The Capitals of the World: Bogota
Bogota, formerly known as “Bacatá” at the time when it was made the capital of the New Kingdom of Granada, part of the Viceroyalty of Peru and later of the Viceroyalty of New Granada or “Santa Fé de Bogotá” after the name of the birthplace of Gonzalo Jiménez de Quesada, the founder of the first European settlement, is the capital city of Colombia and its largest city in term of land area and population and is located on the west of the Savannah of Bogotá (Sabana de Bogotá), 2640 meters above sea level, close to the world’s biggest moorland.
Bogotá is also known as the “The Athens of South America” and the tributary rivers of the Bogotá River, that crosses the “sabana” and forms the Tequendama Falls, form valleys with flourishing villages, whose economy is based on agriculture, livestock raising and artisanal production.
Bogota is the main industrial and economic center of Colombia and in 2008 ranked on the fourth place as one of the most influential center of Latin America; in terms of tourism, Bogota had a bad reputation until just recently when it became an important tourist center, especially because of its many cultural attractions, its over 150 national monuments, 62 art galleries, 33 library networks, 58 museums, 45 stage theatres and 75 sports and attraction parks. In 2007 Bogotá was named World Book Capital by UNESCO.
Before you start your visit tours of the town, know that Bogota is divided into four sections: El Centro, translated as “Center”, is the city’s original Downtown and hosts most of its traditional heritage locations, city and public offices, and financial headquarters; The North is the modern part of the city, combining many upscale living spaces with affluent boutiques, cafes, shopping centers, nightclubs and many new business neighborhoods offering headquarters to many multinational corporations; El Occidente, which is home for many residence areas for main, middle and some upper class living and here you can also find Bogota’s major sporting venues and outdoor parks; and The South which is the poorer section of the city. You can choose to explore the city by walking or opt to take the tourist train, which is a sightseeing train, very popular even among Bogota’s residents and running to outlying towns Zipaquirá, Cajicá and Nemocón along the lines of the former Bogotá Savannah Railway on weekends or the other line heading towards the north and ending at Briceño.
If you are in Bogota you can not miss visiting the La Candelaria neighborhood and the historic Downtown where you can find the most affordable lodging and dining options from this side of the town and also being the main location for Bogota’s main attraction sites.
Start your walk in the city at La Candelaria, where you can understand better the history and the origins of the capital of Colombia and being a great spot for relaxation and escaping from the hazardous center of the city. This neighborhood is the center around which Bogota later developed and the historical buildings prove its long history. Colombia’s most important institutions stand at the Plaza de Bolívar, to the left being the Catedral Primada de Bogotá, which houses the remains of Gonzalo Jiménez de Quesada, the government’s headquarters before it was moved to the Palacio de Nariño was at the Palacio de San Carlos, the Museo 20 de Julio with a collection of objects related to Colombia’s fight for independence, the Colonial Art Museum, Iglesia del Carmen and the Biblioteca Luis A Arango.
To the north part of the city, going up Carrera 7, is the Museo del Oro (gold museum), a wonderful journey through centuries of indigenous culture and famous for its legendary El Dorado collections. The Museo de Arte Moderno, who includes a restaurant and a cinema that shows Art Cinema programs, features both permanent and temporary exhibitions of Colombian and international art. Along the Carrera 7 you will also find the Museo Nacional, a former jail building used for this purpose until de beginning of the 20th century, today being one of the most important cultural symbols of Colombia and where you can learn some interesting things about the Colombian history from pre-Colombian times to the present. If you head towards the mountains, to the east and walk along the Avenida Jimenez you will reach to a section of the avenue that has been closed off to vehicles except Transmilenio, to make way for a generous tree-lined pedestrian sidewalk and an enclosed water stream, a location known as the Eje Ambiental or Environmental Axis.
The Palacio Echeverry, a Republican-style building from the beginning of the 20th Century, now the Ministerio del Interior is another famous tourist attraction and if you cross the street you can pay a visit to the Museo del Siglo XIX. Simón Bolívar‘s former residence and now a museum, the Quinta de Bolívar, is also located in the city’s historical center.
Down west, on Calle 11 you will find the the Museo Botero, museum showcasing some of famous Colombian painter Botero’s private art collection and work, and if you walk past it you will find the Centro Cultural Garcia Marquez, modern cultural center and venue that includes Library, Art Galleries, concert halls and lesson rooms, with year-round events and displays for all tastes and audiences interested in culture and the arts. Besides the Ibero-American Theater Festival, the city has forty-five theaters; the Carmarin Theater of Carmen (over 400 years old, formerly a convent), the Colon Theater, the traditional TPB Hall, the Theater of La Candelaria, the National Theater with its two venues, the renovated Teatro Jorge Eliecer Gaitan with the highest capacity currently in South America, the Colsubsidio being a symbol of the city, the Open Air Theater “La Media Torta” and the León de Greiff Auditorium and home of the Bogota Philharmonic Orchestra.
The Catedral Primada is the largest in the country and close by is the Presidential Palace and its Presidential Guard.
The Cristobal Colon Theater, opened in 1892 is the Country’s oldest Opera House and currently is home to the National Symphony Association’s major act, the National Symphony Orchestra of Colombia.
Rock al Parque or Rock at the Park, a grand music event, is the most important open air rock music festival in Latin America and takes place around three days a year at the Simón Bolívar Metropolitan Park.
Bogotá’s growth has placed a strain on its roads and highways and a major part of the congestion happens due to the private car ownership.
The buses run in and out of Bogota’s main station, El Terminal de Transporte de Bogota but the taxi cabs are also ubiquitous and affordable. Transmilenio is Bogota’s new rapid bus service which is extremely affordable, clean and efficient but although is reaches to numerous parts of the city, it can not cover all of the city’s routes; the privately owned buses cruise are the principal form of transport for the working class and student class. The small buses known as colectivos cover every major route of the city but Bogota also has the largest network of bicycle routes in South America, known as “Ciclorutas”.
The city is served by El Dorado International Airport, located at approximately 20 minutes from downtown in a taxi and receiving daily flights from all the parts of the world including Miami, Orlando, Fort Lauderdale, Paris, São Paulo, Madrid, New York City, Washington D.C., Atlanta, Panamá City, Quito, Guayaquil, Oranjestad (Aruba), Willemstad, Houston, Mexico City, San José (Costa Rica), Lima, Buenos Aires, (Curaçao), Toronto, etc.11