The truth about Bogota

I don’t know if it’s been obvious in my posts that I didn’t love Bogota. Rodolfo and I certainly don’t regret our time there – especially since I’d gotten an itch to go, and I would have become progressively more obnoxious if we hadn’t just gotten on a damn plane to see it for ourselves – but we don’t have any plans to go back to the city except in transit to other Colombian destinations (or, in my case, for work).

Bogota view

So it may sound strange that we kept finding similarities to Santiago, a city we both really enjoy. Is it a case of (adopted) hometown pride giving Santiago the edge?

Not at all. I actually often lament the fact that Santiago is kind of limited for your average visitor. There are many reasons I like living here – nice neighborhoods in which to sip a coffee, access to beautiful countryside, great wine, increasingly diverse restaurants, among others. But for the most part, those reasons don’t gain Santiago points with tourists.

Parque Forestal Santiago

Yes, they enjoy the natural beauty, but by that point they’ve left Santiago. The wine is a plus wherever you are in Chile, but most tourists visit vineyards outside the city itself. While I enjoy settling in for a coffee in a picturesque barrio, your average visitor on a timetable may not want to waste a precious afternoon just soaking up the atmosphere. And no tourist who’s come for a taste of real Chilean food will be as excited as I am that we now have quality international restaurants – they can get that at home.

I got a similar feeling about Bogota. It seems like a comfortable city for residents with a decent income, despite the safety concerns that are still present. There are quiet neighborhoods, at least one massive park, great public transport, malls with international brands – all things that I’m sure I’d enjoy if I lived there.

Cerro Monserrate view

But as a tourist, the only thing on that list I’m interested in is the bus system. I don’t care about going to Zara in Bogota when it’s more expensive than the one in Santiago or looking at someone else’s pretty house. Instead I’m focused on the facts that, Andrés aside, no restaurant really impressed me, and after 2.5 days, we’d put a check mark next to all of the must-see sights on our list. End result: we had a fun weekend, but that was enough time for me.

In cities like this, even more than usual, local contacts are key. My Colombian friend Cata isn’t from Bogota but has been to the city many times, and her recommendations were a huge help in planning our itinerary. That inside scoop that gets you a slice of daily life is special anywhere, but it can especially affect your experience in a city that isn’t so easily accessible for a short-term visitor.

Virgin Mary statue

I’m not knocking Bogota. I’m not telling you not to go anymore than I would tell you not to come to Santiago. In fact, a big part of why I do Saturday in Santiago is to share some of the best spots in this city with people who might not otherwise find them! But it was interesting to realize that for me at least, it may be a nice place to live, but I wouldn’t want to (re)visit there.

Have you ever felt like this somewhere? Did you feel the same in Bogota or Santiago?

More in this series:
Heading to Bogota with Roomorama
The view from Cerro Monserrate
The marvelous Museo de Oro
The Botero Museum will make you smile
Taking a Bogota bike tour
Andrés Carne de Res: Bogota’s craziest restaurant
The Salt Cathedral of Zipaquirá

14 Responses to “The truth about Bogota”

  1. I felt this way about London! Cata is the Colombian expert for sure, can’t go wrong with her tips.

    • Emily in Chile says:

      You know how hard it is for me to imagine London being “only ok” for someone since it’s one of my favorite cities, but I’m sure some people feel that way about my opinion of Bogota. Good thing there are plenty of cities out there to try, right?

  2. Andrea says:

    I feel like you have to visit a city more than once to really make a decision about it. I never liked London until our trip there last year and now I absolutely love it. Turns out I just needed to go there one on one with John and we had a blast. Now I don’t make a “final” judgment on a place until I’ve visited a few times. I think travel can be so random; hit or miss if you will. Sometimes I’ve gone to a city or place and had a blast, returned and tried to replicate that experience and didn’t enjoy it as much the second time around. Sometimes it’s all so dependent on who you were with, the time/season you go and the specific things that happen to you when you’re there. I think that’s been my biggest travel lesson of all! =)

    • Emily in Chile says:

      I definitely agree that a good trip can change your opinion of a place – I was only meh on Valparaiso for years until I went with a friend this April and made a point to organize a really fun couple of days for us. However with so many places to see and Bogota not being a major hub or city where we know a lot of people, I’m not sure how many more chances this particular city will get with me. I’m certainly not writing it off, I just don’t feel much of a desire to hurry back.

  3. Cata says:

    I’m so happy that my advise helped!! I wish I could have been there with you to do what Colombians do best: dancing!! At least you want to go to other Cities in Colombia so we can meet up in Cali or Cartagena!! I agree, bogota is great for a weekend trip. I do enjoy shopping there bc I miss my Colombian brands. I wouldn’t buy anything imported bc it is more expensive.

  4. Hi Emily,
    I have been reading information about Bogota since I have been wanting to visit for some time (plus there are some good airfare deals at this moment). It has been really interesting to read your pespective on the city. I think, like you mentioned, the key is to have some local contacts. I have tons of friends there and I think that would make a difference. Also, if I go, I am thinking of adding a side trip to a small city like Villa de Leyva. I think that would add more depth to the experience (but I recognize not everybody has the time to do that).

    • Emily in Chile says:

      I think you will have a totally different experience if you’re visiting friends. I hope you’re able to go and that you have a blast!

  5. Alex says:

    I really like your blog! I’m going to Santiago to study abroad for the year and I felt completely unprepared, but reading your blog has really helped me. I actually spent some time in Bogota and your comparison of the two cities is really helpful and makes me really excited for Santiago.
    I personally loved Bogota, but I was hanging out with locals, so it makes sense. I look forward to reading more of your blog before I start my trip.

  6. Wow, your comments on Santiago are spot on. As a visitor to your home city, I felt the same way. But got good tips from you blog about Zipaquira. Will visit Bogota for the first time and looking forward to it by making the most of my quick vacay! Thanks!

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