Welcome to South America and Colombia! We touched down on the 20th July into the capital of Colombia, Bogota, a change in country saw a change in altitude and temperature – coming from 35 degrees in Panama to around 18 degrees @ 2,600m above sea level! First impressions of the city were good, it seemed safe, easy to get around and the people were super helpful. So much so that a policeman ran down the street after me, to tell me to tell me that he’d actually directed us the wrong way and we needed to go up the street not down it! The only thing we couldn’t work out was where all the people were, it was quiet. It was quickly solved when we checked into Alegrias Hostel. They informed us that it was Colombian Independence day and it was a long weekend, meaning many locals were away on holiday. The upside of this, they said, was that all the museums were free entry for the weekend and there would be plenty of security around the place! A good weekend to fly into Bogota it seemed!
Give a backpacker free entrance into museums and they’re highly likely to take advantage of it! Cel and I were no exception to the rule. After sorting out our room at Alegria we were off into the heart of La Candelaria (the historic part of town) with the intention of hitting up the famous ‘Museo del Oro’ (Gold Museum) acclaimed to be one of the most impressive collections of gold in the world! It’s fair to say that there was a heap of gold in there and plenty to learn about how the Colombians have extracted and used gold over the years. Apparently they used to love big pieces of gold hanging from their noses back in the day.
After an hour learning about gold, we thought it was time to head out into the main street. It gets closed off each Friday afternoon and become filled with food stalls, street performers and clothes vendors. Plenty of people were out and about by now and the place was buzzing. It was hard to pass up the grilled chorizo, grilled corn freshly brewed coffee and freshly fried potato chips, especially at $1USD per pop! A wander further down the road took us to Plaza Bolivar (named after the Colombian hero). It was fenced off for a while there while they help presidential celebrations, but by the time we made it we were able to look around the huge cathedral and take a few pics.
Following on from a successful visit to the gold museum, the next day we thought we’d heighten our cultural meter by stepping into the Museum of Money and the Museo de Botero – an art gallery dedicated to the ‘famous’ Colombian artist Botero (I’d never heard of him, but that isn’t saying much). The money museum was the starting point and was relatively short lived, seeing a few of the money making machines was enough for us. The Museo de Botero was more impressive, it had a huge number of his paintings and sculptures. It appears Botero’s thing was to create paintings where the object in it (people, horses etc) appeared very fat and plump, odd and hardly flattering but I guess it’s a bit different! We were impressed to find a few Picasso, Monet and Renoir paintings, well it was more that we were impressed to be able identify paintings that we new the artists name!
After all the cultural inhalation of the museums and galleries, it was time we got ourselves moving around the place a bit to blow out the cobwebs. We walked most of the old quarter to take in all the big sites and then decided to get elevated. We took a gondola ride up to Monserrat, a church and visitors attraction on one of the steep hills behind Bogota city. It was clearly a popular trip, we crammed into the gondola with another 20-odd Colombians and put our faith in the engineers of the city as we headed up the hill on the cable. At the top we got views out over the city and were able to see just how big the place was. We could even test our ability to handle ‘altitude’ – Monserrat is 3,200m above sea level. Definitely worth the effort to make it up the hill, would have been a tough walk if they gondola wasn’t there!
The ‘Other’ Salt Cathedral
Never in my life did I imagine I would visit one salt cathedral, let alone two. The first one I ticked off was on a trip to Poland with a group of the kiwi’s, it was interesting but not something I’d venture to do again. Incorrect. There is also a salt cathedral in Colombia and it’s meant to be the biggest tourist attraction in the country (thinking this figure includes locals visiting the sight and not just tourists). We had hooked up with a couple of Germans and two Dutch people who were keen to see the cathedral and Cel wanted to venture out of the city, so off we went. The trip out was good value, taking public transport and getting to see a bit more of the city along the way. We arrived in Zipaquira, where the cathedral is and walked our way through town to the entrance of the sight. After parting with $10USD p/person we walked down into the ground (the cathedral is in a salt mine) and instantly wondered exactly how great this place was going to be – given the array of neon light going on inside. After winding our way deeper into the ground we stumbled across the cathedral. The word ‘cathedral’ has been used pretty loosely, it’s a huge chamber with pews, some religious symbols and more neon lights. Okay, so it’s definitely impressive to carve out a huge amount of rock and make the area left over look like anything civilised, they’d succeeded there, but none of us felt like it was quite as impressive as we’d been led to believe! It had nothing on the cathedral in Krakow but it had been an interesting day out even if it left me with a little less desire to visit a third salt cathedral!
After 3 days of hitting museums, cathedrals, churches and markets we were feeling good about Bogota. It felt like a safe place to be (although we were warned by plenty of locals to keep our bags out of view etc) and it had been the best of the big cities that we’d visited on the trip. Colombia was off to a good start and what better way to carry things on that to hit a colonial town – Villa De Leyva. A bit of planning and we were on our way.