more. Not to mention the unforgettable Andres Carne de Res – a one of a kind night out on the outskirts of the city.
I was reminded of Bogota as I walked around the streets of London. At each corner in central London you find a piece of history; an architectural marvel. This might not be the case in Bogota (nor in any South American capital with the exception of Buenos Aires), but what you will find is the excitement of a city that’s pulling itself quickly up the ladder and teeming with enthusiasm for the future – a far cry from the jaded expressions on most European faces.
Bogota is a city that bursts with culture that you can find and access with just a little work (rather than London’s frequent out-pricing or hipster-elitism). A city where the youth seem to rule the night and, often, the day. A city where people from all over the world come to live to enjoy the life, not to be seen to be living there. A city that investors are clambering to get a piece of. A city of such radically different faces it would be a challenge to keep yourself orientated if it weren’t for the beautiful, imposing mountains that surround the city’s boundaries. A city that’s so young you can still mould it to the experience you want out of it. Bogota doesn’t have a nickname, and yet it’s a city that genuinely doesn’t sleep.
Bogota isn’t the most beautiful city in the world or even Colombia, but if you stay longer than just a couple of days, you’ll quickly find out that it’s one of the most exciting.