November 15, 2018, 9:56 pm
While riding a cable car down the majestic Monserrate mountain in Bogotá, Colombia, I slowly turned to my friend and told him I wasn’t feeling well. My knees started to buckle and I lost all the color in my face. After what felt like an hour, but was in reality only five minutes, the cable car made it back to ground level and I promptly got sick all over the place.
That was my first day visiting Bogotá. Looking back on that day now that I actually live in Colombia’s capital, it comes as no surprise I felt miserable. I stupidly went jogging that first morning in a city 2,640 meters, or 8,660 feet, above sea level, then stuffed my face with various street meat. I have since learned from my mistakes and can proudly say I haven’t tossed my cookies in the presence of strangers since.
I want you to learn from my stupidity, so here are a few do’s and don’ts when visiting Bogotá, Colombia:
Take an Umbrella With You at All Times
I get it, carrying around an umbrella can be annoying. But it constantly rains in Bogotá and you’re never quite sure when the rain will come or go. It’s just better to be prepared.
Layer Your Clothing
Speaking of being prepared, make sure to dress warmly. Bogotá can get chilly. In fact, the average temperature only reaches 14.5 °C, or 58 °F degrees. It’s also said that Bogotá experiences all four seasons in one day. So while you might be all bundled up for an overcast and nippy morning, the sweltering sun could be shinning in full force by the afternoon. It’s best to dress for the cold, but be ready to shed a jacket and scarf as the day progresses.
Learn Some Spanish
Knowing some Spanish isn’t just going to help you get around, it’s going to help you connect with Colombians. My Spanish is far from perfect, but I have learned so much about Colombia and its culture just by striking up a conversation with a taxi driver or security guard. Many Colombians are eager to talk with foreigners and appreciate any attempt at communicating in Spanish.
Take a Tour
Exploring on your own can be exciting, but you miss cultural and historic aspects of the city when no one is there to explain them to you. Plus, with after dealing with the hassles that come with travelling – lost luggage, delayed flights, overbooked hotels – sometimes it’s nice to hop in a van and know for the next few hours or days, all the planning and coordination falls on someone else’s shoulders. Bogotá is also home to some great tours including birdwatching, coffee and historical tours.
Work Out on Your First Day
Learn from my mistake. Take it easy on your first day in Bogotá to help acclimate your body to the high altitude. You may feel like you’re missing out on all of the cool destinations Bogotá has to offer by taking it slow the first day, but your body will thank you.
Take Transmilenio during rush hour
Transmilenio is the name of Bogotá’s public bus system. It’s the fastest and cheapest way to get around the city, but it’s a nightmare during rush hour. Avoid catching one of the many long red buses from 7 a.m. to 9 a.m. and from 4 p.m. to 7 p.m. If you do happen to board during those times on a weekday, you will be impressed with how many people can jam themselves into a tiny space.
Eat Meat From the Street
Bogotá has so many delicious foods and desserts that can be purchased from street vendors. From ripe, juicy mangos to traditional delicious cakes, your taste buds are going to be happy in Colombia’s capital. With that being said, try to avoid eating meat-based dishes purchased on the street. The small kiosks often lack proper refrigeration. It’s better to try Colombia’s many yummy meat dishes at brick-and-mortar restaurants.
Let Stereotypes about Colombia Scare You Away
Colombia is a beautiful country with welcoming people. Does it have a tumultuous past? Yes. Has crime and drug-trafficking problems drastically declined since the 80s and 90s? Yes! Don’t let the way Colombia is often depicted in movies and TV shows deter you from visiting this wonderful country.
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