Colombia stole my heart…
We arrived in Bogota with a different perspective of what I thought Colombia was going to be. Before this trip, I have read everywhere about the dangers in traveling to this country. Since the era of cocaine and Pablo Escobar, there has always been a tainted mentality about Colombia. It’s not safe and every tourist is going to get kidnapped.
Yes, I was kidnapped. Colombia kidnapped my heart and is holding it for ransom. This country is just gorgeous! My first impression began when we landed at El Dorado Airport after the immigration officer greeted me a big smile as he greeted us with “Welcome to Colombia!”. I was very surprised how new, clean and organized the airport is and the big surprise: free wifi. I think it’s one of fastest in South America!
We walked into the old city also known as La Candelaria and boy was it impressive! Wandering down the narrow streets, you’ll find old colonial Spanish houses painted in vivid colors; museums and charming restaurants hidden behind inconspicuous passageways. Walls along the streets are decorated with elaborate graffiti and the architecture of the Plaza Bolivar is comparable those I saw in European cities. The main square is not only home to the Supreme Court and Congress; it’s also the meeting place for protests and other political events. It is heartwarming to be strolling in the very plaza where notable people like the beloved writer Gabriel García Marquez and artist Fernando Botero have bantered with the common folks.
Food vendors lined the streets announcing a variety of tasty treats from fresh fruits to baked goodies who spread the sweet smell of dough and coffee through the streets. There was a light drizzle around the city when we got there, so we decided to seek shelter in a tiny but beautiful coffee shop located in a historic colonial building. David, our good Colombian friend recommended cacao with cinnamon. After one sip, there was no going back for me. It was really good.
Another drink worth trying is the Chicha. It is a fermented corn based beer that is commonly produced by physically chewing and spitting out the corn to speed up the fermentation process. Sounds gross right?! In this country, regional chicha ingredients include maize, yuca, quinoa, pineapple, rice, and potatoes. It’s difficult not to think about that while sipping on the sweet yet sour frothy liquid served in a hollowed wooden bowl but it’s not quite as bad as it looks actually.
Every big metropolis has a vantage point where you can see a majority of the city’s expanse. For Bogota, Monserrate is that magic spot. A lush mountain just over 10,000 feet above sea level that provides tourists with a 360 degrees view of Bogota. Monserrate is both a pilgrim destination and tourist attraction where you’ll find a 17th-century church, home to the El Senor Caido (Fallen Lord). At the top, you’ll find restaurants and countless souvenir stands with native crafts, herbal products, food, drinks and more. You can climb to the mountain top, but a quicker and more convenient way is by a cable car or cliff railway.
In Bogota, I experienced my first taste of celebrity. I think Colombians are not used to seeing Asians. As I walked the streets, some people would stare at me like I was some rockstar! Joke. Haha! 😛 One thing troubling is the heavy police presence I notice around the city. After learning more about Colombia’s past, I began to respect their dedication and hard work; they helped transform this country from the dangerous, personal playground of drug lords in the 80’s to a place you wanted to call home. It is fitting that this country has adopted the slogan, Colombia – the only risk is wanting to stay longer.
Colombia has changed a lot since the epic drug wars that tore this country apart. Of course like elsewhere, you have to be smart and use your common sense. There are still stories of mugging and robberies, but most were the result of poor decision-making and bad luck.
I’m going to say this without hesitation but this country will be the “next big thing” in tourism. The people are very gracious and warm. In fact, I must admit Colombians really lived up to their reputation as being some of the most beautiful in the world. And may I add that they are extremely friendly too. It’s safe to say that it’s not as dangerous as everyone thinks it its. Don’t let the news fool you- it’s not as threatening as what western media would like you to think. Colombia is amazing and I can’t wait to go back.