Bogota, the capital city of Colombia, is a gigantic city that sprawls outward from La Candelaria, the historic city centre. Given its sheer size and depth, it’d be very difficult to see the entire city on foot. In recent years the city has become more and more bicycle friendly and now has one of the largest bicycle lane networks of any city in the world in addition to a huge above-ground public transport system. Since I love cycling and because they contacted me before I arrived in Bogota, I decided to go on a bicycle tour with Bogotravel Tours to see more of the city.
It took me a bit of time to find their office (my own fault for not writing down the correct address) but once I found it I realized that it’s actually only a few minutes walk from the Las Aguas bus stop. The company is locally owned and operated by 2 local guys, Israel and Fernando. They were both friendly, knowledgeable, and patient. The other two people going on the tour that day were on the older side (one guy over 60 and a lady over 50) and had LOTS of questions and concerns which Fernando and Israel handled like pros.
Our first few stops were in La Candelaria. In very good English, Fernando explained to us the historical and modern significance of each place. At a basketball/soccer court where lots of teenagers usually hang out, he pointed out the amazing graffiti painted on the walls and told us how the graffiti scene has grown from its nascent roots to what it is today. After that, I started to notice the graffiti everywhere. Some were small and subtle, while others (like the one pictured below) took up entire walls with their artistic messages.
Getting a pulse on the hearts and minds of the local population is not something that’s easy to pick up as a visitor. It’s not something you can just type into Google and expect to get an easy answer. With Fernando leading the way, I really appreciated his honest and insightful personal stories and opinions on past and current topics. Even at very famous touristic places like Bolivar Square, I learned something new and different from Fernando. Like when Pablo Escobar orchestrated a massive attack on the Justice Ministry building in Bolivar Square.
At a local market, we were introduced to and encouraged to try several different fruits unique to Colombia and are generally not available outside of the country. While I can’t remember the names of all of the fruits I tasted, I do remember all of them being delicious. There was one that was a combination of a kiwi, orange, and a lime that was awesome!
I’m not sure exactly how we got access, but we were able to go inside the bull-fighting arena for a look around. The “sport” is still very popular in Colombia among the upper classes who can afford to attend the events. With the other classes, it’s definitely less than popular. In fact, it’s quite normal for there to be protests outside the arena when bull-fighting is in season. A typical bull-fighting event takes place on Sunday, lasts around 4 hours, and involves lots of booze. Personally, I’m not a fan of watching animal cruelty but the Sunday session aspect of it is appealing 🙂
From the arena, we stopped at a few other points of interest to snap some photos and to get some history before riding down some small back street to a coffee and chocolate factory. It didn’t look like much of anything from the outside, but inside was a serious operation. We walked through the coffee process from roasting to packaging then treated ourselves to a fresh brew and a snack in the miniature cafe in the factory. Another bicycle tour group was there as well so I guess it’s not that secret. But to be fair, I never would’ve found it on my own. Many coffee businesses in Colombia were originally started by German immigrants over 100 years ago. In fact, the biggest beer company in Colombia and even Avianca Airlines were started by Germans back in the day. I had no idea!
Overall, I really enjoyed the tour. I saw a lot more of the city in addition to learning a lot more about it. And while I hate to admit it, I read the entire Bogota section in a certain popular guidebook when I arrived in Bogota…BUT despite that I still learned a lot more on the bike tour than from the guidebook. The tour lasted a little over 4 hours and the actual cycling parts were quite easy since there weren’t too many uphill sections. And given that the other two people on the tour were 20-30 years older than me, I’d say that if you can ride a bike, then you can do this tour. I thought the coffee factory was a bit too “touristy” but it was a welcome stop since I was starving and the cafe had delicious empanadas. And I’m not sure if this is my own fault for not bringing a snack, but I think that a quick lunch stop ought to be weaved into the tour. By the time I got my hands on an empanada, it was around 14h…and the tour started at 10:30.
For those wishing to do a bicycle tour, based on my experience I do recommend going with Bogotravel, preferably before you explore the city on your own. I also recommend bringing the following with you: a snack, a bottle of water, sunglasses, a rain coat (the weather in Bogota is unpredictable), comfortable trousers, sneakers/trainers, a camera, and your cycling legs.
Note: Bogotravel Tours offered me this cycling tour free of charge in exchange for a post about the tour. The opinions presented here are entirely my own. ie If I hated the tour I would’ve said so.