La Candelaria

The mention of Colombia the first thing that springs to most people’s minds are drug cartels and FARC guerrilla soldiers or so the media would have you believe.  I have to admit to reading many of these articles myself,  so my expectations of the country and what it had to offer were a mix of trepidation and excitement. This was also due to a recent trip to Central America where we met many fellow travelers who were coming up from South America, and the one country they all raved about was Colombia. The unanimous sentiment was:  kind, friendly people and a country so big and interesting you could spend a life time exploring. With statements like this we were intrigued and had to see and experience it for ourselves.

The historic centre of Bogota -La Candelaria is filled with brightly coloured colonial houses of which most have been lovingly restored. Around Calle 10 -16 there is a lively atmosphere as a couple of the university campuses are located here, so you have a mix of buzzing student bars, restaurants and a developing café culture. This is what I liked most about the area there wasn’t any horrible tourist haunts, only local restaurants and local people. The climate is cool due to the city sitting at an altitude 2700 meters, and you do feel the thinness of the air occasionally, it’s sunny most days though, only getting chilly in the evening.

Bogota, Quinua Y Amaranto, Restaurant, Bogota

During our flight to Colombia I was mentally preparing myself for usual boring food that I had encountered on our recent travels in Central America. I know someone’s going to mention how great the food is in Central America, but I was never a lover of rice beans and tortillas. Our first meal out in Bogota, was lunch at Quinua y Amaranto on Calle 11 a lovely vegetarian restaurant. Lunch is considered the main meal of the day, so you must prepare yourself for at least a two course meal. Most restaurants offer the “menu de dia” which includes a freshly squeezed juice- ‘fresco’, a soup to start, main course and a small sweet to finish. Prior to ordering at Quinua y Amaranto we weren’t exactly sure what we getting as our spanish is still not up to scratch and we particularly have problems with food. But we new the “Menu de Dia” must be good by the queue of people waiting for a table. We had a lovely fresh tomato soup to begin, for the main course a vegetable quiche, fried rice and cucumbers stuffed with garlic cream, to drink a strawberry juice then a small fruit salad to finish- all for 9,000 pesos each, about $ 5.00. I believe all dishes are made on the day and all ingredients are organic, it was so delicious we went back on three more occasions. Wondering around this area you get a glimpse of “Bogatano” daily life for the university students and the government workers, there is definitely a buzz around the city and it has almost a European feel in the La Candelaria district.

Museo Botero Bogota

Further down the hill towards Plaza Bolivia you have the government building and museums. One of my favourite Museums is the Donacion Botero, which is a collection of Fernando Botero’s donated work. My nickname for him is the “fat ladies painter”; due to much of his work being of robust, inflated forms and exaggerated human figures.  He is a one of Colombia’s most famous exports. The museum is housed in a beautifully restored Colonial building, with an inner court yard it’s worth going in just to take a break from hectic streets, it also houses pieces by Picasso and Monet.

Old Colonial Houses Bogota

Just past Plaza Bolivar from Cra 7 is the start of the more modern Bogota; there are still a few Franciscan churches dotted in between the modern high rise buildings. What is most evident in this area is the smog and the amount of traffic, the buses seem to be the worst offenders pumping out black smoke. However as soon as you walk back up the hill to Calle 10 you feel the air getting cleaner and the street quieter.

There is a high police presence in La Candelaria and the surrounding areas. However it was evident the strong police presence was primarily in place to protect the students and government workers. All that said, we did feel very safe walking around  in both the day and evening. We spent three full days in Bogota which wasn’t nearly enough time to see and experience this huge city, next time we aim to visit the rest of the city and we will be updating this post with our findings.

Bogota Essentials

Budget per person per day – $30
Exchange Rate – approx 2000 pesos = US$1
Travel – from Europe fly from Madrid or Barcelona the two hubs for South America. Airlines – Air Comet, Avianca and Iberia
Eat – Quinua y Amaranto quaint vegetarian restaurant – Calle 11
Drink – a delicious fresh fruit Jugo
Stay – In La Candelaria district stay to the west of Calle 10 it is quieter, less traffic and cleaner. Recommend Hostal Alegria private room shared bathroom $40,000,  clean and friendly.
See – Botero Museum houses a great collection of Fernando Botero’s work and others including Picasso and Monet.
Do – Take the cable car or funicular to Monserrate Church that offers spectacular birds eye views of the city.

Helpful Hint
Visit the tourist information office in Plaza Bolivar they are very helpful, speak English and you get a free Bogota guide book.