I entered Colombia for the first time the same way I have many other destinations – no expectations. I thought it would be a little dirty and rugged owing to rumors that white people told me. These of course just made it more attractive in my mind (and of course less in theirs). Bogota blew my mind. It has supplanted Seoul, South Korea as my favorite place to live over the past fourteen months. Colombia has a vibrant, friendly, beautiful and diverse culture that is energizing and contagious. I’ve lived less like a tourist these past two months in Bogota than in other places — finding an easy groove between my working, gym worship, Bikram yoga, exploring local and historical attractions and partying amid the myriad of diverse nightlife venues. How much have I enjoyed my time in Bogota? Enough to stay an additional month than I planned — supplanting 4 weeks in Quito and a non-refundable AirBnB reservation.
Why Bogota is overlooked as an international destination is beyond me. Some people will no doubt find its perpetually partly-cloudy, mid 60s temperatures off-putting but for me it’s an ideal climate. As one AirBnb host told me, “it’s like the AC is always on in Bogota”. The city’s location within a hilly valley, 8,000 feet above sea level affords mico climates between the many varied neighborhoods (aka zonas or barillos) comprising the city. The weather is not drastic but it is common for light rain, sunshine and clouds to alternate with one another throughout the typical day. To me this affords appreciation for each and never once was I uncomfortable, sunburned, cold or sweaty. Perfecto.
While I wandered around the area surrounding Bogota (to Chia, Zipaquira, Guatavita and even Villanueva), I didn’t venture to the more celebrated tourist destinations within Colombia namely Medellin or Cartagena. Too hot and too many gringo tourists for my tastes. If It isn’t apparent to those of you following along – I’m a travel hipster. The fringes are where I’m most comfortable — I avoid the spotlight of hype whenever possible and relish the less refined and celebrated spots whenever possible. Admittedly Bogota is celebrated — it’s a city of 8 million people and has the richest history and most diverse culture within Colombia, but from my perspective Bogota is easily overlooked by outsiders on account of being perceived as less unique as other destinations within the country. I’m fine with that. The music, food, people and culture is much more enjoyable when it feels like such a big secret.
The Colombian people are less excited about misconceptions of Colombian culture. The constant racism and perception of drug cartels running amok along with domestic terrorism helps keep it a secret. HBO’s show, Narcos, didn’t pay any favors either. Ask the typical white guy what he thinks about Colombia and he’s bound to say drugs. It’s actually funny really – modern modern Colombia is nothing like the whacked out stereotype portrayed all over American TV and movies — hilarious to the point of genuine concern once a person comes to realize how much of what we deem to be our own perception can be manufactured by others.
Some highlights of my time in and around Bogota:
- Visiting lake Guatavita – the birth place of legend of El Dorado. A hidden, high altitude lake in a mountain crater that was literally filled with gold from ritual ceremony by the native inhabitants. When the Spaniards pillaged the first wave of gold out of it – the water level dropped 14 meters (that’s a lot of gold). While I was there I saw this thing.
- Andres Carne de res in Chia. Inexplainably wonderful. Colombian nightlife begins with food that transitions to music and dancing – Andres is the perfect embodiment of this along with Gaira Cafe.
- Buying my own ruana and wearing it in the evenings outside while working from a laptop alongside my friend Adelaida while drinking margaritas and wine.
- My daily pattern of a morning workout session at Chapinero’s Body Tech gym, followed by two hard-boiled eggs and a protein shake for breakfast from the conjoined cafe, and then working from Starbucks for 4 hours before wandering to either Vermet cafe or cafe Fratelli in Zona G.
- Home Burgers. The best hamburger I have ever had. I’ve done some soul searching to allow myself to say this but it’s true. There are a lot of 6s and 7s when it comes to burgers — this place is a solid 10. Winsteads and Umami 2nd and 3rd.
- Cost/value. Bogota affords a tremendous value for the cost of living. Food and lodging is inexpensive and NICE.
- Visiting the ranch outside of Villanueva owned by the father of my friend, Adelaida.
- Drinking lulo juice.
- Meeting the fabulous Rosaura Morales Gomez.
- Watching the Colombian national futbol team beat up on poor Estados Unidos (twice) during the Copa America.
- Carlos Vives.
I could go on and on. In the end though it felt like I rediscovered El Dorado; and I don’t really want anyone else to find out about it…