I was sitting in a meeting in April when I decided I needed a travel break. I needed to see something new, be in a new place and spend some time alone. With that decision made I did a quick check on Google Flights to see where I could go in May for cheap. There were a few options but, once I saw flights to Bogotá where cheap …. I decided that would be my destination. I had never been to Colombia and the chance to see a less-traveled place appealed to me.
I wanted to rest so decided against a week-long travel whirlwind in Colombia and made the decision to just spend a week in Colombia. It is not a decision I regret as a week is just enough time to not get bored with the city while seeing a lot of it, especially as I threw in a day trip out of Bogotá to get a small feel for Colombia outside the city.
I found people’s reaction to my trip was interesting. Either people assumed I was going to Cartagena, or for a week-long coke binge (I was not), or they were just plain confused as why I would go to Bogotá of all places! Before I share the amazing things I experienced and saw during my week-long trip, I’m going to answer some questions about Bogotá that I got.
Is Bogotá safe?
Even though I’ve travel alone before I was still affected by the overwhelming number of travel blogger opinions and news articles that Bogotá was not a safe place, much less for solo female travelers. The sad history of Colombia in the 20th century has impacted the country and its international reputation but, there has been a positive change in the last 10 years and I’m happy to say it was obvious.
I won’t pretend that pickpocketing can be a problem in Bogotá, especially in the Centro but, if you stay aware of your surroundings and don’t do anything stupid, you will be fine. My one and only instant of potentially being robbed when I was in La Candelaria trying to take a photo. I noticed the teen who was scoping me out and it was so obvious that I couldn’t believe he was going to try. I was lucky in that a police officer was near by and he just stepped in between us.
I also noticed that even in the relatively safe Chapiero, people did not walk alone after 11 pm. Most things closed in that neighbourhood at that time and while I didn’t see any suspicious people, I followed suit. If I was out after 11 pm I would be with people or I would take a Uber back to the hotel.
Cocaine is taboo.
Yes Colombia is known for cocaine. Much to the displeasure of Colombians who don’t associated cocaine with a fun saturday night but, rather with violence, war and mass trauma. Did you know, that Colombia has the largest population of displaced people after Syria? Yep, with every piece of land being turned into a cocaine growing operation a lot of people lost their farms and homes. So if you are going to go to Colombia to indulge .. don’t scream it from the rafters, and don’t be surprised if some people treat you differently once they find out that is all you want to do with your time there.
Where to Stay in Bogotá?
La Candelaria is the central, old town and tourist area. But, it is not the safest so if you are travelling alone I wouldn’t recommend it. I stayed in Chapiero a upper-middle class neighbourhood filled with ex-pats and near the wealthy Zona B. The are lots of hostels in Bogotá as tourism has increased within Colombia and to Colombia in the last decade. I stayed at La Santa Maria Hotel Boutique, part of the La Pinta hostel chain, in a small private room. I love hostels but, I also wanted peace and quite on this vacation. To meet people, I signed up for some of the free, really affordable tours and meet two great new friends who I ended up hanging out with for the whole week.
Do you need to speak Spanish?
No but, it will make things easier. Not everyone speaks English in Bogotá and while I got by okay with my tiny bit of Spanish, I did need to get creative with my sign language at times. As foreign tourism is still relatively new in Colombia, not all front-line workers speak English like they would in other major cosmopolitan centers. Young people who work in the tourism industry, stores and restaurants will speak English but, if you go to places off the beaten track, like I did, prepare yourself to get creative to communicate! At the bus terminal I acted out a chicken to successfully order a chicken pastel to the amusement of the shop staff. So if you don’t know Spanish be prepared to set your pride aside.
What to pack for Bogotá?
While the Northern part of Colombia is Caribbean in nature, Bogotá is in the mountains. This means it is cooler, but still humid and it rains. It is also common to experience all of the weather of Bogotá in one day so it is recommended you always carry your rain gear and a sweater, just in case. You don’t need much but, you do need layers – a sweater and rain coat are essentials. Also, sunscreen if your from a Northern climate as the high altitude of Bogotá means you are closer to the sun. I packed a raincoat, 2 pairs of pants, 2 sweaters, 2 t-shirts, 2 tank tops, flats, sneakers and flip-flops. I lived in my jeans, sneakers and rain coat but, it was nice to switch up my top every day. I didn’t go to a club so I had no need for going out outfits but, bring one if you are planning on going out dancing. Bogotátans are fashionable so don’t be that tourist in flip-flops in a club.
How do I get around Bogotá?
I figured out how to take TransMilenio rapid bus transit system, which basically operates on the major street. It’s the cheapest way to get around and I like taking transit when I travel as you get to see the boring, daily side of the place. The TransMilenio mapping system is confusing and complex but, their app is actually super helpful. Once I figured out which station was closets to my hotel I was able to get around very easily.
You can also take Uber, which is technically illegal but, everyone in Bogotá uses it. You just have to sit up front next to the driver rather than in the back. I was told that Uber is much safer and cheaper than the taxis, and not to hail a taxi off the street. One Bogotá friends did confirm that the one time he took a taxi I took him on the scenic route .. standard cabbie behaviour so I assume the taxis if called are safe.
Will I have fun?
Yes you will!
Colombians are lovely and friendly people, who appreciate tourists for the sign of normalcy that they represent and are happy to chat if they can. There is a lot to see and do, lots of museums and art galleries (some of which have free admission days!) great food to eat and the currency conversion rate is in OUR favour at the moment so you can do it all on a budget.
Stay tuned for more from my Bogotá trip!