My first impressions of Colombia’s capital city are admittedly coloured by its dangerous reputation, so it’s not very surprising that the things I notice on my first day here seem to line up with that. Confirmation Bias – “I think I’m right so I subconsciously look for things that prove my opinion” – can be tricky to overcome.
I knew that Bogota has been an immensely dangerous city, and that within the 8 million or so people living here the extremes between extravagant wealth and utter poverty are jarring. So when I arrived and saw a city full of graffiti and security guards with rifles, police with dogs, or soldiers on every block it just seemed scary to me.
As I was thinking further about it, though, I came to realize that the heavy police presence was a good thing, and an indicator of the city’s efforts to stop the crime that had been so rampant. Once I had that shift in my thinking it became easier for me to see the good side of Bogota, and I ended up really enjoying exploring some of the sights. I was still careful as I made my way though the city streets alone, staying aware of what was surrounding me. Before I left my room I also prepared for the possibility of being mugged by only bringing a small amount of cash with me at a time and by hiding my phone in a secret pocket in my scarf. (If you haven’t heard of these yet, check out what I consider my “security blanket” for when I’m out….. Travel scarf. I love it!!) Don’t worry though – I ended up completely safe without any close calls and instead found people here to be very generous and helpful!
Everyone says the best tourist thing to see in Bogota is the view from Monserrate, a mountain right at the centre of the city. My hotel happens to be close to the base of Monserrate, so I was able to walk and in about 20 minutes I reached the ticket office to purchase my cable car ride to the top. Here’s a little tip for you if you plan to go see for yourself: Anyone afraid of heights should try to stand in the middle of the cable car, the huge windows mean it can be very clearly seen that the car is dangling from high above the steep face of the mountain; and anyone claustrophobic should avoid the middle of the car that is packed shoulder to shoulder with other people and at least try to be squished up against the window. If you suffer from both, well, there is a path to walk up to the peak, if you’re patient!
As well as the panoramic views of a city seemingly unending, there are gardens with plants that look like they sprung to life straight from a Dr. Seuss book.
I was delighted by the flowers, but I’m sure most people spend more time noticing the church, as it’s a popular pilgrimage destination, or the souvenir shops or restaurant. Whatever the draw, a great way to spend a morning!
My next stop on my own Discover Bogota initiative is the Gold Museum, as it’s the other item always listed in the guidebooks and blogs. I loved the museum! It’s so well laid out over 4 floors of a large building and jam-packed with the history of civilizations that inhabited the Northern part of South America, telling about these lives by what was done with gold and other precious metals. The entrance cost me about $1.35 and I could have easily spent more time here, so this will be back on my list of things to see when I return to Colombia one day.
Another shift I’m beginning to notice while I spend more time out in Bogota is the artistic vibe as an undercurrent throughout the community, even in the graffiti that first seemed so unsettling. Some of the street art I stumbled across appears to be a social commentary, others beautiful murals. See for yourself:
Maybe sometimes being brave isn’t about surviving something scary, once in a while it might be about the hard work needed to overcome an incorrect bias.
And finally, since I can’t get Dr. Seuss out of my head, here are some of his words to send us off with.
Oh, The Places You’ll Go by Dr. Seuss