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).
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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.