Let's throw a hypothetical scenario out there; you have 1 day in Bogota Colombia.
I wouldn't advise attempting to tackle any city of Bogota's scale in 1 day, but I wouldn't wish to tackle a city of Bogota's scale in 1 article either.
So that is where we are at.
1 Day in Bogota Colombia.
If you're like me, you will most likely arrive in Bogota via the cheapest flight you could find into El Dorado International Airport. From here, you need to get into the city, and there are 2 tried and true ways to do that. For about $4 you could hop in one of Bogota's thousands of yellow cabs for a nice private ride. However, traffic congestion in the city is unpredictable, and since you have limited time, I recommend taking the TransMilenio. For about $1 you can cram yourself into one of Bogota's big red buses and get shuttled into the city via dedicated bus lanes. Just keep your hands on your wallet.
First, you are going straight to La Candelaria, the old part of Bogota to get some Breakfast and do all that obligatory touristy stuff. Make your way to La Puerta Falsa, a restaurant started in the early 1800s, and get yourself a giant tamal and a strong coffee called tinto for a total of about $4. You could also get the life changing beef rib soup called caldo which is generally eaten as a breakfast dish (I was lucky enough to have homemade caldo at one point during my last visit to Bogota).
After breakfast, just walk around a little bit. The Spanish colonial architecture and 500 year old churches are abundant in this historical area of Bogota, so take it all in.
Grab some mango biche (unripe mango with salt, pepper and lime juice) from one of the many street vendors and go hang out in Bolivar Square for a bit. Just try not to sit in pigeon poop. There is also a lot of shopping in this area if you're into that sort of thing as well as street performers and all variety of big city madness.
I recommend two museums in this area. Visit either or both depending on your tastes and budget.
First, I highly recommend the Botero museum for a total of $0, because it is free! Here you will get to see countless works by probably the most famous Colombian painter, Botero, but also original works by many other well-known artists such as Picasso, Salvador Dali, Monet and many more.
I also highly recommend Museo de Oro; the gold museum.
I was a little reluctant to go here at first as it just seemed too touristy for my general tastes, but it really is incredible.
For $3 you could easily spend countless hours here drooling over thousand year old pre-Colombian gold artifacts.
Finally, if you don't mind dropping about $10, take a gondola ride up to Monserrate, the massive, 17th century church built atop one of Bogota's many mountain peaks. This is a little pricey since it's really geared towards tourists for the most part, but if you can spare about $10 it's absolutely worth it. From the top, you can really get an idea of just how massive, as well as beautiful, Bogota really is.
After a few hours of museums and touristy stuff I'm sure you're ready for some adult beverages, and these are not hard to find in Bogota. Just wander off the main street a bit, find one of the trendy little bars built into converted colonial structures and down a couple Club Colombia's for around $2 - $3 a piece. You could also invest about $10 in a bottle of agua ardiente, the de facto Colombian fire water, but even I wouldn't recommend that this early in the day.
Your next stop is going to be a true Colombian barbecue.
Don't try to argue with me, that is where you're going.
It doesn't matter which one, just find a working class neighborhood and smell your way to the cone covered in myriad sizzling animal flesh over an open wood fire. Make sure everyone inside is speaking spanish and enter.
For somewhere around $5 you will get a mountain of food. Fresh, delicious, natural meat you can't get for $50 dollars in the states. Yuca, plantains, and bread. Add a pitcher of the strange and delicious soda / beer mixture called refajo for another couple bucks and you can probably die happy now.
I know by now you are in a food coma, but you need to get up and get moving. The day is half gone and you have some difficult decisions to make. Maybe some coca would help? Not cocaine, that is highly illegal, but before being processed, coca leaves are legal and abundant in Colombia. A little coca tea or just some chewed leaves could be just what you need to keep moving. Or you could visit one of the countless and incredible coffee chains, points of pride in Colombia that the mighty Starbucks has tried and failed to crush.
Now, you need to choose.
Have you noticed all that amazing street art all over Bogota?
Well, the city you are in right now is renowned for its graffiti and some well known street artists. You could easily spend days just wandering around looking at the incredible murals on nearly every surface. There are even guided graffiti tours in Bogota that will help you see the best of the best if you prefer a little more structure.
Street art not your thing? No problem, here's another option.
Head across the city to San Andresito to wander through street after street of vendors selling pretty much everything imaginable. Take a little care here as this isn't exactly a "nice" or "touristy" neighborhood, but seriously... what do you need? Because it's here. If you know BOOMplop, and me in particular, you're probably aware that I am fond of retro video games. Let's just say I spent more money in this market than at any other single point on my trip and almost needed to check an extra bag on the return trip.
Oh, and all those stalls with whole pigs, chopped in half with rice spilling out? That's lechona. You want some of that. Thank me later.
If you can't make up your mind, you could always just eat and drink the hours away. At any given moment a food stand or little watering hole is within arm's reach to provide some chicharron, an arepa and a nice cold cerveza.
If you only have one day in Bogota, I think it should end with a drunken bang!
Head to Zona T for a massive collection of drinking establishments to suit every taste. Because this area is a little on the trendy side, drinks may be a little more expensive, but you still won't usually pay more for a beer than you would for some of the more popular brands of swill in the states (you know who you are buddy).
And if you only have 1 beer in Zona T, go to Bogota Brewing Company. Serving up craft beers in a brewpub environment with a Colombian twist, BBC is a Colombian institution that deserves your visit.
As you make your way back to the airport, head pounding from many strong drinks, you will no doubt look back at the city disappearing behind you and wonder what more you could have seen and done.
And you are not wrong for wondering this. Bogota is a world-class city with an incredible level of culture, cuisine, music and art.
When many from North America think of Colombia, they picture a dangerous, smoking country full of nothing but drug cartels and revolutionaries, and this is a shame since the country has long since transcended those forces and has infinitely more to offer.
While I was in Bogota, I never felt unsafe, at least no more than I would in New York or another large city. Sure, I saw homeless people and trash on the streets. But I also saw a modern, growing city that is embracing progress and opportunity as quickly as it comes.
My verdict on Bogota?
Hop a plane.
Eat the food.
Drink the beer.
See the sights.
Just try to spend more than one day there.
Photo Credit: Bolivar Square - Daniela Cortés Barrera