Bogota City Guide – Colombia

Santa fe de Bogota is the glorious Colombian capital, complete with an array of cultural experiences. This colonial delight contains vivid colours, contrasting ideals and a vibrant cosmopolitan buzz. Here’s more of what to expect in our Bogota City Guide – what to see and do.

Geography

Bogota is the political, economic, administrative, industrial, artistic, cultural, and sporting center of the country. The city is located in the centre of Colombia, in the south eastern part of a high plateau known as the Bogota savanna. It is the third-highest capital in South America. Subdivided into 20 localities, Bogota has an area of 1,587 square kilometres. Flights from the west coast of the US direct to Bogota start at $300USD. Whereas from the east coast you’ll look at paying around $700USD.

A bad habit

During the 70s and 80s, Colombia was plagued by the twin evils of drug trafficking and revolutionaries. In Medellín, a city 150 miles from Bogota, lived infamous drug lord Pablo Escobar, the most powerful man in the country. He ran a billion-dollar drug industry. He had rivals in the Cali Cartel, however, and Bogota was often the battleground as these cartels fought the government, the press and one another.

In Bogota, journalists, policemen, politicians, judges and ordinary citizens were murdered on a nearly daily basis. The situation in Colombia has improved significantly since the death of Escobar in 1993.

History

Before the arrival of the Spanish into the region, the Muisca people lived on the plateau where modern-day Bogota is located. The Muisca capital was a prosperous town called Muequetá. From there, the King, referred to as the zipa, ruled the Muisca civilisation in an uneasy alliance with the zaque, ruler of a nearby city on the site of present-day Tunja.

From 1533, belief persisted in the west that the legendary El Dorado existed and was accessible. The legend of El Dorado tells of a lost city of gold. This became a key target for Gonzalo Jiménez de Quesada, the Spanish conquistador. He left Santa Marta on the coast of Colombia on April 6, 1536 with 800 soldiers heading towards the interior in search of this ancient treasure.

The invaders were able to take the zaque Tunja by surprise and easily made off with the treasures of that half of the kingdom of the Muisca. Zipa Bogota proved more troublesome. When Bogota was killed in battle by a Spanish crossbow, Quesada founded the city of Santa Fé on the ruins of the city on August 6, 1538.

The town was named Santa Fe de Bogota, a combination of the traditional name and Quesada’s hometown in Spain, Santa Fe. Nonetheless, throughout the colonial period the town was simply referred to as Santa Fe.

On July 20, 1810, patriots in Bogota declared their independence by taking to the streets in protest. This date is still celebrated as Colombia’s Independence Day. Bogota remained in Spanish hands until 1819, when Simón Bolívar and Francisco de Paula Santander liberated the city following the decisive Battle of Boyacá. After independence the Congress shortened the town’s name to Bogota and decreed it the capital of Gran Colombia.

Food

Ajiaco

Check out Colombia’s national soup dish, Ajiaco. This is the country’s bread and butter, except that it’s chicken and potatoes, with some herbs sprinkled in to add character. This soup has been filling the dietary needs of the native peoples of America for as long as recorded history, some even argue its roots stretch across the gulf to Florida.  This dish comes in different varieties across the region, but Bogota is known for its delicious take on it.

Fritanga

Don’t worry about missing this one. Street vendors are selling this dish all around Colombia, in fact it is one of the most popular dishes in neighboring countries as well. Although if you just eat food from these vendors you may not know it is Fritanga, because the definition of what exactly Fritanga consists of is broad.  If you are eating something with meats and other fried foods, especially when sold from a street vendor, good chance you are eating Fritanga. That is how common-place it has become, if you want to do as a local, you should also eat as they do.

Sights and attractions


Ciudad Perdida

Explore the mazes of these incredible ruins. Recently, treasures were discovered here, and people have been killed fighting over them. It is even called the “Green Hell” by the locals who discovered it.  Although these are ruins of an ancient city, they were just discovered in the 70’s so much of it is unexplored.  Try your luck here, who knows, you might find some treasure or become Colombia’s own Indiana Jones.

 

Gold Museum of Bogota

This one’s for all our bling lovers. The ancient kingdoms of Colombia harbored tons of gold artefacts. The most famous of which, the raft of El Dorado, can be spotted in Bogota at the gold museum. Come check it out to see the extravagant lifestyles of the locals past.  Over 55,000 valuable gold pieces are held within this museum, and if there is one shining jewel that Columbia would have to claim, it is this museum. Don’t worry if you can’t read Spanish, almost every exhibit has an English translation.

Epic Graffiti

The unjust death of a famous artist by a policeman led to an surge in graffiti’s popularity in Bogota. This death was so prolific that it caused protests.  It was even condemned by the United Nations. The Colombian government took action to resolve the situation and embraced graffiti. It is now legal  in most parts of the city. For a small donation, you can get a personal tour of the legendary murals across the city, led by the artists themselves.

Pablo Escobar


For better or for worse, this man is what Colombia is most famous for, the notorious drug lord Pablo Escobar. See how the wealthiest criminal in history lived, and where he died. He was both a hero and a villain depending on who you ask. If you do a guided tour, you get personal insight on how this era defining man lived his life. One thing is for sure, you are not getting a typical souvenir from this.


Carnival

One of Colombia’s biggest holidays, or holiday season if you count the days leading up to it. Bogota has one of the biggest ones in Colombia, even though in the past it was illegal. This was mostly due to alcohol related shenanigans. The natives held carnivals throughout Colombia before its colonization.

When the Spanish came the native people’s cultures were suppressed and the carnivals often offended the ruling elite. Only in recent times did carnivals start occurring in full force. Now, people of all age groups come together in various cities across Colombia to celebrate their roots.

When venturing to Bogota, Colombia, you’ll find that this great city is very safe, incredibly interesting and filled to the brim with personality. Enjoy your escape to Bogota!

Author: Chris Stair

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