Bogota, a city breaking free of its past

I have a confession. I really like Bogota. It is a weird, fascinating and vibrant city that has seen terrible times and now appears to have faced-down its past and is looking to the future with renewed confidence. Still, there is no way around the fact that Bogota has a reputation that would give pause to even the most hardened traveller. A reputation for violence, drugs and crime that is well deserved. Except these days, maybe that should read ‘was’ well deserved.

My first visit to Bogota was several years ago for work. During a free afternoon I took a cab to the historic colonial district of Candelaria. I walked around, strolled up and down streets and at one point a policeman came over to me and asked where I was going. I pointed up a street that looked fairly nice and he simply shook his head and drew his finger across his throat mimicking a knife. I didn’t need to be told twice.

Cathedral Primada in Plaza Bolivar, Bogota, Colombia

Cathedral Primada in Plaza Bolivar, Bogota, Colombia

Colonial buildings in the Candelaria district of Bogota, Colombia

Colonial buildings in the Candelaria district of Bogota, Colombia

Bogota 2013 seems like an entirely safer place. Not a single policeman drew their finger across their throat or warned us we couldn’t walk down a particular street. The city was alive with activity and I didn’t once feel threatened; although judging by one review of the hotel we stayed at, violent crime does occur all too often. Perhaps that’s why tourists still seem few-and-far-between, or maybe its because this is the low season.

There are safer and wealthier districts to base yourself in the north of Bogota, but we decided to stay in the old colonial heart of the city, La Candelaria, centred on Plaza Bolivar. Here you can wander streets – with one eye open – full of glorious colonial architecture, pop into student bars full of people dancing tango to pumping music and watch street vendors weave their way through the crowds with any number of unlikely items.

Plaza in the Candelaria district of Bogota, Colombia

Plaza in the Candelaria district of Bogota, Colombia

Church on the edge of the Candelaria district, Bogota, Colombia

Church on the edge of the Candelaria district, Bogota, Colombia

Street art in the Candelaria district, Bogota, Colombia

Street art in the Candelaria district, Bogota, Colombia

Sculpture in the Candelaria district, Bogota, Colombia

Sculpture in the Candelaria district, Bogota, Colombia

Street art in the Candelaria district, Bogota, Colombia

Street art in the Candelaria district, Bogota, Colombia

Food stall in the Candelaria district, Bogota, Colombia

Food stall in the Candelaria district, Bogota, Colombia

The other benefit of staying in La Candelaria is that pretty much everything culturally worth seeing was within a short walk from our hotel: the Museo del Oro and the Botero gallery being the two highlights. The whole area does still have a slightly down-at-heel feel about it, which is part of its charm, but it probably makes it feel more intimidating than in reality it is.

To me, the real joy of being in Bogota is the human life that goes on there. It is a joyous place to be at times, and on odd occasions I found myself thinking I was back in La Paz.

Sausage seller, Bogota, Colombia

Sausage seller, Bogota, Colombia

Doorway in the Candelaria district, Bogota, Colombia

Doorway in the Candelaria district, Bogota, Colombia

Cake shop in the Candelaria district, Bogota, Colombia

Cake shop in the Candelaria district, Bogota, Colombia

Balloon seller in Plaza Bolivar, Bogota, Colombia

Balloon seller in Plaza Bolivar, Bogota, Colombia

Mobile tienda in Plaza Bolivar, Bogota, Colombia

Mobile tienda in Plaza Bolivar, Bogota, Colombia

Candy floss seller in Plaza Bolivar, Bogota, Colombia

Candy floss seller in Plaza Bolivar, Bogota, Colombia

Feeding the pigeons in Plaza Bolivar, Bogota, Colombia

Feeding the pigeons in Plaza Bolivar, Bogota, Colombia

One thing is for sure, Bogota is a surprising city. Ringed by mountains, full of history and culture, outrageous street art, welcoming and friendly people, bizarre street performers and any number of excellent restaurants. It feels like a city waiting for its moment, and that moment seems to have arrived. That makes me happy.

12 thoughts on “Bogota, a city breaking free of its past

  1. A great post. Thank you Paul.
    I’ve been going to Bogotá once or twice a year for more than 35 years. 🙂
    And I have a post planned soon.
    Meantime, I’ll reblog yours!
    Take care
    Brian

  2. Pingback: Day trips from Bogota | Travel, Discover, Experience

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