Bogotá, Colombia

I thought Medellin was big. At 2.5 million people, it’s definitely not small. Then we came to Bogotá – population: ~7 million. Yeesh! Though plagued with an unfortunate history, this city has really turned a corner in safety in the last decade. Similar to Medellin, tourism is now a thriving industry and travelers are beginning to flock to the country’s capital. We stayed in the historic district of La Candelaria which was great because of its close proximity to museums, grocery stores, restaurants, bars and the transit system. Speaking of which, Bogotá’s TransMileno is the world’s largest bus rapid transit system and it’s amazing! It opened in 2000 and as of 2012 it has 12 lines of buses covering most areas (including sprawl) of the city. There are dedicated bus lanes making rush hour almost non-existent and the covered bus stops were quite easy to navigate!

Cerro Monserrate

It’s impossible to walk anywhere in the city without noticing the huge mountains that border one side of Bogotá. One of the mountains is called Cerro Monserrate and is home to a sanctuary perched high on the summit. Monserrate is a popular pilgrim and tourist destination, and since I have a thing for views, Mac and I made this our first activity in Bogotá.

Bogota, Colombia

There are three ways to get to the top: funicular, cable car, and pedestrian walkway. Having just done an 8 hour hike two days before, we passed on the walkway (which has a length of 2.5km and an elevation gain of 400m – noooo thank you!!) and rode the funicular up and the cable car down. The funicular was first operational in 1929 and continues to run to this day (though the cars did receive an upgrade in 2003). The cars had glass ceilings and the super steep track provided a neat view of the city as you work your way up.

Bogota, Colombia
Bogota, Colombia
The summit of Monserrate is ~3200m (10,500ft) above sea level, and boy did we feel the change in altitude! (The city of Bogotá is 2640m (8,660 ft) above sea level.) Going up one small flight of stairs left us breathless! Once at the top, we walked around and took in the sights. At the top are plenty of restaurants, and cafes as well as an entire large alleyway of souvenir shops and  vendors selling local Colombian food (most of it deep fried, in case you were wondering). After seeing those sights, we made our way over to see THE sight: the entire city of Bogotá below. This is where I really got a grasp for how huge of a city Bogotá is – look at that sprawl!!

Bogota, Colombia
Bogota, Colombia
Bogota, Colombia
The sanctuary that sits atop Monserrate was constructed in 1657 and remains as a place for worshippers. Pilgrims also flock to the summit and the sanctuary by way of the pedestrian trail often on their knees, blindfolded or barefoot – done so to proclaim their faith and offer sacrifices.

Bogota, Colombia
Once we had gotten our fill of the view, we lined up to take the cable car down the mountain. The cable car system was constructed in 1955 and works using a counter-weight system – a motor provides the initial movement and the cable cars then move in symmetry along the cable lines. My nerdy, engineer of a travel partner couldn’t have been more fascinated. (I was quite content just to take in the views).

Bogota, Colombia
Bogota, Colombia
Bogota, Colombia
Graffiti Walking Tour

In addition to the mountains that border the city, it’s extremely difficult to not notice the massive amounts of graffiti on the sides of buildings and fences throughout the city. After the impressive walking tour in Medellin, we quickly jumped at the opportunity to sign up for a graffiti walking tour of Bogotá. The tour lasted 2.5 hours and I was totally blown away by the amount of information we learned and the sights that we saw in those short hours.

Bogota, ColombiaBogota, Colombia
Bogota, Colombia
In Canada, graffiti is often frowned upon and this form of vandalism is easily punishable by law. In Bogotá, graffiti is a form of street art and getting caught doing it without permission warrants little more than the equivalent of a parking ticket. Though originally a common night time activity by street artists, many artists are now doing their works in the daylight hours – with police presence. The addition of the police isn’t because the artists are doing something illegal, it’s actually to deter others from harassment while the artists work. Working in the daytime isn’t uncommon now either. The artists do so to identify themselves both to the police and to the public for recognition.

Bogota, Colombia Bogota, Colombia
Another interesting point we learned was that the majority of buildings in the city repaint their facades every 2-3 months (that’s up to 6 times a year!) to give a fresh coat to walls that are usually covered in graffiti tags and other nonsense. Not only is this expensive, but it’s also a hassle. Recently, property owners have been employing street artists to paint high quality murals on their buildings. Not only does this prevent others from coming along and tagging or marking the walls, but it creates interest in the neighbourhood and lowers the cost of their property upkeep!!

Bogota, Colombia

Bogota, Colombia
IMG_6617
In addition to the political and residential factoids we learned on the tour, we were also educated about the huge collection of different artists and how to identify them based on their mediums, signature illustrations and subjects. Some artists choose to work in acrylic, but aerosol cans are still a popular media amongst artists. Acrylic is becoming more popular though, because aerosol cans can cost anywhere from $3-$18/can which can add up pretty quickly if the artist is doing a large piece. One group of artists we focused on was the father & son pair of Rodez & Nomada. The father – who also illustrates childrens books! – works in acrylic and is known for his focus on the eyes. His works either feature subjects with many eyes, or no eyes. His son, Nomada works in aerosol. Both artists like to feature animal-like creatures and focus on colour and dramatic lines.
Bogota, Colombia
The only places off limits for street artists are government buildings and public works. Everywhere else is free game – as long as the property owner has given permission. And, as I mentioned above, they are very likely to do so. I was so impressed with this tour and I’d highly recommend it to anyone visiting Bogotá. It was so interesting to learn how street art & graffiti are really having a positive impact on the city. Several schools have large brick walls surrounding the property where students can go to practice their techniques. This huge movement is a huge step in the right direction for Bogotá. What was once a city associated with prostitution, cocaine, and violent conflict, as well as only really known for their coffee is now becoming a city hugely popular in the arts scene.
Bogota, Colombia