Bogota is one of the world’s great cities, with dozens of museums, hundreds of parks and a wealth of colonial charm. But despite Bogota’s manifold charms many visitors, perhaps most, never venture beyond El Centro, the commercial and governmental area that includes La Candelaria, the old colonial quarter.
There’s so much more to this city of eight million people (or nine, or ten, depending on who you ask).
Here are five of the best kept secret pleasures of Bogota:
Relaxing at the Botanical Gardens: This vast oasis in the middle of the city is a great place to spend a day. The entrance fee of US$1.00 provides access to acres of artfully landscaped gardens displaying plant species plucked from every corner of Colombia’s wildly varied topography, including Amazonas. The grounds are quiet and green, providing a welcome respite from the noise and smog that is rife in this busy city. The gardens are host to a small restaurant where you can purchase a fine four course meal for US$3, including a refreshing glass of juice freshly squeezed from a tropical fruit you’ve likely never heard of before.
Perhaps best of all, there are no Keep Off the Grass signs. Bring a blanket and a Gabriel Garcia Marquez novel and toss down amidst the quiet beauty.
Explore the Children’s Museum: The Maloka is the site of a 3-D theatre, a dome theatre and the Children’s Museum. If you’re traveling with children, you must not miss the Children’s Museum, which may be the best hands-on science museum in the western hemisphere. Though it’s now eight years old, the facility looks brand new. Every one of its hundreds of exhibits is in perfect working order (parents of young children will recognize how remarkable that fact is). Your kids will love it, and after four or five hours will be happily exhausted.
Play basketball: Bogota is basketball crazy, with hoops found in dozens of parks throughout the city. You’ll find the locals play a very good game, and may even provide an American with a humbling lesson in roundball.
Buy some flowers: Colombia is one of the world’s great flower-exporting nations. Because of its location and altitude – just a few degrees from the equator, and 8,500-feet high – Bogota has an ideal climate for growing flowers year round. Stop by one of the numerous roadside stands for a bunch. For a dip into Bogotano life, visit the tombstone and flowers street market that extends for several blocks outside the walls of the “Central Cemetery” (which is also worth a look). Amidst the marble dust and crowds you’ll find dozens of vendors who will put together a bouquet of exotic blooms on the spot.
Take a very cheap carriage ride: Horse drawn carts are still in use throughout the city. Keep in mind, however, these are utility vehicles, not romantic transport. Nevertheless, they’re a great slow way to see the city. Wave one down and negotiate a price. You may find yourself stuffed in with the rest of the basura. In fact your driver may look at you at first as if you’re crazy, but hey, what’s wrong with being crazy?