Colombia is a country of contrasts. It has Caribbean beaches, the Amazon jungle, rolling green hills, small colonial towns and big cities. It is known for its fierce and dangerous reputation but when you get here you meet the friendliest and most welcoming people. The wealth divide is enormous and it's confusing to be told that in some areas in Bogota there is still a 7pm curfew, only to later spend the night paying $35 for the cheapest bottle of wine at Andres Carne de Res, a restaurant slash night club full of wealthy 20 something year olds who wouldn't look out of place in Europe.
I spent three nights in the capital of Colombia, dizzy from the altitude and excitement of starting a five week trip of most backpackers favourite South American country.
Here are some reasons I rate Bogota.
La Candeleria. This is the old town of Bogota, the cheap bohemian neighbourhood in the historic city centre where most of the hostels are located. Here it's easily accessible to most tourist attractions like the Plaza de Bolivar, Monserrate and Gold Museum. The cute area felt safe but it was advised not to walk alone after dark as muggings and armed robberies are still commonplace.
I had timed my arrival into Colombia perfectly. Walking around on my second day in the city I was curious as to why street vendors were selling candles and everyone was buying them. Turns out it was Dia de las Velitas which is Little Candles Day marking the day of the Immaculate Conception and the beginning of Christmas festivities. This day is also Colombias most observed traditional holiday. At 8pm all the locals were out on the streets lighting candles on the footpaths and there were fireworks over the city as well as festivities in Plaza de Bolivar. It was quite the sight and with so many families out and about it seemed hard to imagine this area as dangerous.
Monserrate is the mountain sitting at 3,100 metres above sea level looking down over Bogota. You can get up to the top by cable car, train or by climbing. Of course I chose to climb. Three lessons were learnt that day. One, you probably should acclimitise before hiking to such heights. Two, going to bed at 5am only to walk up the mountain a few hours later is not ideal. And three, don't buy a huge peice of chocolate cake before tackling the climb. I am a sucker for punishment though and enjoyed the walk with literally hundreds of families making the pilgrimage up on the Sunday. The weekend is the only time you're recommended to walk up to Monserrate since there are crowds. Any other day and you're asking to lose your camera.
The view of the city was stunning and it was nice to have a wander around the tourist stalls and restaurants up the top. I tried getting a look inside the church but it was packed full of locals as a service was on.
Street Art is legal in Colombia and it's impressive. Even on the drive in from the airport you see some stunning pieces. I did the Graffiti Tour which was a two hour guided walk around La Candeleria and highly recommended if you want to learn about the pieces and artists who did them.
Like most big cities in South America I had mixed reviews about Bogota from fellow travellers. Like most big cities in South America I was pleasantly surprised. I loved Bogota. I loved the street art, the friendliness of the locals and because of my timing, the festivities marking the beginning of Christmas.