29 hours of flying, and a total of 44 hours in transit later, I arrived in Bogota, Colombia. It’s so refreshing to be out of Asia and experience something so different! The plan is to spend the next 3 weeks in Colombia before continuing with the rest of South America. Challenge accepted!
I left Joburg on Saturday night after a horrid experience at OR Tambo (Johannesburg’s main international airport). The powers that be are implementing biometric scanners at the airport but it delays the process of getting through security ridiculously. I arrived 3 hours before my flight and honestly, it was touch and go to get to the plane on time – I literally ran through the airport and joined the queue for boarding. I don’t know why ACSA insists on implementing this during the busiest hours of international departures when the airport is virtually at capacity. Idiots, if you ask me.
The 8 hours to Dubai were perfect – I was on one of Emirates’ A380’s and, being the plane geek that I am, I loved it. From Dubai, it was another 14 hours to Sao Paulo (Emirates was the cheapest fare so I was happy bouncing around the globe). Upon arrival in Brazil, I received an email from my my connecting airline informing me of a 4 hour delay, meaning my layover was now 13 hours long 😦 Thank goodness for airport hotels. Anyway, long story short, I safely arrived in Bogota on Monday morning, totally unaware of what timezone I was in!
The plan was to meet up with my mate Dean, a fellow backpacker I’d met in Cambodia, and travel South America together. After reuniting with the Kiwi, we set about exploring Bogota over the next few days.
The city is massive but the old town, La Candelaria, is where you need to be spending some decent time. It reminds me of your typical old town with huge Spanish influence – the whitewashed walls, window shutters and flower boxes. One trend in Bogota is a massive amount of street art/graffiti. Most of it is pretty impressive but when spray painted onto these ancient buildings, it’s confusing to see something so old covered in such a modern form of art!
I’ve gotten into the habit of doing free walking tours in the big cities I visit as the guides provide so much context to the city and country, and it also condenses most of the sight seeing into a few hours. Typically, you’ll arrive in a big city of a new country and a free walking tour really helps to acclimatise you. I used Beyond Colombia and would recommend them. Our guide, Santiago, was a walking encyclopaedia about the country.
The highlights of the city are concentrated around Bolivar Square – the main square in Bogota, surrounded by government buildings and the impressive Cathedral of Bogota. Interestingly, the newest building on the square is the Palace of Justice. The original one was bombed by the M-19 guerrilla group under instruction from Pablo Escobar, to destroy documents that would have been used against him in court. Funny enough, it appears local Colombians don’t like hearing about Pablo as he was a monster, and shun tour guides for telling tourists about him!
We wanted to hike up to Monserrate, an old church built on top of a mountain but it turns out the hiking trail is closed on Tuesdays, so plan accordingly. We ended up catching a cable car up which was decent enough but the walk would have been a stunning one!
The evenings were spent in the hostel with fellow backpackers. I heard numerous accounts of tourists being mugged around the hostel so I wasn’t prepared to risk wandering around when the sun went down.
From Bogota, we jumped onto a bus heading north to San Gil – very interesting contrasts to the big city of Bogota.
Cheers for now.