Lonely Planet Magazine (US) - - Easy Trips -

Ex­plore the squares, mar­kets and moun­tain­sides of Colom­bia’s resur­gent cap­i­tal.

Bo­gotá is at its most col­or­ful on a Sun­day morn­ing. Once a week, city high­ways are closed to mo­tor ve­hi­cles and trans­formed into a blur of flu­o­res­cent span­dex as thou­sands of cy­clists, chil­dren on tri­cy­cles, and teenagers on rollerblades whoosh past. This mot­ley Tour de France passes un­der the stern gaze of Simón Bolí­var, South Amer­ica’s lib­er­a­tor, whose statue pre­sides over the main square. The group steers un­der the bell tow­ers of the two-cen­tury-old cathe­dral, where the last hymns of morn­ing mass re­ver­ber­ate in­side, as the con­gre­ga­tions in their Sun­day best step out into the An­dean sun­shine. The cy­clists pedal past the mar­ket at Palo­que­mao, where week­end shop­pers wan­der among roses, lilies and sun­flow­ers, flow­ers that only hours be­fore were snipped from the sur­round­ing coun­try­side, soon to dec­o­rate wed­dings, fu­ner­als, birth­day par­ties and din­ner dates.

Not so long ago, Bo­gotá was a city in the same league as Mo­gadishu, Bagh­dad and La­gos – syn­ony­mous with drug car­tels, crime and ter­ror­ism. It was a place where no sane tourist ven­tured and few res­i­dents would pot­ter be­tween neigh­bor­hoods on a Sun­day stroll. Bo­gotá’s prob­lems are far from fixed, but safety has im­proved and one of South Amer­ica’s liveli­est cities is bloom­ing. For­mer no-go ar­eas are now served by cy­cle su­per­high­ways; streets once avoided be­cause of driveby shoot­ings are now busy with ar­ti­san cof­fee shops.

The face of the city is con­stantly chang­ing, es­pe­cially just after lunchtime on Sun­days, when se­cu­rity guards take a si­esta and Bo­gotá’s street artists are of­ten at work. Just over a decade ago, lo­cal au­thor­i­ties in Bo­gotá took steps to par­tially de­crim­i­nal­ize graf­fiti, with

in a high-rise build­ing on leafy streets in the north of Bo­gotá, has rooms with vast beds and ex­pan­sive bath­rooms (from $110; cite­ho­tel.com).

Art dealer of­fers graf­fiti tours of Bo­gotá’s cen­tral neigh­bor­hoods (from

$120; to book, email info @hotel­cot­tagela­col­ina.com).

Fu­nic­u­lar trains and ca­ble cars depart from in cen­tral Bo­gotá

(from $4 round-trip; cer­romon­ser­rate.com). some hop­ing to re­verse ur­ban de­cay by trans­form­ing neigh­bor­hoods into open-air galleries. To­day, like al­most no other city in the world, art­works can be found on al­most ev­ery sur­face in Bo­gotá.

“Street art is a cel­e­bra­tion of our cul­ture,” ex­plains artist Eck­suno, whose real name is Juan Se­bastián Gar­cía, as he em­barks on a graf­fiti tour of the city. “Colom­bia has so much va­ri­ety to in­spire us; it is al­most like a col­lec­tion of dif­fer­ent coun­tries, each with its own styles and col­ors.”

Bo­gotá’s street art can be a way to gauge Colom­bia’s po­lit­i­cal tem­per­a­ture. Se­bastián Gar­cía points to mu­rals ad­vo­cat­ing rights for indige­nous com­mu­ni­ties, oth­ers protest­ing against Ama­zon de­for­esta­tion. It works as an in­tro­duc­tion to the coun­try’s nat­u­ral and cul­tural riches, too. Se­bastián Gar­cía points to one of his own cre­ations: the frozen peaks of the Sierra Ne­vada on the coun­try’s Caribbean coast, ris­ing over a sunny plaza.

“In Bo­gotá there is a par­tic­u­lar qual­ity to the light,” he says. “We are high up in the An­des. Wher­ever we go in the city, we have the moun­tain watch­ing over us.”

The moun­tain is Mon­ser­rate – Bo­gotá’s ur­ban peak, like Cor­co­v­ado in Rio de Janeiro. It is a Sun­day af­ter­noon tra­di­tion for pil­grims to climb the 1,500 steps to the church on the sum­mit (ev­ery­one else cheats and takes the ca­ble car or the fu­nic­u­lar). Along the as­cent to 10,341 feet above sea level, the smog re­cedes and the col­ors of the city be­come even more in­tense. There is the deep-blue dome of the sky, and the bright or­ange of the ca­ble car. A range of green hills rise beyond the city; on their slopes, roses and sun­flow­ers grow for the Sun­day mar­ket.

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