Here are some travel tips on safety, getting around, where to stay, and of course, food and drink.
- It is pretty safe to travel through Colombia if you stick to the main routes and avoid the border and jungle areas (guerrillas have been pushed out to these areas) if not with a reputable tour company. I heard this advice from other travelers, as well as Colombians. The biggest safety risk is probably in Bogota where you need to take reasonable precautions with your camera and your purse. Always call radio taxis when possible instead of just picking up a taxi on the street. They don’t have a huge problem, but it’s best to be safe.
- I was told that overnight buses between Medellin, Cartagena, and Bogotá are safe.
- If you fly into the airport, you have two options: taxi or colectivo. A taxi to La Candelaria from the airport is only about US$10 on a Sunday evening if there is no traffic, but would probably be considerably more during the day. My suggestion if you speak a little Spanish is to ask your hostel/ hotel which colectivo to take and where to have them drop you off. There is a bus stop outside of the airport. You have to walk a bit, but if you ask people, they will put you in the right direction. Once you get on the colectivo, you need to tell the driver where you’d like to be let off (info provided by your hostel) and to let you know when it is your stop. There are no bus stops in Bogota. The colectivos just go a certain route (unpublished of course) and you have to tell them when you want them to drop you off. The drivers are usually quite helpful for travelers though.
- The TransMilenio is an excellent bus rapid transit (BRT) system in Bogota. It is cheap, fast, and there are many routes. Unfortunately, there is not yet one to the airport. However, if you’re getting to Bogotá via bus, see if you can get to downtown on a TransMilenio route.
Where to Stay – Casa Bella Vista
- Right in the heart of La Candelaria, this is a spacious, clean, and inviting hostel. Common areas are nice. The staff are very helpful and friendly.
- Includes a simple breakfast, use of their computer, wireless internet, and coffee available all day. I paid around US$12 a night for a dorm.
- If you are staying in La Candelaria, you can walk to many of the attractions of the city. If you need to go a little further, the TransMilenia bus rapid transit (BRT) system is excellent and costs about US 85 cents a ride, and if you are going even further out of the city, there are many other buses. Just ask your hostel because there is a very developed bus travel network in Colombia, especially surrounding Bogotá.
- Taxis are also quite reasonable, especially if traveling in a group, but be sure you know where you are going and the general route, so you don’t get driven around in circles. All taxis should have and use the taximeter. Don’t be afraid to ask.
- When buying fresh fruit and juice from the street carts, know the price before you go. The vendors will try to charge you double if you look like a foreigner. A small cup of fresh OJ should be around US 50 cents ($1 for the large). A bowl of fresh sliced fruit should be no more than $1.
- Go to the tourist info booth at Plaza Bolivar. There you can get free newspapers (in English and Spanish) that list the cultural activities around the city, many of which are free. Also, entrance to most museums and art galleries are free (or have certain days that they are free), and there are so many to choose from.
- If you need to make a local phone call, there are vendors on nearly every street corner that offer use of a cell phone, and you pay by the minute. It’s cheap and no need to buy a local phone or local SIM card.
- Antigua Santa Fe Sabor de Antoño – One of the three famous restaurants on Calle 11 near Plaza Bolivar, it is known for serving the traditional foods like chocolate santafereño and ajiaco. While a bit pricey, the quality and portion size make it worth the money.
- Walk around La Candelaria. This was my favorite part of the city. The buildings and streets are beautiful, and there is graffiti-art everywhere. You will see many of the traditional foods being sold in this area, especially arepas, empanadas, and obleas. There are a lot of funky shops selling clothing and accessories. You will also probably encounter a random street performance by a theater group of juggler.
- Museo Botero – I didn’t know anything about this famous Colombian artist when I got to Bogotá, and I really enjoyed his work. But the best part about the museum is that there are works from many other famous artists such as Picasso, Matisse, Tomayo, and De Kooning. There is a lot to see.
- Gabriel Garcia Marquez Cultural Center – The building itself is something to see, and the art gallery on the lower level had an excellent photography exhibit when I was there.
- Ciclovia – Every Sunday the city shuts down the main avenue Carrera 7, and the locals run, walk, or cycle.
- La Macarena – This is a neighborhood near La Candelaria with shops and restaurants. I don’t think you’ll find many tourists here. I was lucky to have a friend living there, or I never would have known about it.