When I said I didn’t do any sightseeing while in Bogotá I wasn’t being totally honest. There was one thing I simply had to do before I moved to Santa Marta. When I originally visited the city in 2015 I quickly fell in love with Cerro Monserrate, the 3,152-metre peak with an imposing white church overlooking the Colombian capital.
At the time, having arrived from sea-level Panama City (meaning I was having some trouble adjusting to the altitude) and staying only for a few nights, I reluctantly decided to take the tram to the peak instead of walking. Bogotá sits at 2,640 metres so it’s still a steep 600-metre hike to the top, certainly not for the faint-hearted. Needless to say getting up there on foot had been on my bucket list since then and this time around – with more days to spare – I was not going to let the opportunity pass.
Now, for my first couple of days in Bogotá the weather was slightly overcast, which I didn’t particularly mind since I still had a light headache from the sudden altitude change. But then on the third day the sky cleared up momentarily and – even though I still wasn’t fully acclimated – I simply couldn’t resist trying to get up there. You know me, when it comes to hills and mountains I’m worse than a kid on Christmas morning!
Is it a hard hike? Not really, but it’s certainly demanding. Especially when you consider the added effects of the altitude. It consists mostly of wide rock steps all the way through its 2.4-km path and, not going to lie, my breath was taken away a couple of times. They say any moderately fit person should be able to complete the hike in 1-1.5 hours so I was happy to have done it in 55 minutes including a few forced stops to catch my breath.
Contrary to what the Internet had led me to believe, the path felt very safe. It has a large police presence and plenty of vendors selling snacks and drinks all the way to the top, not to mention the numerous locals and tourists attempting the hike. I’m sure it’s a different story after dark (pro tip: avoid being anywhere near the top at sunset!), but anyone trying to climb up or down at night probably deserves whatever they have coming their way. The possible unpleasant consequences are well documented and not worth the adventure.
Once you reach the top the views of sprawling Bogotá, a city with over 10 million people, are beyond majestic. They are so good they’ll instantly make you forget the effort you’ve just been put through. Apart from the viewpoint and the 17th-century church (very popular among pilgrims), there are a few souvenir stalls and restaurants up there but I found them a little overpriced and underwhelming. For non-religious people like myself the view really is the highlight, and what a highlight!
What I found most fascinating was how – on top of getting a perfectly clear view of La Candelaria and the skyscrapers of the downtown – you can see just how far the city spreads in every direction. It’s crazy to think you could easily fit the whole population of Portugal in there! The way down was nowhere near as demanding but the outstanding views I’d missed on the way up were now pleasantly revealing themselves.
As soon as I got back down to the city I went for a much-needed meal at my favourite place (the Loto Azul, of course!) and then hit the nearby Botero Museum. I’m a big fan of Botero’s unique style and since I could hardly remember my previous visit to the museum I thought it would be the best way fill the afternoon of what had so far been a fantastic day. Entrance to the museum, housed in a gorgeous colonial mansion in the heart of La Candelaria, is free (although I had to show both my vaccine certificate AND passport to enter!) which makes visiting it a no-brainer. Actually, most museums in Bogotá are free and they’re all pretty cool – expect a full report whenever I find myself back in the city.
While Museo Botero houses several of his paintings, what really amazed me was his personal collection – donated to the museum some two decades ago – featuring an impressive number of late 19th/early 20th century paintings and sculptures from artists like Monet, Miró, Picasso, Moore and Calder among many others. A true feast for the eyes! Since there weren’t many people around I got to explore the collection in relative peace, with Coltrane’s slightly melancholic My Favourite Things providing the perfect soundtrack for it.
It was an excellent afternoon to complement what had been an equally excellent morning. When the time to leave for Santa Marta came a few days later, the only reason I wasn’t gutted was that I realised I would most definitely be staying at least a couple of weeks in Bogotá before I left the country in a few months’ time. There was still a lot to discover in the city and I intended to discover it all. Like I said before, Bogotá is a city that grows on you. And when it does, you will probably never want to leave.