I recently got back from a delightful 4-day trip to Bogotá with my friend Natalie. It was a great escape from the heat of our Caribbean coast, and from the quiet streets of our little pueblos.
Bogotá is the capital of Colombia, and is therefore actually formally named Bogotá, D.C. Here the D.C. does not stand for District of Columbia or District of Colombia, but rather Distrito Capital – the Capitol District. Our driver to the airport on our way out was lamenting that “Bogotá is home to everyone. It belongs to everyone and it belongs to no one, and therefore we haven’t cared for it.”
At a population of 8,000,000 people, Bogotá’s only 500K behind New York City, thanks to massive growth during the last 60 years. The city is hardly built up at all, but rather sprawls, covering 613 square miles compared to NYC’s 468.
Due to the rapid growth, city infrastructure and development didn’t keep up. Traffic and congestion are major problems thanks to a lack of good highways. During the 1990’s some good infrastructure was implemented to relieve it a bit:
- TransMilenio – a bus system that operates more like a metro/subway. Bus stations are located in elevated central platforms, surrounded by bus-only lanes. Express buses use outer lanes and make limited stops, while local buses are more easily accessible.
- Bike lanes – there are 234 miles of dedicated bike paths or lanes in the city. Along the major road from the airport, I was impressed immediately to see that there was a nice wide green space with the bike path, which passed under the TransMilenio stations through tunnels.
Speaking of bikes, every single Sunday and holiday (of which there are many), 75 miles of roadways are closed to car traffic and devoted to ciclovía – the world’s original Open Streets. WHAT A DREAM.
Certainly, the weather in Bogotá is conducive to year-round biking. The high all year ranges from 66-69 degrees Fahrenheit, while the lows sit at a chilly 46-50. This is thanks to its position on an Andean plateau very close to the equator – its at a greater altitude than Denver, Colorado.
In terms of safety, the major concern is pickpocketing and robbery. Much like we say on the coast no des papaya and show off the goods you’re carrying, that’s a key in Bogotá. But beyond that, people are much more cautious about where they carry their belongings and what they carry on them. Only take the cash you need for the day and stow it in various pockets/places on your person. Keep your phone in a place that would be difficult to reach, and only pull it out as needed. Never carry more than one card, and don’t carry your passport around.
Honestly, though, my experience with the majority of people in Bogotá was super positive. From the guy who grabbed my debit card when it somehow fell off of me at the fruit market (he chased us around the maze for 20 minutes and finally found us and I didn’t even know it was missing!) to the sweet girls we danced with at the night club Saturday night, people were warm and welcoming.