7 Days in Bogotá
When deciding where I wanted to travel next, I knew I wanted to refresh my rusty Spanish in Latin America. Cartagena had been in the back of my mind for a while, so I thought I'd take a multi-city vacation to Colombia. Despite Colombia's reputation as a dangerous place due to the legacy of the drug trade, I did my research and found that although the country still has its challenges, conditions are far from what they were during Pablo Escobar's reign of terror in the 1980's. Especially as a resident of Baltimore, a city that far outpaces violent crime compared to Colombia's top tourist cities, I know that there are many factors that influence your level of personal safety. For example, I didn't stick out as an American tourist due to my appearance. Instead, I was often mistaken for a Brazilian or assumed to be Colombian until I spoke. I felt very safe as a solo female traveler in each Colombian city I visited, but as always, I take precautions wherever I travel. (For more perspectives on safety, read Is Colombia Safe? on AllTheRooms blog.)
The capital city of Bogotá was my first stop. I signed up for language classes at Nueva Lengua Spanish School, where I attended classes every weekday morning until noon. I also participated in some of the school's optional activities, like a dance lesson and a Saturday trip to the Chorrera waterfall (more details below).
Bogotá is a busy, metropolitan city with insane traffic and a lot of people, but is also surrounded by the natural beauty of the mountains. The people I met, including complete strangers, were incredibly kind and welcoming. Although I became a bit tired of eating the same kind of meat everywhere, I couldn't get enough of the huge variety of fresh fruit juices available at any restaurant. My entire trip to Colombia was an unforgettable experience and I didn't even have time to see everything I wanted to within the 2 weeks in total I was there. Bogotá is completely different than Cartagena and Medellín, but special in its own right and a city not to be missed.
When walking around the Bogotá city center, you can't avoid seeing Monserrate in the background. The mountain provides the city's backdrop and is one of Bogotá's major tourist attractions. The mountain was considered sacred by the indigenous Muisca during Pre-Columbian times and now features a church that was built in the 17th century.
I rode the cable car to the top of the mountain, but visitors can also choose to walk or ride the funicular. As expected, the view was amazing, overlooking the entire city. At the top you'll find the church, walking paths surrounded by beautiful gardens, a restaurant, a cafe, and a vending booth for snacks and drinks. There was a thunderstorm that day so it was very cloudy, but it didn’t hurt the view one bit. A thunderstorm at such a high elevation was an experience in itself, feeling the ground rumble and the loudest thunder cracks I've ever heard. I ducked under a covered part of the walking path with some other tourists until the storm cleared up and we were left with cool, fresh air and birds chirping again. I’m glad I came here alone since I was able to take my time and relax. It ended up being a very calming and spiritual experience for me. After sitting in a cafe overlooking Bogotá for a long time, I finally decided to leave and headed to the Gold Museum in the Candelaria neighborhood of Bogotá.
Museo del Oro
The Gold Museum (Museo del Oro) holds the largest collection of Pre-Hispanic gold artifacts in the world, along with pottery, woodwork, and textile artifacts from the indigenous people who lived in South America 500 years ago. Gold mined from the Andes was mainly used for religious and ceremonial purposes and worn as jewelry or offered to gods. If you're as fascinated as I have always been with Pre-Columbian gold or ancient history, the Gold Museum is a must-see when visiting Bogotá.
Cascada la Chorrera
Anytime there is an opportunity to visit a waterfall, I'm there. Located high in the mountains that provide Bogotá’s backdrop in a town called Choachi, the ride up the mountain alone was beautiful. Nothing but farms, cows, chickens, and dogs that, unlike in the city, looked happy to be there. The intense hike made me feel like my lungs were going to explode, but it was worth the effort. We first came to a small waterfall and stream, then after more hiking we arrived at the main waterfall, Chorrera. Not for people afraid of heights, we climbed over moss-covered rocks to take pictures, look at the fantastic view, and feel the ridiculously fresh water fall on us. The water wasn't falling heavily, so I only felt some gentle sprays and drops depending on where I was. The water was also the best I have ever tasted and, luckily, I didn't get a parasite. With a burst of energy from the fresh water, we hiked some more and then had a typical Colombian lunch of soup and a main meat dish with rice and fresh fruit juice. In this case, the juice was tomate de árbol (tree tomato). After lunch, we took a short walk to one last waterfall. This one was bigger than the first, but smaller than the second and had a little cave behind the waterfall that you could venture into. This was one of my favorite experiences in Colombia.
Catedral de Sal, Zipaquirá
The First Wonder of Colombia is an underground Catholic church built inside a salt mine in Zipaquirá, a town a couple of hours outside of Bogotá. Another student from Nueva Lengua Spanish School and I took the Transmilenio to a bus depot (city buses that run on dedicated street lanes) and then a 40 minute bus ride to Zipaquirá after our morning language classes were over.
The salt mine was impressive. I can’t imagine the amount of time, effort, and artistic talent it took to create the carvings, let alone the natural beauty of the mine. Initially, miners created a sanctuary to pray in. In the 1950's, it was expanded to include a cathedral and walkways, and another expansion took place in the 1990's. Services take place in the cathedral every Sunday. One of my favorite parts was the mirror pool, which has such a high concentration of salt that you can't see to the bottom, only a perfect reflection of the salt rock above it.