It’s no secret that I was a ball of nerves thinking about how expensive traveling in Colombia would be. When I arrived in Bogotá, I’d been on the road for a whopping 10 months. And seeing as my bank account was dipping to an uncomfortably low level, I was determined to live as frugally as possible. I’m a budget traveler at heart, and I love nothing more than sniffing out great deals so I can travel inexpensively and comfortably. So I was fairly confident in my ability to make it work. However, as my flight date got closer every traveler I talked to and each blog post I read kept reiterating how expensive it is to backpack around Colombia – and that’s when the panic set in.
But during my blissful seven days in the city, Bogotá managed to defy my expectations over and over again. And one of the biggest surprises of all was how affordable it was. Since traveling on a budget is of utmost importance to me, I thought I’d share a few awesome, budget-friendly things to do in the city. Not only are these must-do activities when traveling to Bogotá but they’re free to boot!
Botero Museum: If anything, Bogotá is a city of art. Art is deeply rooted in the city’s history and it’s evident in every facet of contemporary Bogotá. It’s everywhere, from displays of pre-Columbian gold work to dozens of modern art museums to edgy street graffiti. It’s impossible to visit Colombia’s capital and not get seduced by the city’s artistic vibe. And a visit to the capital would definitely not be complete without a visit to Museo Botero. Fernando Botero, a Colombian native, is one of Latin America’s most well-known living artists and is famed for his unique depictions of absurdly large figures.
The museum houses some of his most famous paintings and sculptures, featuring everything from exaggeratedly plump women to comically enormous oranges to portraits of chubby families. Not only is this museum fantastic but it’s free thanks to the generosity of Botero, who donated 85 of his personal works to the museum in addition to a selection of pieces from his personal collection. Inside the museum you’ll also find world-class pieces from the likes of Dalí, Monet and Picasso. Not too shabby for a free museum!
Monserrate: Part of what makes Bogotá such an alluring city is the fact that it sprawls along the base of a series of lush green mountains. One of the most popular activities among tourists and locals alike is to head to the top of the mountain of Monserrate in order to glimpse panoramic views of the city. It is possible to take a cable car up to the top (14,400 pesos roundtrip). But there’s also a paved trail up the mountainside.
In my opinion, the hike is a much more rewarding option. It’s a great workout, plus it’ll save you a few pesos! From the base of Monserrate, it’s a steep 1500 steps up to the lookout point. And if you’re not used to the altitude your lungs might protest the climb – mine sure did! While the walk was a little bit challenging, I was really proud of myself for making it to the top and it was so worth it for the view alone.
Ciclovía: Every Sunday one of Bogotá’s main drags is blocked off to traffic. The city’s residents dust off their bicycles, rollerblades, skateboards and walking shoes and hit the pavement. Ciclovía – which translates to “bike path” – is a source of great pride for Colombians and it’s a day where thousands of residents flood the streets. It offers a prime opportunity to people watch, which just happens to be one of my favorite pastimes. Sadly, the Sunday I was in town was the day of the presidential election. Alas, Ciclovía was canceled and I wasn’t able to partake in this quintessential Bogotá experience. But I am assured that it’s a must-do if you happen to find yourself laid-over in the capital on a Sunday morning.
Tour the Presidential Palace: It’s not every day that I get to say I stood in the same room as all of Colombia’s political bigwigs, past and present. But during a tour of the Presidential Palace (also known as Casa de Nariño) that’s exactly what I did. The Presidential Palace can be found in the heart of La Candelaria, the historic center of Bogotá. Constructed in the early 1900s, the mansion is located on the site of Antonio Nariño’s birthplace. Nariño was a key figure in Colombia’s fight for independence against Spain, hence the name Casa de Nariño. A stroll through the palace during this guided tour gives you a glimpse of centuries-old furnishings, famous paintings (including Botero and Vasquez) and offers a great lesson about the political history of Colombia. There are supposedly guided tours in English, but they only offered Spanish tours during my visit. Luckily I speak some (very poor) Spanish and it was a great opportunity to brush up on my language skills! (You can sign up for a free tour here.)
Catch a soccer football match: I am a lucky, lucky girl because I just so happen to be visiting Colombia during the World Cup. I am a huge sports fan (Go A’s!), but as an American I have to admit I know very little about soccer, I mean football! That being said, some of the best memories I have of my trip so far have been made during football games – getting covered with spray foam along with other jubilated fans, chanting “COL-OM-BIA! COL-OM-BIA!” at the top of my lungs, watching hundreds of fans go absolutely crazy every time Colombia scores a goal.
These memories are priceless. In Bogotá games are often screened in public places. They are not only free to watch, but being in the middle of a hyped-up crowd during a big game is so much fun! The energy is infectious. So even if you’re not a football fan, I guarantee you’ll have the time of your life.
What’s your favorite free activity to do when you’re traveling in another country?