Bogota sits at 2640m (8660 ft) elevation, has a population of 9.8 million (as of 2016), and is the capital city of Colombia. Comparing Bogota to Cartagena and Medellin is like comparing apples to oranges. Medellin and Cartagena have so much personality and energy, whereas Bogota is drab and cold feeling. With exception of the nice airport that you arrive at, the city doesn't coddle you. It seems as if every square inch is covered in graffiti and is in desperate need of a good pressure wash to remove decades of filth that has built up all over the infrastructure and buildings.
Don't get me wrong, I'm not someone who takes offense to graffiti art (with the exception of random "tags"), in fact, normally I really like it - it provides the eye with some relief from the mundane.
Street art, in general, is a great visual proxy for the health and happiness of a city. It’s a way for people to assess, learn, and connect with an area. However, this does not always mean that it will be a positive representation of a community. The graffiti in Bogota is a visual representation of the people's angst and hostility. It is generally a targeted negative message of a marginalized population, with the hope of being acknowledged. The visual angst is spray painted everywhere throughout the city. This, along with the significant transient population, uninspired concrete construction, and griminess of the city make for an uninspired first impression.
The city transit system is triple long diesel buses that are constantly running along designated bus routes. It works well for getting to most places you will want to see, but be prepared for a perplexing experience trying to figure out which bus you need to get on.
It seems as if whoever designed the transit system in Bogota had never used mass transit before. It is easily one of the worst thought out transit systems I have used. Rose and I never did fully understand how to navigate it properly - often we would just get on a bus that was going in the right direction and it would mostly workout… Mass transit: if you can't figure it out within a couple minutes, it is poorly designed. This isn’t rocket science! Every major city has a system, at this point it should be “plug and play”.
It's great that Bogota has a mass transit system which is inexpensive and setup in such a way that it will get you to most places you need to go, without having to transfer a bunch of times, but the buses spew diesel exhaust fumes over everything, which greatly detracts from the city. Carbon soot coats everything in proximity to the bus lanes and makes for a very unpleasant respiratory experience as you are constantly inhaling exhaust particulate. Maybe this seems like a “first world problem”, but honestly I wouldn’t be surprised if respiratory issues, such as lung cancer, become a major problem for the people of this city.
In Canada, vehicles meet strict environmental regulations, which requires them to use catalytic converters to collect NOx, SOx, and COx pollutants expelled from engines during combustion. It is important to remember that no such regulations like ours are enforced in most other parts of the world. I must say that I have grown, now more than ever, to have a great appreciation for these regulations and our continued efforts to improve.
The problem with diesel buses billowing smoke is rampant throughout South and Central America but doesn’t become an immediate concern until you are subject to constantly inhaling it. It is as if the buses here are tuned to be constantly running "lean" - oxygen-starved and spewing noxious black smoke.
Throughout our travels, we use Reddit and Wikitravel to get acquainted with a new area. Reddit and Wiki seem to be some of the last uncorrupted travel resources out there; any reviews you read on Google and TripAdvisor have generally been compromised by fake reviewers, making them nearly worthless. Like our destinations prior, we looked up where to stay in Bogota and decided on Chapinero. Arriving outside our accommodation we were left questioning whether we had made a mistake booking... The general neighborhood was nothing like what we had envisioned in our research. We would learn later into our time in Bogota that there really isn't anywhere in the city that has that “gringo vibe”, with exception to Funnel Alley - made up of mostly bedraggled gringo hippies who are trying to sell you half-assed jewelry. You are probably thinking "that's because you finally got off the gringo trail!" Nope. I honestly just think that Bogota is in a serious funk and is lacking any inspirational creativity. If Bogota was our "Welcome to Colombia" I might have seriously doubted whether we should have seen Medellin and Cartagena - which you definitely should! There was one redeeming quality about Bogota and that is that we were finally out of the sweltering heat. Bogota, being at a high elevation, is a pleasant temperature during the day - you can get through an entire day without breaking a sweat and still wear shorts and a t-shirt (we were here in late December). In the evening, however, you will want a fleece jacket and maybe pants.
I have to say, we did enjoy walking around some neighborhoods and downtown, when the sun came out. When you are in Bogota everyone is going to tell you to try Aljaco Soup and Hot Chocolate With Queso, and you will most likely end up getting it at La Paurta Falsa restaurant, by Plaza de Bolivar de Bogota - where every tourist gets it (if you end up here anyway, get a tamale they are more reasonably priced and good). Knowing what I know now, I would seek out a more authentic and reasonably priced place to try these things. All said these aren't Colombian culinary delights that will ignite your taste buds. Generally speaking, the food, like the city, didn't impress. We had read so much about the culinary marvel that is Bogota, but this is not what we experienced. We went way out of our way to try and find these culinary gems but were always left with wanting. After experiencing Bogota it really makes me wonder about all of the hype and accolades that Bogota gets on so many travel blogs and books. Were we here at the wrong time of year? Are we jaded from seeing so many amazing places? Maybe we were just overtired and unappreciative? Or maybe Bogota really just isn't that great...?
After being to so many places, and reading so many travel blogs, I think that there is a trend towards over-hyping places which are particularly underwhelming. Almost as if the authors are trying to reassure themselves that their time couldn't have been better spent somewhere else... Or maybe, like the whole hipster movement, it is cool to like the "uncool", which Bogota is.
If you are like me and you enjoy the feeling when your time and money are well spent and you experienced something which you are genuinely excited about, you can forget Bogota. I hate to be so critical of the city, and I understand that everyone's experience will be different, but if I was on a short trip, say two weeks (+/-), I would be grateful if someone saved me from wasting my time here. If I am completely off base, and you had a great time, please let me know what made your experience here, I am very intrigued.
Some things we did in Bogota:
The Gold Museum - this place is the definition of over-hyped and underwhelming
Tried lots of street food
Checked out neighbourhoods through the Candelaria and Chapinero
Teatro Colon Bogota tour