Long before the conquistador, Gonzalo Jimenez de Quesada, decided to set up shop high on a plateau huddled next to Monserrate and the surrounding mountains in 1538, Bacata was already the centre of a bustling Muisca civilization. Quesada named his new village Santa Fe de Bacata, a combination of the name of his home town and that which the Muisca gave the area. Over the years’ many ups and downs, this little village steadily grew in both size and importance, and had already taken on its current title of Bogotá when it was officially named the capital of the Republic of Colombia in 1886.
The 20th century saw further expansion punctuated by periods of violence and relative peace, and now, through hard work and tough decisions, Bogotá is emerging from its chequered past as a cosmopolitan, modern and exciting metropolis of over nine million people, and increasing numbers of tourists that travel Bogotá to see what exactly makes the city what it is today.
This is a city of vibrant culture and broad contrasts; potentially overwhelming at first, but magical once it all comes together. Sail up Monserrate on a Bogotá tour, and witness a panaroma its founders could hardly have dreamed of. Bogotá’s colonial heritage is still on display in La Candelaria, the historical heart of the city, where fine museums, restaurants, grand churches, funky little bars and hostels are in abundance.
Compare this to Zona T; a glitzy area jam-packed with fancy-pants clubs, bars and shops all heaving with the city’s bright young things. Or to Chapinero, the spiritual home of Bogota’s hipsters, where you’re invited to do everything amazing before it’s cool in its many excellent bars and clubs. There’s also bohemian La Macarena, with its legion of great restaurants offering food from all around the world; and the village feel of Usaquen, with its fine dining and nifty crafts market. And, if you venture a little further out from the metropolis, you’ll find rock-climbing, hiking, waterfalls, a spectacular underground cathedral carved out of a salt mine, and even the origins of the El Dorado legend.
Bogotá is the strongly thumping heart of Colombia, and it relishes this role. Art is everywhere; from the impressive grittiness of its graffiti, its many theatres and galleries, to its world-class museums such as the Gold, Botero, and National Museums. There are countless universities all over the city; one reason, perhaps, for the great steps forward Bogotá has been making recently.
Travel to Bogotá and you’ll find it relatively easy to explore with respect to transport; from the ubiquitous little yellow taxis blasting salsa; the highly utilised Transmilenio bus system with its dedicated busways; to the brigade of smaller buses. There is a massive network of bicycle routes, and in addition, vast swathes of the city’s roads are given over to the express use of cyclists every Sunday. Parks are peppered throughout; such as the Bogotá Botanical Garden; the beautiful Virrey Park; or the Simon Bolivar Metropolitan Park, where the massive, annual festival, Rock al Parque, takes place. While we’re on the subject of festivals, there’s also a food festival; Fashion Week; Gay Pride Bogotá; and a biannual theatre festival – the biggest in the world.
The foodie is well catered for here. Traditional meals like ajiaco, a hearty chicken and corn soup, and tamales, are the ideal trick to warm and fill you up on a chilly day. For the sweet tooth, there is the traditional hot chocolate, served with bread and cheese (no really, it’s good!), or the oblea, a sweet wafer with caramel, cream, and a variety of sweet tidbits. Of course, there is an impressive array of international cuisine also available, from big, juicy burgers to five-star fine dining establishments.
Bars are everywhere, and Bogotano clubbers have an embarrassment of riches to dance to, be it salsa, reggaeton, house, or a mixture. Shop til you drop in shiny malls, street markets, groovy little shops, or in one of the many “districts” throughout Bogotá – whole blocks dedicated to the purveying of particular products, such as electronics, clothes, Catholic iconography, or flowers.
Like all the great cities, though, if you travel to Bogotá you´ll find its true treasure to be its diverse and vibrant people. Colombia is a country pulling itself out of poverty, and as it does so, a profusion of sub-cultures are arising. Depending on where you go as you take a tour of Bogotá, you’ll see punks rubbing shoulders with metal-heads; hipsters strutting past dapper old gentlemen, or women dressed to the nines in outrageous high-heels scrutinising bead necklaces being sold by street vendors. They are what make this city so contradictory, so crazy, and so exciting.
Bogotá is certainly a city going places, plural. Nobody really knows where these places are, but with their brash confidence, Bogatonos are doing their darnedest to make sure they’re nothing but good ones.