The bus arrived into Bogotá central station at 1:30am, much earlier than we expected. The other girls managed to get a reservation at a hostel in La Candelaria district which is the ideal place to stay and I managed to get a bed at an awesome hostel called Masaya. Dorm beds are $32,000COP per night and don’t include breakfast ($12.000 for a great buffet).
I got to bed at about 02:30 and got up at 08:30 to have breakfast and then went for a little wander before going on a bike tour at 10am.
Bogotá City Bike Tour
I was collected by Yander and he walked me to the Cerros Bike Tours office and I found out that it was just me on the tour so I had a 5-hour personalised tour of Bogotá. Not bad for $40.000COP (£10) although to be honest, having a group would have been great too.
Our first stop was the main square of Bogotá, Plaza Simon Bolivar, surrounded by the most important buildings in the country. The Palace of Justice, the Liévano Palace (home of the mayor), the Primary Cathedral and the National Capitol building are on the four sides of the square.
We cycled down the Septima (7th Street), the main pedestrianised street in the old part of the city. It makes a useful reference point too, as after dark it is not advised to cross from La Candalaria into the area beyond.
In fact, we cycled through some of the dodgy areas of the city and it was interesting to be able to see them under the watchful eye of a guide. The graffiti was beautiful and the areas full of people. I couldn’t stop to take photos… but I snapped this along one of the safer roads.
We visited Usaquén district of the city which I loved! It reminded me of Oxford. The houses were built after a large number of British people emigrated to Bogotá around 1938 and it looks like a little patch of England. It’s quite rundown now but the brick houses and wide streets still looked beautiful to me. This was one of the only places I could grab a photo!
Yander took me to an awesome market and we tried lots of exotic fruits. His Venezuelan buddy that runs the stall made me laugh as we were chatting about the different prices he charges people and “mates rates”. The fruit was soooo good, my favourite new ones were pitaya (like a yellow dragonfruit) and guayabana which is like cherimoya. I also got some grenadilla (similar to passion fruit but with less messy juice).
After the fruit market we went to a coffee roastery and saw the machinery and process for creating the perfect coffee. I got to try some (not included, $4.000) and managed to order a horrible drink! Coffee with milk would have been fine but the cinnamon added was like drinking flavoured sawdust which was a shame. Once I got through the sawdust/froth it was better!
After this we headed to a Tejo place for a game (not included $3.000). We were throwing the tejos much further than I had before so it was good practice and it took a while to hit anything! Then we cycled back to the hostel.
I had a late lunch at the vegetarian restaurant next door to the hostel. I ordered a lovely veggie (aubergine/eggplant) burger plus new potatoes and a drink for $10.600.
I had a little wander around La Candelaria and found a nice cafe. I wasn’t sure about taking out anything valuable so I left everything except a little bit of cash at the hostel. There was a really nice street full of (expensive) souvenir shops close to Bolivar Square and I checked the price of the colourful bags that I love in every shop. They range from $65-85.000COP here which is too expensive for me, I’ll wait until I get to the Carribbean coast.
I looked at online reviews to find somewhere for dinner. Interestingly and accurately, restaurants are really often reviewed as having poor service so it’s hard to fight through this to find somewhere with great food and a lovely ambience.
I found one of my favourite restaurants anywhere! La Bruja (the witch) has absolutely great style. As usual the waiters weren’t overly attentive but they were better than usual.
I ordered spaghetti carbonara as everything was fairly expensive and I today had been expensive enough already. I also ordered a glass of Chilean wine, which was of course excellent. I loved the style of the place, with the items on the menu named as potions and the wine was served in a red goblet.
I walked back to the hostel around 10pm and the streets were absolutely empty except for police with dogs on the corners. It’s a shame how unsafe this place is without constant vigilance.
I got talking to a Dutch woman called Jozey in my dorm and we have decided to go exploring together tomorrow.
Catedral del Sal (Salt Cathedral) at Zipaquirá
The journey to the Salt Cathedral from Bogotá is quite long but very simple using public transport and there’s no need to pay for a tour.
Jozey and I left the hostal just before 10am and walked to the closest bus station, Las Aguas. I paid $5.000COP (£1.30) for a bus card and then topped it up with enough to pay for two journeys ($2.300 for each journey). We walked through the tunnel to get to Universidades station and took the bus to Portal del Norte. There we caught a bus going to Chia/Zipaquirá and paid $4.500COP to the driver.
We arrived in Zipaquirá just before 12pm and walked through the main square to reach the path towards the Cathedral.
Entrance to the museum costs a lot more than the guidebooks tell you. It’s $55.000COP per person (not $23.000) but don’t let that put you off, it’s a great place to visit.
We collected our audioguide and followed the path into the tunnel entrance and headed gently downhill under a tacky lightshow. Again, don’t be put off!
The first part of the trip into the cathedral takes you past 14 salt-sculpted stations of the cross. The audioguide talks you through the metaphors portrayed by each sculpture (as there is no carving of Christ, the cross itself is used to represent both Christ and the cross itself).
After the final station you can see into the cathedral from above and are able to see across the whole space to the 16-metre high cross carved from salt. It is a spectacle to behold for sure.
Then you come to a round, dimly-lit chamber with a perfectly carved dome roof. I sat for a while looking up at the beautiful patterns in the ceiling and it looked like a perfect nights sky, full of stars.
After this you walk down through the labyrinth and reach the enormous temple 180 metres below ground, split into three sections, one to represent each of the birth, life and then death and resurrection of Jesus. It is a monumental place. The huge stone cross that we could see from above, at the back of the life chamber, upon closer inspection turns out to be bas-relief, lit from inside.
Also in this chamber is an impressive marble sculpture depicting the creation of man.
The three chapels are joined by passageways past enormous perfectly round salt pillars of a scale that is difficult to comprehend in the dim otherworldly environment. The pillars are over 8 metres across! And they look like they go on forever.
Past the underground shops there is a water mirror, a perfectly still pool which reflects the carved ceiling.
I had a coffee at the underground cafe and then went to watch a really cool 3D film about the history of gold. It was so cosy in the dark that I was falling asleep.
On our way back to the bus we grabbed a snack, I had a lovely chicken arepa for $3.000COP.
When we got back to La Candelaria I had a delicious grilled corn on the cob for $3.000COP and saw a comedian performing to a crowd in the square.
Jozey and I went to a restaurant called Gato Gris for dinner as lots of places were closed. The food was nice but lots of the menu was overpriced, though the place had a good atmosphere with live music. I paid $33.000COP for a delicious pork loin in tamarind sauce with wok-fried vegetables and loved every mouthful.
Museo del Oro
Without doubt THE best museum I’ve ever been to. I was enchanted by the gold and by the story of gold in Colombia through the ages.
Entry costs $4.000COP and an audioguide costs $8.000COP and I highly recommend forking out for the audioguide, though the signs are in Spanish and English if you would prefer not to. To help you plan your visit – museums tend to be closed on Mondays! Here is the official website which covers all of the major museums in Colombia.
I was a woman on a mission this morning as I had waited until Wednesday for this museum to open and I have a flight to Medellín this afternoon, so I had just over an hour and a half to see everything (and there is a LOT to see). Give yourself 2.5 hours and you’ll be at a comfortable pace.
The gold, sorry, museum, is spread across two main floors with four extra floors for temporary exhibitions and explore zones. The route is well signposted and takes you on the journey in a good order too.
First you see the tools and techniques used to work the metals, not just gold but there is some platinum, silver and copper too as well as an interesting gold-copper alloy called Tumbaga.
The story of the Tumbaga alloy amused me – it was often made to look like gold by rubbing the surface with a certain natural product to remove the copper. The Spaniards would try to melt it down with the other gold objects and be devastated to find that it wasn’t solid gold. The items below are Tumbaga and only the one on the left has been treated to remove the copper from the surface.
The craftsmen mostly used the lost wax method to cast the gold, by creating moulds and then pouring in the molten metal, this method is still used today!
The variety and sheer quantity of objects is absolutely mind-blowing.
Some of the work has such fine detail it was really exciting to look at.
And there were lots of copies of the same objects too in some of the displays, just imagine stumbling upon such a treasure trove.
I think I can start to imagine what drove the Spanish to covet and seek El Dorado, the fabled city of gold.
The second major exhibit shows the metalwork from the people of all 14 ancient regions of Colombia. Again, unimaginable diversity on show.
And there is just so much of it. There are also other types of artefact on show, particularly pottery with a few examples of how gemstones were used with the metal.
Some of my favourite items on display were long gold sticks topped with incredibly ornate gold-work.
There were lots of different examples of golden ceremonial adornments from each culture and lots and lots of nose-rings, breastplates and other crazily ornate objects that were hung from the nose and ears or worn on the head.
The third room is Cosmology and Symbolism and it is so interesting to learn about the belief that earth is between two worlds, with parts of each. Light and dark, wet and dry, woman and man. Interestingly the imagery extends into the animals too; birds symbolise the upper world, people, jaguars and deer representing this world and the underworld was represented by snakes, bats, caiman and other creatures which inhabit openings in the earth.
The fourth room is The Offering, this showed ceremonial objects and headdresses in individual cabinets. It holds one of the standout pieces of the museum. In its own dramatic showcase is a small golden raft complete with shaman, acolytes, six paddlers and offerings.
At the end of The Offering section is a hidden door which slides open and allows you to walk into a circular pitch black space. Once the door closes, a simple light show illuminates an absolutely unimaginable, breathtaking amount of small gold pieces displayed in a circular display around the room and in a pit in the centre of the floor.
Enough to leave anyone speechless.
I popped up to the third floor which has a little info on how the excavation work is done and then I whizzed back round to take better photos of my favourite displays before hitting the giftshop. Sadly the jewellery is all real gold, so there was absolutely nothing affordable in the replica department so I settled for buying postcards and magnets before practically running back to the hostel to pick up my bags and get to the airport for my flight to Medellín.
The journey by bus is simple and cheap ($2.300COP) and probably not too much slower than by taxi (approx. $70.000). Take the Number 1 bus from Las Aguas/Universidades station to the end of the line at Portal El Dorado. Then go under the tunnel (as you get off the bus turb left and take that tunnel, not the one to the right) and take green bus number 16-14 to Aeropuerto.