Posted in South America on February 1, 2014
I recently spent 4 days in the city of Bogotá, Colombia. Whilst 4 days is never enough to get to know a city from a locals perspective, it is enough time to gauge a first impression, to see whether or not you want to make a return visit to that place in the future. With that in mind below I have detailed my first impressions of Bogotá. Hopefully they give you an idea of whether Bogotá is somewhere you would like to visit too!
Not as dangerous as it’s made out to be
I’m not going to lie. You have to be careful in Bogotá at night. It’s a big city and there are pockets of Bogotá where many people live in great poverty. When there is such a gap between rich and poor in any place there is always going to be crime, so at night it’s always important to be extra careful here. However, there are many cities like this around the world and I think the potential danger here is sometimes over exaggerated. For example, I met many more people who experienced problems with crime when I was in Quito the week previously than I did while I was in Bogotá. That’s not to say something bad couldn’t happen to you in Colombia’s capital city, but as long as you’re sensible I wouldn’t let it scare you off visiting the city.
However, with all that said, knowing that Bogotá was more dangerous at night I chose to focus my time here more on daytime activities rather than going out at night. This is something I would recommend.
Prior to my visit to Bogotá I’d been given the impression by others that this was not a nice city to visit. Having since visited myself I have to say I disagree. Bogotá is a city filled with a beautiful and eclectic range of architecture that changes in both look and feel from neighbourhood to neighbourhood. I literally spent an entire day of my time just wondering around the city taking pictures in the sun here and felt quite content. La Candelaria was also a fantastic area to be based in for this particular activity given the abundance of impressive buildings located within such a short distance of one another.
Cool coffee shop culture and graffiti art
Bogotá is the kind of place where you can find hip little independent coffee shops with a bohemian vibe indoors and an urban art feel outdoors. I honestly think Bogotá could rival the likes of Berlin for its world class graffiti murals, most of which are plastered on the outside walls of bars and coffee shops in the city centre where all the cool kids and hipsters hang out. If you were teaching English here (like many foreigners I met here were doing) I imagine it would be a cool place to live in for that reason.
High standard hospitals
Hopefully this is something you never need to discover should you ever visit Bogotá, but I unfortunately had to whilst I was here in early January.
After a particularly high fever and a few additional symptoms I was rushed to hospital in Bogotá with a suspected case of Malaria. Thankfully after a series of tests it turned out to be nothing more than a severe chest infection, but during my time in hospital getting tested I got to experience what the medical facilities were like in a typical Bogotá hospital.
I can confirm the medical treatment I received here was to a very high standard. Much higher than what I expected to be honest. It felt better run than some of the hospitals I’ve seen back home in the UK! It’s worth noting that the locals who I spoke to in the city mentioned that whilst medical treatment in Bogotá is often to a high quality, once you go anywhere outside of the city here in Colombia it tends to go downhill as far as hospitals are concerned. So if you do happen to find that you need medical treatment of any sort while you are in Bogotá, it’s worth getting it seen to before you leave the city rather than trying to hang on and find out that you need treatment later on in your travels throughout the country in my opinion.
Don’t come here for New Year’s Eve
I made the mistake of coming to Bogotá for New Year’s Eve thinking it was the capital of Colombia and would therefore have the biggest party. This is the general rule of thumb when deciding where to go for New Year’s Eve in a new country. However, what I discovered whilst I was there was that everyone in Bogotá who is interested in celebrating New Year’s Eve heads up north to the coast. Cartagena in particular is a popular place for both locals and tourists to spend the festivities. Despite the fact that I had just come out of hospital on New Year’s Eve I decided to head out for a little bit just to see what was happening, not wanting to waste anymore time in the city. I kid you not, I found a mere 2 bars open! It seemed incredulous when you think that this day in my home city of Edinburgh for example would be the biggest night of the year (especially for bars to make some money!) In Colombia though, New Year is more like Christmas in that the locals tend to spend it in with family rather than going out with friends. It’s just something to note if you’re planning on being here in the future for New Year’s Eve. It’s a great city, but just not for this particular celebration!
– So these were my first impressions of Bogotá. Hopefully you found them useful for any future trips you may plan to the city. If you liked this article you may also be interested in reading my recent post on safety in Colombia.