From Colorful Cartagena to Bustling Bogota
We were having such a wonderful time in the Colombian town of Cartagena that I was starting to second guess our decision to leave and head to the Colombia’s capital. We had read so many intriguing stories, and with only 48 hours in Bogota, we wanted to see Colombia’s capital for ourselves. So, off we went via cab to the airport. We boarded our Avianca flight from Cartagena to Bogota for the 1.5-hour flight. At the airport, we were greeted by our guide for the next couple of days, the amazing, Henry Morales of BogotaHenryTours.
Henry wasted no time introducing himself and getting to know the boys. By the time we loaded our luggage into his car, C and D were completely enamored by his outgoing personality, and we knew were in good hands. We were staying in the Hotel Continental which meant driving right into the historic part of Bogota city. La Candelaria is one of the most well-known neighborhoods in Bogota and is also one of the city’s most historic neighborhoods. With only 48 hours in Bogota we wanted to be central, and La Candelaria, home to many museums such as the Gold Museum, churches such as St. Francis Church and many government buildings, was perfect. La Candelaria is where Bogota was founded in 1538.
As soon as we reached the city, we got some sandwiches from a local shop and Henry helped us check in. Once we got our things into the room, we headed back into Henry’s car to start our tour of Bogota, Colombia.
Tip: A pack and play was provided by the hotel at no extra charge.
Cerro de Monserrate
With nothing but clear, blue skies, Henry decided that our first stop would be Cerro de Monserrate. The good weather, he said, should enable us to get a panoramic view of the city and the surrounding area. He drove the winding road that led to the ticket center for the cable car that would bring us to the top of the mountain. It is also possible to purchase a ticket for the funicular to the top but it was not running while we were there. The wait time was not long and we soon boarded and began climbing to an altitude of 3,152 m. The views of Bogota were amazing.
For those who don’t want to spend money for the cable car or the funicular, it is possible to walk up to the top via a walking path. In fact, most Sunday worshipers who visit the Shrine of the Fallen Lord, the church on top of the mountain, reach the church via this method. It is said that many people have experienced miracles after a pilgrimage to the church.
Tip: The altitude is quite high and it is possible to get altitude sickness. Make sure to keep yourself hydrated and not to overexert yourself.
Besides the church, there was also a very busy restaurant and a small market that sold souvenirs and a variety of other goods at the mountain. We wandered around the top for a bit taking in the views and enjoying the gardens. Afterward, we took the walking path down which was also lined with the stations of the cross. Once back in the car, we headed back to continue our historic tour of La Candelaria.
Gold Museum (Museo del Oro)
We are not normally fans of museums that are not interactive as we find we spend more time telling the kids “not to touch” than enjoying the artifacts. Also, we had already previously visited another Gold Museum in San Jose, Costa Rica. How different could this place be? However, Henry insisted that a visit to the Gold Museum is a must for our 48 hours in Bogota, to have a better understanding of Colombia. We were glad we listened to his expert advice. The Gold Museum has an incredible collection of pre-colonial gold pieces. It was amazing to see how intricate some of the artwork was. The museum also has other artifacts but it is definitely the gold collection that is the main attraction. C was in awe of the various gold masks and ancient tools.
Exploring Bogota’s Churches
After the Gold Museum, we took to the streets of Bogota for some sightseeing. I have to admit, I was very nervous as the streets were extremely crowded and Bogota is notorious for pickpockets. We headed north of the Gold Museum to see some very old churches with interesting interiors. We visited three churches: St. Francis Church (Iglesia de San Francisco), Veracruz Church (Iglesia de la Veracruz), and La Tercera Church (Iglesia de la Tercera). La Tercera church is also known as the Church of the Stigmata or Church of the Third Order. The dome and ceiling have wonderfully wood carvings of various geometric patterns. All three had very varied architecture. Photography inside the churches was not allowed so you will just have to take my word on it!
St. Francis Church is the oldest surviving church in Bogota. Built in 1557, the interior has an extraordinary 17th-century gilded main altarpiece not matched anywhere else in the city. Located beside St. Francis church, the Veracruz church stands in stark contrast with it’s harsh, barren interior. However, Veracruz church houses the remains of several national heroes who fought for Colombia’s independence and so Veracruz church is often referred to as the National Pantheon. La Tercera church is also known as the Church of the Stigmata or Church of the Third Order. The dome and ceiling have mesmerizing wood carvings of various geometric patterns. Unfortunately, photography inside the churches was not allowed during our visit.
Next up in our 48 hours in Bogota was the Emerald Museum. The Bogota Emerald Museum is known to have one of the best collections of emeralds in the world. I had thought that prior reservations are required, but lucky for me, Henry was able to make arrangements and we only needed to wait a few minutes while they took our passports and ran the necessary checks. Once we entered, a guide was assigned to us and showed us around the museum. Security at the Bogota Emerald Museum was definitely tight! And for good reason, the number of loose emeralds on display was staggering (approximately 3000). There was also a wall with emeralds still in situ to let you know how they look like before they are mined. The children were even allowed to touch the emerald wall! This was definitely their favorite part of the tour.
Like all tours, the guided tour ended at the gift shop but we didn’t feel any pressure to buy. After the tour, Henry drove by the area where black market emeralds are sold. After that, we called it a day. Normally, the day tour would have also included a visit to the Botero Museum. However, the children were losing patience and we didn’t think they could sit through another museum so we decided to end on high note.
Exploring La Candelaria
We started the second half of our 48 hours in Bogota by exploring more of the La Candelaria. First, Henry drove around and told us about Plaza de Bolivar, Bogota Cathedral, the congress building, the Presidential Palace and city hall. He parked the car and we walked to Callejon del Embudo which is the oldest street in Bogota. This area is filled with some of the oldest buildings in Bogota such as Bogota’s oldest house, which was for sale at the time of our visit. We also saw El Chorro de Quevedo which is the site of Bogota’s founding.
The kids particularly enjoyed spotting all the sculptures and graffiti the filled many of the building walls. Interestingly, tagging and graffiti are both not illegal in Colombia. In fact, graffiti has become a key part of the local art scene.
It is on these cobblestone streets that we said goodbye to Bogota. But, before heading back to Cartagena we would be doing a day trip to Lake Guatavita. Would we find the lost treasure of El Dorado?
With the birth of their two boys, Kevin and Christina have made it their mission to show others that travelling with children isn't as scary as it sounds and that kids can benefit from experiencing the world outside of their front door and beyond.