After 15 hours of travel, two plane rides and one sleepless night, I finally arrived in Bogotá, Colombia. I’d dreamt of visiting South America – and Colombia especially – for years. But now that I’d finally arrived, something just didn’t feel right. Usually when I first step foot in a new country, let alone a new continent, my stomach fills with butterflies (the good kind) and I feel all kinds of excitement. Typically my adrenaline pumps to such a degree that all I want to do is check into my hotel, put down my backpack and start exploring. But as I touched down at Bogotá’s international airport, I felt a little apathetic. I just wanted to get to the hotel, lie down and sleep. Maybe it was because I had taken a red-eye flight and barely slept for 24 hours. Or perhaps it was because I’d only eaten a small sandwich in as many hours. But maybe, just maybe, I was second-guessing my last-minute decision to travel to Colombia.
Was I right in choosing Colombia as my next destination? Would South America pale in comparison to my experiences in Southeast Asia? Would I even be able to travel on a budget of $40 a day? And what is there to do in Bogotá anyway? My lack of enthusiasm was disconcerting, not only because it’s out of character but also because I’d wanted to visit South America for as long as I can remember.
Outside of the airport, my boyfriend and I hailed a cab and drove for 30-minutes to La Candelaria – a colonial hamlet in the center of Bogotá. We arrived at our guesthouse and huffed it up three flights of stairs with our ridiculously heavy backpacks. The fact that we were winded is pretty pathetic, but at 8,612 feet (2,625 meters) the air is a little thin here. As I knocked on the door of the apartment which would serve as our home for the next week, I was overjoyed at the prospect of heaving myself onto the bed and passing out. But once I got inside I was distracted by how much I loved the apartment. It was colorful and homey and the view from the terrace was unreal. And once David, our gregarious host, recited the long list of things to do in the area my apathy immediately transformed into excitement. I felt like my old self again. So I went to my room, put down my backpack and immediately set out to explore.
Despite my initial apprehensions, I was immediately smitten. Looking out over the city, all I could see was an expansive sea of buildings nestled at the base of lush green mountains, which creates a dramatic and unexpectedly beautiful setting for one of South America’s largest cities. Bogotá is home to over seven million people and sprawls as far as the eye can see. But despite the city’s daunting population, La Candelaria feels less like a capital city and more like a quaint but lively town, chock full of culture and history.
Bogotá was founded in the 1500s by a Spanish conquistador. And La Candelaria is an impeccably preserved colonial neighborhood. Walking around town there are pieces of this city’s fascinating history located around every corner. I was completely charmed by everything from the cobblestone streets to the boldly painted buildings to the 17th century churches. Its historic relics are perfectly contrasted by the city’s hip cafes, impressive museums and international eateries. Much to my surprise, Bogotá really does have it all.
If it’s not obvious, I didn’t have high expectations for Bogotá. A lot of tourists tend to skip it altogether and, sadly, I came close to doing the same thing. Luckily, my boyfriend convinced me that bypassing the capital would be a big mistake. Of course, he was right! All it took was a simple stroll around La Candelaria to make all of my apprehensions fade away. And after spending a day in Bogotá, my decision to come to Colombia was reaffirmed. I’m so glad I didn’t bypass this amazing capital city. And for anyone who is wondering whether or not Bogotá is worth it, it most definitely is.
Have you ever been to Bogotá? What were your impressions? If not, do you think Colombia’s capital is worth a visit?