Our original plan was to spend 2 nights in Bogota, which would have given us 3 days to explore the city. We were also planning to meet up with a couple friends that we met in Medellin and spent time with in Guatape. Unfortunately, things didn’t work out that way because all of the buses leaving Medellin were completely booked the night we wanted to leave. So was every bus the next morning, so we purchased tickets for the next evening.
With our bus delay we ended up arriving in Bogota a day later, which only gave us one night and 2 days in Bogota before our flight to Quito the next night. Our friends also left early the same morning our bus arrived, so we never got to meet up with them.
The Bus from Medellin to Bogota
It seemed like every person that we talked to about traveling around Colombia mentioned that they just flew from city to city instead of taking the buses. They were all flying a cheap Colombian airline called Viva Colombia. We had actually looked at flying, but after adding in all of the additional fees for baggage and everything else (similar to Spirit in the US), it was a lot more money to fly than it would be to take a bus.
Neither of the longer bus rides we took were horrible in Colombia, but I understand why a lot of people decide to just pay the extra to fly. Both of our buses were also night buses, which saved us money on an additional night of lodging at a hostel.
A night bus sounds like a great idea until you realize that it’s not a 12 hour night bus from New York to Chicago on a flat 4 lane highway. It’s a 12 hour night bus through the mountains of Colombia on a 2 lane road made for small cars. I challenge you to take a night bus in Colombia and stay asleep, or better yet, stay in your seat as the bus sways back and forth around tight turns. For the majority of the ride I was trying to keep my muscles tense (while sleeping), so that I didn’t slide over on top of Lynn and crush her.
As I mentioned, the road is only 2 lanes and is quite narrow. It doesn’t even seem like cars should be riding on these roads, let alone buses. That’s not even the worst of it though. In the early morning as we climbed up one of the mountains on our way to Bogota, I decided to watch out the window when I couldn’t sleep. I took note of all the different modes of transportation I saw on the road:
- Small trucks
- Semis (tractor trailers, 18 wheelers, etc)
- Motor bikes
- Donkeys pulling carts
- People on horseback
- People walking (some children on their way to school)
The majority of traffic was actually buses and large trucks, all of them zooming past each other in the middle of the night around corners. If you can imagine, there are also no passing lanes but that doesn’t mean you can’t pass… it just means you need to find the right time to pass someone even if it’s on a tight corner.
I’m half joking and half serious, but I guess this is the reason why we take night buses, so that we can “sleep” through all of it and wake up at our destination.
Getting Around Bogota
We opted to take taxis during our time in Bogota after reading about the public bus system online. We read that the buses can be confusing for foreigners and the majority of the time they are very crowded (especially during rush hours). The name for the bus system is TransMilenio, but the locals jokingly call it TransMiLLENO which translates to TransFULL.
Crowded buses or taxis, it didn’t matter… it still took us forever to get anywhere. Bogota has some of the worst traffic I have ever seen. If you’re sitting there saying, “Oh, I live in [insert large US city name], it can’t be worse than it is here.” Well, you’re wrong. It doesn’t matter what time of day (or night) it is, the traffic is always bumper to bumper… on every single street.
We took 3 taxis during our stay in Bogota. The first taxi we took from our hostel to the main tourist area downtown. It wasn’t that far from where we were staying but took us over 45 minutes to get there. The second taxi brought us back to our hostel and took about the same amount of time. The third taxi we took was to the airport in the evening and that took us well over an hour.
What We Did in Bogota
Plaza de Bolivar
The Plaza de Bolivar is located in La Candelaria area in Bogota, which is the main tourist area filled with different museums, restaurants, and shops. Even though we asked our taxi driver to bring us to the Plaza de Bolivar, he let us out quite a few blocks away (he probably got frustrated with the traffic). We easily found a street map and walked the rest of the way there.
When we got to the plaza we were slightly unimpressed. It was a large square, but there was nothing really going on there. Unless of course you are really into feeding pigeons, then this is the perfect place for you. There are literally hundreds, if not thousands of pigeons covering the plaza. Having lived in a couple big cities, I know how disgusting pigeons are, so we steered clear.
Some of the buildings in the plaza were nice, but most of the stairs leading up to them had people just hanging out, and some of the walls had graffiti on painted on them. So, getting a nice picture without people or graffiti in the picture was easier said than done.
Museo Historica de la Policia
It was actually when we were in the Plaza de Bolivar that we were approached by a police officer that informed us about the free police museum. We asked him where it was and said we would check it out if we had time. They say that nothing is ever free in life, but we found out that the police museum is actually free.
Upon arriving we were told to wait in a small room and after just a few minutes we were grouped together with a few other English speaking tourists. Our tour guide spoke English very well and guided us through the different areas of the museum.
There are many exhibits in different rooms that cover the history of the Colombian police. The most interesting exhibit is the one about Colombian drug kingpin, Pablo Escobar. They have many different items on display that were seized during his initial capture and then finally years later when he was shot and killed. One of those items is a gold plated Harley Davidson motorcycle. It’s interesting because the tour guide has a specific line that I’m sure he is told to say: “We display information about Pablo Escobar not because he was an important man, but because it was an important part of Colombian police history.”
La Candelaria area
We didn’t really do much else in the tourist area, but we did walk around and look through some of the tourist shops for Christmas ornaments and postcards. It took us a little while, but we were able to find a place that sold keychains… and found probably our crappiest one yet.
After that we went on another wild goose hunt in search of a Colombian 472 (or mailbox). Luckily, it wasn’t as hard this time and we were able to mail our postcards from Medellin. Later on we had dinner in the area and took the long taxi ride home… in bumper to bumper traffic again.
Found the expat area near our hostel
During our first day we were a little confused because there were supposed to be a ton of great restaurants near our hostel, but we couldn’t seem to find anything. On our second day we realized that we had walked the wrong direction. There was an entire area just a couple blocks away from our hostel that almost seemed like a completely different world. The area was filled with high-end shops and restaurants. We found a night asian fusion restaurant and splurged a little on a fancier lunch during our final day in Colombia.
What We Didn’t Do in Bogota
Mount Monserrate actually looked to be one of the more interesting things to do in Bogota. Our friends we met in Medellin posted pictures from Monserrate above the city of Bogota which looked pretty cool.
We actually planned to visit Mount Monserrate on our second day, but decided not to when the weather was not the greatest. The idea of taking a long taxi ride downtown and then paying to go to the top of mountain and not having a great view of city because of the weather seemed like a disappointing adventure. Instead we opted to hang out in our area for lunch, relax, and catch up on some blog posts.
Museums in the Candelaria area
There are a couple different museums in the Candelaria area that are rated pretty high on TripAdvisor. One of the them is the Museo del Oro (Gold Museum), which looks like the most interesting of all of them. We’re not huge on museums, so we opted not to visit them.
Our original plan was to hit some of the museums if the weather was not great, but because of the traffic and our lack of enthusiasm for museums we opted out again.
After our 2 days in Bogota, we were actually happy that we got delayed in Medellin and didn’t end up staying in Bogota longer. It sucked that we couldn’t meet up with our friends, but as we’re learning not everything always works out perfectly.
In hindsight, if we had known that we would get delayed in Medellin and not be able to meet up with friends in Bogota, we probably would have booked a flight from Medellin to Quito and skipped Bogota. That wasn’t an option at the time though because we had already booked our hostel in Bogota and our flight the following night.
For us, Bogota didn’t do much. We’re finding that we tend to like smaller towns more than larger cities. Bogota is the 4th most populous city in all of South America, with a population of just less than 8 million. That would rank Bogota #3 in comparison to US cities.