On the Road to Bogota
On April 6, 1536 the Spanish conqueror Jimenez de Quesada, left Santa Marta with 500 soldiers heading inland in hopes of finding a route to the south seas…. and of course El Dorado. Two years later they reached the current site of Bogota with only 70 soldiers remaining after conquering (= slashing, burning and robbing) various native groups along their route. August 6, 1538, is generally taken to be the official day for the founding of the city as the first mass was said on that date and duly noted by the attending priest. To mark that event, Bogota celebrated it 475th Birthday on August 6, 2013.
Bogota’s population now numbers over 7 million inhabitants and it is the capital of Colombia. It is sometimes called the ”Athens of South America” due to its grand architecture. Although the city is also the capital of the department/state of Cundinamarca, Bogota, D.C., it is an independent capital district and not administratively part of the state.
Located on a plateau, high in the Andes mountains at 2,625 m (8,612 ft), Bogota has a climate that could be compared to a northern US or Canadian spring – cool, damp with lots of rain. If you go prepared for the climate it can be very comfortable. Take some warm pyjamas because even some of the big name hotels don’t have heating. Plan to give yourself a day to adjust to the altitude.
Due to its population, Bogota covers an immense territory and while the road system and the mass transit system – the TransMilenio have improved over the past few years, the city still suffers from a great deal of traffic congestion. Plan a little extra time to travel to make your connections or appointments on time.
If one had to live in Bogota, the Santa Barbara area in the North is the most comfortable and appealing. There are many shopping malls and walking/bicycle paths that make the city very civilized. The real estate is substantially more expensive than you will find in Medellin but the northern sector of the Bogota will probably appeal more to the expat population.
There is never a lack of things to do in Bogota and you can easily fill a week with activities. Actually you could fill a week with just shopping as there are well over 50 malls. The Santa Fe Mall alone has almost 500 stores.
In 2007, UNESCO named Bogota the World Book Capital. It was the first Latin American city to receive this designation. The National Library of Colombia has existed since 1777 and the Biblioteca Luis Angel Arango is one of the busiest libraries in South America. Add to this mix over 60 museums and art galleries, 45 theatres, 75 parks and 150 plus national monuments and you’ll need to come back for a second week.
The arts are alive and well in Bogota. It has two major symphony orchestras. The Philharmonic not only has over 100 performances per year, it programs the largest outdoor rock music festival in the Americas. Add to that programing, ”Opera in the Park”, ”Hip Hop in the Park”, ”Jazz in the Park” and a dance festival as well.
You can spend a day touring and viewing just the diversity of architecture. For example, the Candaleria is a very large colonial sector of Bogota that is well worth exploring. It also houses the largest collection of private universities in Latin America. Close to downtown you find Chapinero which has the surprising and stunning architecture of large Victorian homes.
To get the best idea of how large and sprawling the city is, on a clear day travel up the tramcar at Monserrate. There you have a clear vista of the large and populous Bogota.
From fine dining, to dancing to art, music, culture and history Bogota has it all. It is definitely worth a visit or two or three !