Hola mis amigos! Saludos desde Colombia! After all those months of talking about it we’ve finally made it to Latin America and our adventure has begun! So what’s it like? Is Bogotá safe?
Arriving into Bogotá
We arrived early in the morning on Wednesday 20th September, after a long day of travelling from Yorkshire to London by train to arrive in time for our flight from Heathrow to Bogotá. We flew using Avianca Airlines, the Colombian national airline, which we would both recommend. The in-flight entertainment wasn’t as extensive as some flights we’ve been on, but as we both slept on and off for most of the journey it wasn’t really a problem. We were given two meals, both the usual plane fayre – I remember when we flew to Thailand with Jet Airways we were given the spiciest chicken wraps we’ve even eaten at 2am, there were no surprises like that with Avianca (phew).
Staying safe in Bogotá
We’ve been in Bogotá now for five days and are starting to become more familiar with the city as the days go by. Before we came to Colombia we’d heard lots of different stories about the capital and we really didn’t know what to expect – would danger lurk on every corner? It’s true that Bogotá is like no city either of us has ever been to, it’s a huge sprawling mass which is home to over ten million people. We thought London was big, yet Bogotá is even bigger and is only the fourth largest city in South America! You have to exercise caution at all times, from what we understand from speaking to locals there is a lot of opportunistic crime in the city and the Colombian saying ‘ no dar papaya’ sums it up. The term literally means ‘don’t give papaya’ and is used as a warning to not leave yourself exposed and vulnerable. For instance, if you flash that expensive camera or shiny jewellery, don’t be surprised when someone takes it.
We’ve tried really hard not to make ourselves targets as we travel around the city. When we were packing in the UK, we deliberately left our expensive phones at home, choosing to bring older, used handsets, cheap watches, and no jewellery or designer labels. You will find few photos of Bogotá in this blog, quite simply because there have been many times where we’ve seen something beautiful but we didn’t want to pull out our papaya (camera!) and start taking snaps. As well as considering our belongings and appearance, we’ve spent time thinking about the safest routes around the city and always stick to busy streets and well lit areas. Although we haven’t used it yet we’ve installed Uber on our phones and bought data on a Colombian sim card so that we can travel between areas where safety is an issue. If you travel to Bogotá be wary of hailing cabs on the street as they aren’t always regulated and be prepared to use Uber or have some local cab numbers on hand to use. Talking of Uber, there has been lots of unrest between taxi drivers and UberX cars and several violent riots have erupted so avoid using those ones.
Although safety has a constant presence in the back of our minds, we have actually felt quite comfortable in Bogotá and don’t feel constantly in danger or anything of the like. We’ve found all the Colombians we’ve spoken to very friendly and they seem to love the fact that we try and speak our broken Spanish with them – in our experience very few people speak English. Many Colombians really want to promote their country in a positive way and are very helpful to foreigners. A few days ago we met an older lady on the bus who went out of her way to help us. Despite having no English, as soon as she realised we weren’t locals she asked where we were heading, and tried to explain to us (with lots of hand gestures!) where to get off the bus and which road to take to get to the Gold Museum. Despite the language barrier she was also telling us how to keep our belongings safe, and instructing me on the best way to wear my handbag!
Staying in Chapinero
We’re staying at the hostel La Pinta in the neighbourhood of Chapinero, and we’ve found ourselves really well connected by bus to all the different places we’ve wanted to go (hence not needing a cab yet!). Now the city’s roads are crazy, during the taxi journey from the airport to the hostel we couldn’t believe our eyes. Road markings seemed to mean very little (our driver spent most of the journey straddling two lanes) and drivers would make crazy last minute turns, moving across three lanes of traffic without any indication of their intent. Five days later we are still amazed at how the roads manage to function and can’t decide if cyclists are incredibly brave or stupid! From what we understand, the bus system has improved a lot in recent years, especially with the introduction of the Transmilenio which is like an express service that only stops at very specific stops and has a designated lane to use to make headway on the usual traffic. Despite this, the bus system as a whole seems just as crazy as the roads and as well as the more formal bus services, there are small informal buses (that look terrifying) that don’t have stops. You literally just take a deep breath, send out a prayer and try and wave it down – we haven’t been brave enough to do this so I’ve no idea how you get off! We’ve stuck to what we know as the ‘red buses’ and the ‘blue buses’ where they have formal stops and destinations. To pay for these buses you need a green Tullave prepay card, that can be topped up at any store displaying the Tullave symbol. Once it has credit on you just tap it on the machine when you get on the bus and the cost is a one of fee of either 2000 COP or 2200 COP (about 50-60p in GBP) depending on the service. One of the weird things we’ve found is that you don’t need a card each, so for instance we just have one card and I can get on, tap, and pass it back to Phil to tap again.
You might remember from the last blog post that I mentioned we’d had some setbacks to our travel plans due to one of my teeth breaking before we departed England. I won’t go into lots of detail here as I’m going to write a separate blog post about our experience of the Colombian dental industry, something I know would’ve been very helpful to us a few weeks ago and which might help others in the future. All I will say now is that we have had several appointments this week and still have a couple more left. This has meant we’ve spent longer in the city than we originally planned and we’ve explored at a much slower pace than we might have otherwise. We’ve actually enjoyed this though, it’s given us time to relax and learn more about Colombia and it’s people and we’ve seen a different side to the city than we might have with less time.
Despite the restrictions of my silly dentist appointments, we’ve managed to see quite a bit of the tourist parts of the city, and because of the appointments we’ve seen parts that probably aren’t usually ventured to by foreigners. We’ve been able to visit the main tourist spot, La Candalaria, which is full of history and old colonial architecture, visited the museum of Saint Clara which used to be a working church (featured image), mooched around the Gold Museum, spent time in the lovely cafes and restaurants of Chapinero, and wandered the awesome Sunday flea markets in Usaquen. This week we’re hoping to go to the Salt Cathedral, enjoy the views from the top of Monserrate and spend a couple of days in the nearby town of Villa de Leyva. I’ll check back in with more details about all of these in our next post as I’m aware that this one is already pretty lengthy!
For now, we wish you all a great day/evening and will see you again soon!