First of all, apologies for the unnecessarily juvenile title. Just because Bogota is Colombia’s capital city and Colombia has been synonymous with the international cocaine trade for several decades, there is no justification for such a childish title.
That said, if you want to see Bogota in all its glory you really have to get high. The city has a location as dramatic as most I’ve seen – La Paz may just nudge it into second place. Bogota was a subdued backwater for a long time after it was founded in 1538. Not any more. It seemingly spreads out for ever across a long and broad valley, and is buttressed on its eastern side by high Andean peaks, including the 3152m Cerro Monserrate which can be reached by cable car.
The best place to start your arial overview of the city is from the 48th floor of a downtown office block which is home to the Mirador Torre Colpatria. The mirador offers incredible 360 degree views of the city and surrounding mountains, including some of the less salubrious and secure neighbourhoods to the south that are crawling their way inexorably up the mountainside.
What is so striking about the city, is the contrast between the skyscrapers, and the upmarket residential districts that stretch to the north, compared to the poor barrios spreading up the hills to the south. At ground level one day, I found myself wandering by accident into one such barrio only for a police motorcycle to come whizzing up to me to warn me away. A shame, there seemed to be a nice colonial church nestling in the barrio but it didn’t seem advisable to risk it.
After that introduction to Bogota-from-above, it was time to walk over to the cable car station that would carry us to the top of Cerro Monserrate. Home to a church containing an important ‘fallen Christ’ statue that is subject to devout pilgrimages. On the top of the mountain we watched the sun set and the lights of Bogota spring into life.
It was an extraordinary sight. Roads suddenly became serpent-like, snaking their way through the city, office blocks were illuminated and changed colour and the city seemed to stretch to the horizon.