We debated whether to visit Bogota or to skip it and in the end we were really glad that we bit the bullet and went for it.
In Bogota, instead of building an underground mass transit system they have built a bus based system with fixed stations and dedicated roads. This is futuristically called the Transmilenio. It uses the dreaded Bendy Buses that were so loathed in London but with dedicated lanes (physically segregated from the main road) they are a very efficient transit system.
Given that there was this method of getting around Bogota we needed to find somewhere secure to park the Beast with easy access to the Transmilenio. Like most big cities the traffic was heavy and the driving much worse than outside the city so we didn’t want to drive in and then struggle to park. Right at the end of one of the lines is the Portal 80 Mall and just behind this is a secure parking lot which allowed us to stay for a couple of nights and go into Bogota for the day. The Portal 80 Mall was also handy with free WIFI and some useful shops.
The Transmilenio takes a bit of figuring out particularly as we couldn’t find a map anywhere (other than online at www.surumbo.com) but once you’ve worked out what the signs are telling you it’s very easy. Here’s an overview map of the system.
The journey into the La Candelaria area (the historic centre of Bogota) took us about 30 minutes.
To the centre of La Candelaria is the main plaza, the Plaza de Bolivar with the regulation statue of Simon Bolivar in the middle. There had obviously been a demonstration recently as the statue and some of the surrounding buildings had streaks of paint on them. The Plaza contains the Catedral Primada and also the Capitolio Nacional, the seat of Congress.
In Plaza de Bolivar we saw a couple of guys with Llamas offering rides – the South American version of donkey rides on brighton beach, I can’t quite imagine it in Trafalgar square though.
It was unfortunate that we were visiting on a Monday which meant that a lot of the museums were shut and also a lot of the churches were locked, a phenomenon we have noticed in Colombia in that the churches only seem to be opened for services.
Walking away from the square we went around behind the Congress building. Here the streets were heavily guarded by the military and to get past the barriers you were searched. We were shouted at for stepping on the wrong pavement at one time – although walking down the street was fine. At another time we sat down on a low wall next to a church and a soldier came along and told us to move on. They take their security seriously.
Also guarding the parliament were presidential guards who were very smart in golden helmets.
We spent most of the day wandering around the Candelaria district and had a nice lunch in a modern restaurant. We liked this area and felt very safe.
One of the places that was safe was an art gallery with donated works by Botero. His thing was drawing everything chubby. I quite enjoyed them. At the same gallery there were also a number of works by big artists such as Picasso and Dali. It was free to get in as well.
At around 3.30pm we decided to head back to the Beast and negotiated our way back on the Transmilenio. We arrived back just in time as it started pouring with rain and pretty much carried on for the rest of the night. The day had been nice though with some really hot sun for periods but once the rain started the temperature dropped right down to 10c, not surprising really because Bogota is at almost 2800m.