I have been traveling to Colombia for three years. I originally went for two reasons. First, it is the birthplace of my favorite author, Gabriel Garcia Marquez. Second, because I’m a cheap traveler and I had a hunch that the places most people are scared to go to offer the most value. This has turned out to be one of my best hunches ever. I have fallen in love with the people, the regions and the culture. I have been to six major cities in Colombia, most of them multiple times, yet Bogota is my favorite. It is a city of over eight million people, full of culture, nightlife, and tons of things to do.
One of the great things about Bogota is that it’s close. It’s a direct flight from almost all the major cities in the US, from DFW it’s only about six hours. Compared to the over 16 hours it takes to get to Dubai (another of my favorite cities), it’s a short flight. Also, it’s a major hub for Avianca and LATAM, serving as a gateway to South America. It’s also one of the many countries which are visa-free for US passport holders. In addition, many parts of the year, the price of a round trip ticket costs less than $500.
For me, this is one of the areas where Colombia, and Bogota in particular, shines. Right now, The exchange rate is 2,886 Colombian Pesos to one US Dollar ($1/2,886). I usually pay $35-40 a night for my hotel stays. For really simple meals I pay anywhere from $3-5, including drink. I’ve even gone to have Japanese food with friends in one of the ritzy areas of the city, and for 10 people the bill came to $125.
While Spanish isn’t absolutely necessary to enjoy this city, knowing Spanish definitely makes it much more enjoyable. Also, without knowing any Spanish, you’ll have to stay at some of the more expensive hotels with English speaking staff.
It is my opinion that the Spanish spoken in Bogota, Colombia is some of the easiest to understand in the world. I’ve been to places like the Dominican Republic where the speed of speech, slang, and accent made it very hard to understand people. In Bogota, that’s not much of an issue. If you’re a person that has spent years learning to speak Spanish, but has never had enough practice, Bogota is the place for you. I’ve also found that people are generally forgiving and patient with mistakes made while trying to speak the language.
Things to Do
As the capital and biggest city of Colombia, Bogota has a lot of things to offer. There is the old church in up the mountain called Monserrate. There are bike tours of La Candelaria, which is a old part of the city with some buildings that date from the 16th century. This is actually my favorite part of town. On the weekends and during certain holidays, one of the streets is closed to traffic, and there are events and parades. This part of town is also home to the gold museum. In addition, outside of the city there are emerald mine that are open to tourist.
Just a quick word on safety. I have never had an incident in Colombia. Just like anywhere else, you have to be careful. I don’t carry my passport or large sums of money with me when I’m walking around town. Nor do I wear expensive jewelry or talk on the phone when I’m in an unfamiliar area. Also, I make sure to take an Uber or a licensed taxi when I need to travel long distances. These are the same precautions I have taken in all my travels and they have served me well.
Bottom Line: Bogota is a wonderful city with great people and culture. It’s cheap, easy to get to, and will surprise you if you give it the chance.