On leaving Ibague we got a cab to the bus terminal and discovered that our hotel was only up the road from it, so easily walkable – one of the disadvantages of not having a map of the place. We got straight onto a bus to Bogota that was about to leave and even got a discount too, when we didn’t buy a ticket immediately the driver’s mate came up and quietly offered us a lower price. The 4 hour journey was pretty uneventful and we arrived in Bogota just after lunchtime. We got onto a bus to La Candeleria (the historic centre) and the driver made an attempt to kill Marie by driving off as she was getting off, but luckily she was more off than on and didn’t really notice.
We quickly found and checked into the cheapest place listed in the Lonely Planet, of course its was a lot more expensive than the book says but we couldn’t be bothered to shop around, knowing from our experience in Ibague that we probably wouldn’t find anything much cheaper and besides its a ‘proper’ travellers hotel, which we haven’t been in for a while, with a kitchen, laundry service (which we desperately need), common room etc. We spent the rest of the afternoon exploring the nearby vicinity, visiting the tourist information and planning what to do in our 2 days here. We also stumbled across the changing of the guard ceremony, its a massive affair but they still do it 4 times a week – takes over an hour, and half an army marches down the street and into a big square where us mere mortals can gawp through a fence (see pics).
The next morning we caught the Transmilenio – Bogota’s bus metro system which is very similar to Quito’s, with dedicated lanes etc, but more efficient – to the Venezuelan embassy. The woman there told us the same as they did in Quito e.g. don’t need a visa, we’ll be given a free tourist card at the border, so someone should tell the UK FCO to update their advice.
We hopped back onto the Transmilenio to the northern station and got straight onto a bus bound for Zipaquira just over an hour north of Bogota. Zipaquira is home to an underground salt cathedral which is a major attraction in the area. Zipaquira town was worth the journey out, with its picturesque central plaza and cool streets, but the salt cathedral wasn’t worth the 14,000 peso entrance fee – we were pretty disappointed with it. For a start its barely salt, more like a salt ore, so its mainly black and grey, not white like we expected (the dazzling white Salar de Uyuni and salt hotels where literally everything was made out of salt is our idea of ‘salt’), it also has statues down there made out of sandstone and some stuff made from granite etc. Add onto that the crappy tacky multi coloured lighting and ‘Silent night’ and other christmas carols being played in the background in August!
Whilst there we discovered that the camera is more damaged than we thought as the flash doesn’t work either, so if it wants to use a flash it won’t take a photo at all, but the crappy backup camera managed to capture a couple of photos showing how tacky it was. On the journey home we hit a massive traffic jam as the road was severely flooded but somehow traffic managed to plough slowly through it, the journey just took 2 hours instead of 1.
The next day we explored La Candeleria properly, wandering the old streets and nosing into the churches that have free entry. We wanted to check out the gold museum but discovered that it’s closed for re-modelling which was a bit of a shame as you used to be able to check out a big pile of gold. We spent most of the afternoon in different coffee shops as there were intermittent showers. We also found a replacement camera (we want the same or newer model as we only choose and bought the camera a couple of months before the trip) but it cost NZ$800 and in Wellington we can get it for half that so we’re just going to make do.
Bogota is a beautiful, clean, safe, modern and efficient city. We want to live there, but need to get better at Spanish first…
- You don’t get harassed much for a big city
- The tourist info at the main plaza was by far the best we’ve been to in South America, they even give you a voucher each for a free coffee at a nearby cafe (so being budget travellers we went to the office twice!)
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