Traversing through one of South America’s largest cities? This is a quick list of Do’s and Don’ts:
Do visit Candelaria where you can see Bogotá’s oldest buildings and houses. The Spanish Colonial architecture will take you back centuries with tall windows, cast iron decorations, colorful stucco buildings. This is a great area too for shopping or a traditional Colombian meal of stead, beans and rice, and plantains.
Other attractions here include: the neoclassical performance hall, Teatro Colön, the 17th-0-century Inglesia de San Francisco, the Museo Botero, and the Museo deal Oro.
Do visit the Plaza de Bolivar. After perusing old town, travers just south to the square to seethe Plaza de Bolivar in the Candelaria area which houses Colombia’s Palace of Justice (similar to the U.S.’s Supreme Court.). This is the very area that M-19 guerrilla fighters attacked the Palace of Justice on November 6, 1985. By the end of the fighting during this attack, 12 Supreme Court Justices had been slaughtered, 48 Colombian Soldiers, and 35 M-19 members.
Do take a peak into a local market or grocery store to see the world of fruits and vegetables that you never knew existed! Beware though that eating them has given me a few stomach related, um, shall we just say issues?
Do meet some Colombians, try a meal at someone’s home or the closest thing to this. Eat as local as possible and try the local food, Carnitas (steak rubbed with seasoning), chorizo, beans and rice, plantains, and arepas.
Do go salsa dancing. A trip to Colombia isn’t complete without salsa dancing. Talk to the locals about places to go. Customer service is a different level in South America and venues will offer ample security, excellent bar and waiting service, chairs for ladies to sit lest their feet hurt, and even a purse check to make dancing easier for ladies. Some of my favorite places are, Salta de Angel, Pachanga y Pachola, and the clubs at the W hotel.
Do take in the mountains. They are breathtaking and visible almost everywhere in the city.
Do admire the vast amount of street art. Despite past violence in the region, high levels of unemployment and poverty, Colombians have found ways to bring beauty, advocate for social change, and just have fun with the street art.
Do enjoy the mild weather. The temperature ranges from around 46 degrees to 66 degrees each day, every day. It’s so temperate that many hotels in Bogota don’t even have air conditioning or heat. You’re meant to open or close the windows to suit your needs.
Do try the local Cristal Aguardiente liquor. This is a clear liquor made from sugar cane and tastes similar to black liquorish. Cristal is one of the most commonly known labels. Tris is served at room temperature. That means no ice. Which is a good idea anyway as it will probably give you parasites.
Absolutely don’t go into areas unfamiliar to you. The wrong neighborhood could be well, rather disastrous. This pertains to any area of the world but, it’s still worth mentioning.
Do not drink the water. No, no, no. Also, if you buy bottled water from a merchant, make sure the seal isn’t broken (do this discretely of course). If you’re prone to stomach issues like my darling husband, you might avoid fresh juices, fruits, and veggies. Pharmacies are readily available and you don’t even need a prescription to obtain meds. If you do run into trouble.
Don’t get into a taxi without negotiating a price for the trip first. You will pay so much more. My native husband always recommends getting a taxi driver from a hotel because they are known taxi drivers and will make sure to not price gouge you or more importantly, drive you to a bad area. Then, get the taxi driver’s number and text him/her to pick you up afterward. Oftentimes, we pay our driver to wait for us.
Don’t forget to try to use some basic Spanish. The basics go oh so far.
Don’t forget about Bogota’s high altitude. Don’t be surprised if the altitude of about 8,700 feet leaves you with headaches, trouble sleeping, and nausea. The Bogota basketball teams run circles around other teams when they travel outside the city partly because they train at such a high altitude and are stellar high-altitude conditioning. Staying hydrated with water, getting enough sleep, take over-the-counter pain relievers, and some recommend avoiding alcohol. My altitude sickness has never been that bad. I gut it out.
Don’t forget that Colombia is spelled, “Colombia” and not, “Columbia”. Colombians are very sensitive about this.