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“Are you from Medellin?”
“No, I’m from Bogota.”
“Oh! Which do you prefer? Medellin or Bogota?”
“Medellin is much better!”
“We’re going to Bogota soon. What is your favorite part of the city?”
“The exit for Medellin!”
We didn’t have high expectations for our weekend in Bogota. We’d talked to enough people who were either from Bogota or had spent time there to know that we were already living in the best city in Colombia, and that Colombians largely consider their capital to be a dump.
Yet, when Whit had a Monday off school we knew we couldn’t pass up the opportunity to spend 3 days traveling to this famous city. Even if it didn’t have perfect weather, gorgeous mountains, clean, beautiful streets, and proud residents there must be something to do there, right?
As more people told us not to bother with a trip, I began to seek out other reasons to get excited.
I reached out to luxury hotels in Bogota offering a promotional exchange on our blog or Instagram in exchange for a free stay. After two weeks of emailing back and forth, Four Seasons Bogota officially accepted my proposal and invited us to stay in an executive suite for 2 nights.
This was a huge deal for me. Not only would staying in a 5-star hotel give us something to look forward to on our weekend away, it meant getting my professional foot in the door of a notoriously picky international travel brand. If this partnership went well I could use it as a reference for all future pitches to other Four Seasons locations!
Friday: Arrive in Bogota and check into Four Seasons Bogota
When we picked Whit up from school on Friday, ready to head to the airport, we realized he had lost his jacket at school the day before. Correction: He’d lost two jackets in the last couple of weeks. We scrambled from one office to another trying to find it, and even went to the school store to check into buying him a school sweatshirt. When our precious minutes to make our flight on time started to dwindle away I felt like a bad mom for saying: “All we have is your rain jacket to keep you warm in Bogota, so maybe next time you’ll take better care of your belongings.”
We’ll see how long it takes for me to break down and buy him a warm layer in this cold, rainy, windy city.
It took longer for us to drive through congested Bogota traffic to our hotel than it did for the flight into the city, during which we passed mile after mile of low, strip mall-style buildings covered in graffiti. Our driver told us there’s nothing to do in Bogota with kids, said there are too many people living there with no infrastructure to support them all, and then insulted my new emerald ring from Cartagena.
Off to a great start!
After being automatically upcharged an additional 10k COP we finally left the taxi for what we cautiously hoped would be a good weekend in Bogota. The hotel staff greeted us by name when we arrived and prepared our two-bedroom suite with a welcome note and fruit plate. Our 5-star hotel in Cartagena did the same thing, which is really ruining me for economic travel!
I had connected with another member of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints living in Bogota before our trip, who, unlike literally Every. Other. Person. we talked to had some good things to say about the city. She gave us some suggestions of things to do in Bogota with kids, so we were prepared to hit the ground running (back to old habits!) right after checking in to our hotel.
It took a while to peel Ben and Whit away from the fancy fruit and soft hotel slippers, but we eventually set out to walk to two different parks near our hotel. As soon as we left the strip of fancy hotels and restaurants we were once again greeted by piles of trash, homeless people, the stench of urine, and graffiti. When it exists in even the most upscale part of town you have to accept that some cities are just dirty! (Not a judgement, just a fact.)
The parks were both pretty impressive, though.
The first thing Ben noticed was how many bicyclists were around. Before coming to Medellin we had no idea how prolific biking is here. Some of the world’s best cyclists have come from Colombia, and Bogota is even ranked one of the most bike-friendly cities in the world. Ben loves cycling, too, and was really impressed with their complex system of bike lanes. After studying bike safety for years and developing products to keep cyclists safe when sharing the road with cars, I’m happy he found a place where sharing the road seems to be working!
The best thing to come from that night, however, was a surprise dinner. I was getting pretty hungry by the time we hit the second park, which happened to be surrounded by casual restaurants. The one with the best reviews was Peruvian, which seemed like a good idea since we’ll be going to Peru in December. Time to get used to it! I wish I could remember the meal I had of sliced beef in a sauce with potatoes to order every day we are in Peru, but, alas, some things are meant to live in the moment.
To make the evening even better, an Apple retailer was on our way home which, conveniently, had the latest model of phone for us to try! Somehow a comment about me being an idiot and leaving my camera’s SD card at home translated into needing the latest phone to Ben, and he may be right- we had a lot of fun playing with the new phone’s camera and it is pretty good!
We felt like we ended the day on a high note, more or less. After the rush to (not) find Whit’s jacket, a Medellin Uber driver telling us we won’t like Bogota, a Bogota taxi driver insulting his city and me, and a loooooot of dirty streets, we had ended up finding a couple of fun places, had a good meal, and settled into a very comfortable hotel. Not bad.
Saturday: Salt Cathedral and Gold Museum
We really got down to business on Saturday.
After one of the best breakfast buffets we’ve ever seen (complete with gluten-free bread!) we set out on our first big Bogotoa adventure: the salt cathedral.
The salt cathedral, Catedral de Sal, is one of the largest salt mines in Colombia. The mine was used for centuries, and after one large cavity was thoroughly mined it was turned into a religious site for the workers. They placed an alter in the room and asked for blessings of prosperity and safety each day before starting their work. Eventually the cavity turned into a small church, which continued to expand as more of the mine was deserted. Today the cathedral exists of a long tunnel with carvings representing 14 stations of the cross and three huge naves, and the largest underground cross in the world.
We loved the salt cathedral. Whit was obsessed with his hand-held listening device which he could program to tell us about any of the 21 stops on the self-guided tour, and I loved how the spirit of God and righteousness resonated in such humble surroundings. See, we visit a lot of cathedrals. They are almost always grand buildings full of gold-leafed, gory representations of Christ’s suffering surrounded by colorful tile work and impressive features. I love them because the buildings are so impressive, but they usually make me sad, too. It depresses me to see how spirituality is dictated by wealth, and that the end of our Savior’s life is so heavily punctuated. I don’t like seeing that each has a gift shop and that you have to pay to have a candle lit for you or a loved one. I know our LDS temples are incredibly grand, as well, but it’s different. It’s not commercial.
The Catedral de Sal, by comparison, was dark, simple, rough, and sincere. Even though the sight of crosses as a representation of Christ is unnatural to me, I felt a deep connection to the Catholics who loved God so much they wanted Him to be in the most humble of places. Ye are the salt of the Earth, right?
After the Salt Cathedral we headed downtown for another must-do, the gold museum, and dinner at one of the area’s most popular and well-ranked restaurants. The gold museum was more a display of ancient gold artifacts than on the history and process of using gold in Colombia, and the restaurant was just shy of terrible, but, thanks to such a beautiful experience at the Salt Cathedral and a lively night market outside of the restaurant we still consider the day a win!
Sunday: La Candelaria and Montserrate
On Sunday we woke up early to make it to an LDS church in town. I was a bit jealous to meet so many English speakers living here, but surprised that their group wasn’t as big as ours in Medellin. In any case, I’m so glad the church is worldwide and that we have this opportunity to learn and grow from other Latter-Day Saints around the world!
Our big event on Sunday was exploring La Candelaria, the historic section of Bogota.
Ben wanted to come to La Candelaria for the plethora of historic and government buildings and museums and I wanted to come based on photos of beautiful architecture and colorful streets.
We started at Plaza Bolivar and the government buildings, and found ourselves in one of the strangest places I’ve ever seen. Yet another cathedral turned museum, Santa Clara, but this was unlike any museum or cathedral we’d ever seen. The stone walls were covered with Medieval art, you could walk down a terrifying hidden corridor priests used to access confessionals, one end held a table full of microscopes to examine common objects in petrie dishes, and the main entrance held nail tables for manicures.
Some people ask why, Colombia asks why not.
We then set out to find the colorful scene I’d seen in my research.
Here’s something a lot of travelers (especially travel bloggers or influencers!) don’t tell you: photos are misleading! I expected La Candelaria to be a historic area full of colorful buildings, when in actuality it took us around 20 minutes of wandering around in the rain to find the one view of pretty buildings everyone seems to share. Thanks to Ben’s ability to spot landmarks we did finally get to the right place, and thanks to the rain we had one beautiful road all to ourselves. Here’s something else travelers don’t usually tell you: “bad” weather is some of the best time to go explore. The sun won’t fry you and most people are staying inside. Perfect.
What do you think, was our photo worth wandering around in the rain looking for one specific place?
It began to rain while we were walking the streets of La Candelaria, with no signs of stopping. Our rain jackets and shoes were getting soaked through, but we still had one major Bogota activity left: a trip to Montserrate, a hilltop cathedral and city view point on top of Bogota’s closest mountain.
We’d been warned that Sundays were the busiest day to visit Montserrate, as it’s the only day off during a long work week in Colombia. With this in mind we purposefully waited until Sunday afternoon, hoping the crowds would die down. We were happy to see that the line for tickets to the cable car and funicular up the hill was short, until we realized it’s because the transport would be closing early that day. We could still get on one of the last cars up the hill, but we’d have to wait up to 3 hours at the top for an empty car to take us back down since today, a Sunday before a national holiday, had been incredibly busy.
I never did by Whit a warm layer in Bogota, but I did put my foot down on waiting for hours in the rain after dark at the top of a hill. Ben was disappointed to miss the sight, but I think we all appreciated a delicious hamburger dinner and sitting by the fire of our hotel that night.
So what do we think of Bogota?
Ben loved seeing so many cyclists and that it was easier to speak English. He is so versatile and could be happy anywhere, and says he thinks Bogota was fine. If we lived there he’d find more friends and be able to bike, and nothing else really matters.
I, on the other hand, am pretty firmly against Bogota. We did end up finding some interesting things to do in the city, but were constantly told by almost everyone that the city is going down hill and not a great place for kids. I tend to agree, especially when compared to Medellin.
Glad we went, and glad we only invested a few days into it, and glad to be moving on.
*All photos taken with an iPhone 7+ or iPhone X because I’m an idiot who forgot her camera SD card. Didn’t turn out too bad, though! *