Bogota is the first stop in my South America trip. Flew from Miami via Costa Rica to Bogota. Unlike all my other trips, while I was excited as well, I was somewhat nervous about traveling to South America, mainly because I do not speak any Spanish and feared communications difficulty and indeed it was the case – I've been lost in translation most of the time and apart from other tourists and hotel staff, do not find lots of people who speak English, but slowly I am learning more and more Spanish sentences and vocabulary and able to communicate a little bit more everyday. That was one reason for me being a bit scared, but second reason was I heard a lot of stories from many people about how dangerous Colombia was etc.. (even though they had not personally visited the country).
I Reached Bogota El Dorado airport in the afternoon, changed some money (exchange rate was 1 USD = 1984 Colombian pesos), got an official taxi (it costs a bit more, but I read on travel blogs etc.. that private taxis can kidnap tourists or bring you to other places and the places you want) to take me to the hostal I had booked the previous day. Most hostels and backpacker's hangouts are in the Candelaria neighborhood of Bogota. The hostel I chose was Hostal Sue (pronounece Su-Ey). Great choice. The hostal was very nice, great staff, great common areas, good kitchen and good crowd from all over the world, but only two bathrooms.. but that is ok if everything else is there 🙂 I stayed there for 3 days and then switched to Cranky Croc Hostel which was even better. Cranky Croc is run by an australian who has himself been traveling and backpacking a lot. So he knows about what do travelers want and he catered for all the things – great nice big clean kitchen, great communal areas, a locker in each form bed with a power supply inside the locker (to be able to securely charge your stuff, while you're out), great fast wifi access and on site computers, bar, restaurant and everyday they have special communal dinners with an international theme. I could stay there for weeks !
Living in hostels, you meet a lot of people. Within the first few days, I met people from Spain, Israel, Pakistan, Holland, Malta, Australia and USA – some were at the beginning of their travels just like me and some had been traveling for a few weeks and one for over a year. It was great hearing the good travel stories and tips on things/places to visit. There was also some bad travel stories such as this one dude from Oregon whose Bus he was traveling in got hijacked. The hijackers took the bus together with them and middle of the way, they took out guns and stopped the bus and stole everybody's things – both tourists and Colombians. Others were not that extreme, but I talked to 3 other persons that lost their passports too. They all were from big countries which had consulates in Colombia. I was wondering if my passport is lost, I'd be screwed basically as there's no Mauritian consulate anywhere around in South America as far as I know. All these people's consulates got them temporary passports to use for 3 months, till they get their actual passports. I wonder if any other Mauritian have lost their passport in a country where Mauritius don't have a consulate and how did they manage or if the Mauritian government would be of any assistance?
While the backpacker's crowd is very fun and interesting and we get to share lots of travel stories, we mostly all speak only in English. So did not really get a chance to speak a lot of spanish as was hanging out mostly with the people I met in the hostel. Hopefully, going forward, I will try to do more hanging out and trying to know local people than only tourists.
Bogota got to be the city with the most cops and military with guns in the streets. They're everywhere. Sometimes, there seem like there are more cops and military than civilians. The Cops randomly stop people on the street, check their ID and check their bags. I made a copy of my passport and visa and always carry it with me rather than my passport just in case I get checked too, but so far I have not yet been stopped. I wonder on what criteria they stop people. Talking about cops, I visited the Police Museum that they have in Bogota and got to learn a lot about Pablo Escobar – once the most wanted man in the world and the history of drug and drug cartels in Colombia.
All in all, Bogota is a great city. I enjoyed staying there a lot. It's a huge metro city – 12 million inhabitants. As every big metro, it has anything one want to do – shopping, entertainment, fine dining, people watching etc.. people always busy and on the go. I stayed 7 days in Bogota. Did not do many touristic as such while I was there, but still loved it and would not mind going and staying more !