Bogota - A Peek into Latin American Culture

My two-week visit to Bogota, Colombia was a delightful surprise contrary to the image it holds for being unsafe. The narratives surrounding the Latin American states are often centered on drug cartels and criminal activities but the culture these narratives project onto the world are far different from my experience in the city and my interaction with its wonderful people. The country might not have plenitude to broadcast to the world but its abundant culture trumps all other things. Bogota, the capital and largest city of Colombia, is a great place to encounter and immerse yourself in this very unique and incredibly rich Latin American culture. It features sceneries ranging from lush green mountains flirting with clouds on a rainy day to active urban scenes towards the city center. Let this be an account of a few of things you can look forward to when visiting Bogota.

La Candelaria – The Historical Town of the City
La Candelaria is an exquisite tale of winding streets lined with small colorful buildings on each side. Each street is different and incredibly picturesque. This pedestrian friendly experience of walking around the tangled street ways holds promise of coming across wonderful small cafes, great people, and endless photo-ops. Besides the locked streets of the historical town, the old city center is also a very happening place to witness the vibrancy of the Colombian culture. Massive crowds of people adorn the streets and the city center: visitors, locals, shoppers, hagglers, street food vendors, performers, sojourners, tourists, shoppers – altogether forming a colorful array of activities. You can return repeatedly, to find the same street performers pulling off new tricks. Expect to find outrageous dance performances, comedians, graffiti artists, music, and so much more.

Play a Game of Tejo!
Tejo is Colombia’s national sport. Often restaurants and cafes will have a backyard that has a setup for their customers to take a try at this very creative sport, which is bound to spark an interest. Tejo comprises of a propped up board plastered with wet clay that one must aim at from afar. The targets fixed into the mud contain gunpowder and so when you hit the target, they explode. From wishing that you hit the right spot to ending up with muddy hands because you keep going back, to collect the metal pucks you aim with, Tejo is a complete joy ride. Fun fact! The game gets its name from the throwing disc used to aim, which is called a tejo
Overdose on Empanadas and Arepas
In Bogota, international food chains can rarely be found, which encourages everyone to indulge in the local cuisine. Find yourself vegetarian friendly versions of their greatest hits that include the famous Bandeja Paisa, Ajiaco and Tamales. For a quick snack on the go, look for roadside shops that sell Empanadas or Arepas. Empanadas can be best described as Colombian Samosas; however, the fillings are diverse and cater to a different kind of taste palette. Arepas, on the other hand, are wheat-based pancakes. Flat and round — one can easily find this quick hunger fix on the streets often served with various fillings or toppings.

Colombian coffee is straight from the Promised Land and all avid coffee drinkers are encouraged to stock on supplies to return with. The chocolate covered coffee beans are another fun snack to look for. The Colombian Starbucks equivalent, Juan Valdez, can easily be found around the city but the coffee is far richer. Colombians also make the most flavorsome Pina Coladas. An interesting hot beverage to look forward to is the Chocolate Santafereño (Santafe Hot Chocolate). Easily found at restaurants and cafes, this rich hot chocolate is served with white cheese and a variety of breads. The expectation is to dunk both the cheese and breads and enjoy them as you sip on your beverage. The cheese and chocolate combo is surprisingly very tasty and you will find yourself going back for more.

Take a cable car to Montserrat!
Montserrat features a sanctuary on a hilltop that you can take a cable car to. The hilltop sanctuary is a white building atop a lush green mountain and can be spotted from afar as a gleaming fracture in the natural landscape. The weather changes fast and so most would advise visitors to make their way up on a clear day. Nonetheless, the experience of this vantage point on a cloudy day is nothing less than remarkable. The feeling of floating in the clouds has an altogether different kind of appeal.

Visit The House of Memes
One cannot skip a trip to the Museo Botero or the Museo del Oro (gold museum) located at the city center. The former features works of the Colombian artist and sculptor, Fernando Botero. Often it is hard to dissect works of art for most people but the millenials today seem to find it easy to relate. His paintings have made rounds on social media as memes that make it an interesting go to place.

Hit the Street Market for a Shopping Spree!
Colombian local goods and crafts are a separate indulgence and one should spare time and money for it. If you are a first-timer, travel light so you can stock up on and travel back with as many things your heart desires. Some of the things you should be on the lookout for are hammocks, pottery, cane goods, ponchos, and other textiles. The Colombian markets are complex and distracting. It’s hard to navigate around the best and the worst, however a general running advice would be to always haggle endlessly. Try your luck to get a discount, without offending the locals. Knowing Spanish helps, so acquire the necessary vocabulary to help navigate situations like these.

With all these possibilities, here is a fair tip about managing Colombian currency. Using pesos is a frightening experience and you can’t help check the internet for how much it translates to in a familiar currency every time you are given a quote. Point being, be prepared to pay roughly 2000 pesos for a cup of coffee and not let it startle you. Colombia is a pocket-friendly travel choice. Plane tickets aside, a couple of weeks done right in the city will not break your bank.

The diversity of experiences one can seek in this city is quite astounding and you can never get tired of it. You can walk the same streets, time and time again, and you can find yourself sitting at the same cafes/restaurants. The city and its people are warm and welcoming too, and the city has an endless list of things to offer for someone looking to delve into the Colombian culture. From the architecture to the culinary experience to every street and every square, Bogota is certainly a most exciting place to visit and explore. HH

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