First thing I noticed in the taxi was the guards with assault rifles at most nice places. At one pawn shop near the airport I actually saw my favorite shotgun. The Remington, all stainless steel, marine shottie. What a beauty but holy fuck I thought to myself, what have I gotten myself into.
How’d I get here? Let me tell you.
There’s never been a better time to travel in the age of COVID. Sounds counterintuitive but airports are uncrowded, and flights are cheap, as are places to stay. So why not?
Like many people, the pandemic has made me think about living differently.
So I got rid of my New York apartment, sold my house in Puerto Rico (was too big for just me and a lot of work). I bought a place on the beach in Miami and decided to travel this year. And when I say travel I’m not talking about a week’s vacation. I mean hardcore travel.
Some people are afraid or say it’s too risky. My answer? Life is WAY too short to bunker down for a year and not live it fully. So off I went!
The top of my bucket list:
- Greek Islands
- New Zealand
Bogota wasn’t at the top of the list but it WAS on the list regardless. And it was an easy take-down for me as it is a quick striking distance from Miami.
I’ve been fortunate to grow up with an adventurous family who encouraged travel. To me, travel is an incredible mind opener. Far fewer wars would be fought if more people traveled and embraced cultural diversity.
I booked a business class ticket with a lay-flat seat for under $300 direct to Bogota. I booked an Airbnb spent 10 days in a neighborhood called Chico.
Note: I prefer Airbnb for a few reasons. Autonomy (nobody in my business or knocking on the door every minute), more space, and I can do my own laundry. I usually book a large place so I can have friends and family join me.
Most countries (including the U.S.) will require a negative PCR test on entry. Plan in advance as some testing centers have a delay of up to 96 hours for your results.
Testing has turned into a big business and COVID tests are readily available with most offering same-day results. Most international airports I’ve been to this year, including Serbia, have testing facilities onsite.
Colombia requires a negative test on entry, which I had on me. The customs line was short. I showed my test on my iPhone screen, was stamped in, and was on my way in less than 15 minutes.
Uber also works great in Bogota. Even though it’s technically illegal it still thrives. (Also a nod to the still aggressive culture embedded in the DNA of Uber as a company.) The only issue is that most drivers will ask you to ride upfront to avoid any police stops.
A taxi or Uber ride from the airport to downtown should only cost you around $10. Avoid the “official-looking” yellow jacketed taxi people inside the airport as they will charge you $50.
Changing money is easy. I swapped $200 at the official currency exchange booth (not the private ones). But to be honest, getting money at the ATM machines is preferred and you typically get a better rate. I haven’t been to a country in which I wasn’t able to pull money from an ATM.
Want a quick hack to find the nicer part of town where you’re less likely to get mugged? Just Google the location of shops like Apple, Rolex, Panerai… you get the idea. If these stores are set up in the hood then you know you can safely book an apartment nearby and walk at night with relative safety.
Packing Travel Tips
Ok, let’s talk about packing for a minute. Now I realize I’m a guy so this will mostly apply to the men out there but, there are some items I have on my must-have travel pack list that are worth taking for everyone.
I don’t go anywhere without the following:
- Bose micro speaker. (I love working to music and this speaker is super durable and goes with me everywhere.)
- High lumens flashlight (1,000 minimum). I carry this at night for self-defense. Its police strength brightness often scares the crap out of someone by itself. It’s airport safe and comes in handy as a flashlight.
- Dopp kit. I have tried dozens and the best, most compact, and my favorite is the Tanner Goods waxed cotton OD green kit. It’s incredible and just gets better with age.
- Patagonia carry-on Black Hole 40L roller bag. I’ve tried the fancy rollers but Patagonia is one of the best because the large chunky wheels will roll on cobblestone. Good luck with your fancy Rimowa or LV roller on rough streets. Patagonia is one of the best and I’ve tried most of them.
- Crye AVS 1000 Backpack. I like a small compact backpack. Currently, I use the Crye because it’s super compact and functional. I’ve tried a dozen packs but this one is a favorite.
- Two pairs of shoes and flip-flops. I carry a pair of dressier boots, Nike’s, and a good pair of sandals to let the dogs breathe after a long day of walking.
- Sunglasses. I am a glass snob but functionality and comfort go above all else. I carry two pairs. A cheap pair of Arnette’s and a nice pair of Persol’s.
- A small first aid kit that fits in my Dopp kit.
- Multi-function rain jacket/windbreaker. I use a lightweight Arc’teryx.
- Workout band. I have a high-strength band that I can drop on a doorknob and do rows, curls, tricep pulldowns, and much more. It’s an amazing workout. What one band can do!!!
There’s more I take but these are my essentials, I can live out of this roller bag and backpack for months without sacrifice. On to Bogota.
I’d recommend staying near or in Chico.
Bogota is almost two miles above water, which’s double the altitude of Denver. The high elevation means cooler temps. This was somewhat of a surprise for me because I thought it would be low and hot. But it’s quite the opposite and this lends to the city’s charm. You can often see incredible mountainous cloud formations come and go. Be prepared for a little rain. I prefer a raincoat to an umbrella… what real man uses an umbrella!? Sorry gents but real men use a raincoat. Who agrees?!
A bit of history.
Current population 7+ million.
Main exports: lowers, medicines, and coffee.
The Spanish established the city in 1538. It is the cultural center of Colombia and gives more of a taste of true Colombian urban living. Whereas, in comparison, coastal Cartegena is a hot vacation spot for foreigners and Colombians. This was one reason I was looking forward to Bogota because it would be a good taste of what it was to live like a local.
My Time In Bogota
Initially, a few things that struck me, aside from the high elevation, was the beautiful architecture, thriving local food, and coffee scene. There was colonial as well modern architecture from Juvenal Moya, Aníbal Moreno, Germán Samper and Rogelio Salmona.
I stayed in a beautiful brick building overlooking the city for around $500 for two weeks. Not a bad deal for a two-bedroom doorman building!
Ordering food was easy using Rappi, a Latin American food app. I ordered beer and groceries from the app. And everything was delivered to my door with ease in minutes. Gotta love technology when it works!
There were some incredible options for dining out. The Italian Cacio & Pepe restaurant was a favorite. Most dinners were $20-3o for an incredible meal. I spent up one night and with a nine-course meal with wine, it was still just over $100 for me and my date.
I’m on a T-mobile global plan for under $100 a month. Sometimes I plus up to high-speed data but normally I’m ok because free WiFi is ubiquitous outside of the U.S.
I took daily walks to and from my Spanish classes — I found a local in-person teacher on iTalki — in the surrounding neighborhood and felt safe the entire time.
Dating and Dining
There is no shortage of young professional women who are single and dying to meet a foreigner. I’m not sure what the official guy to gal ratio is but I’d rate it in our favor 100 percent. Target rich is an understatement! All the usual dating apps work. I’d recommend Tinder and Bumble as the top ones.
Tinder has survived as the largest global dating app out there in my opinion. EVERY country I’ve been to has an active social scene on the app.
Coffee is definitely a thing in Colombia and there is no shortage of incredible local cafes.
The best meal I had in the city (and all year) was at El Cielo, which serves up incredible local cuisine with a twist.
But the best coffee I had was at Cafe Cultor.
Most museums are free in Latin America. The best local museum for art in Bogota is the National Museum of Colombia.
A MUST-see, even if you only have a few days, is the top of Monserrate for the incredible views of the city below.
I would highly recommend a visit to Bogota as the international airport is easy to reach from most major destinations in America, Canada, and Europe.
Note: I loved Narcos Colombia as much as the next person but mentioning this to Colombians is like them painting American culture with brushstrokes of Real Housewives of Jersey Shore. You get the idea… So keep your love of Narcos to yourself and don’t mention it that it’s still likely the #1 supplier of Coke fueled parties of New York. To the contrary, Colombia is full of rich history and culture and the last thing locals want to hear is this.
Also, the city is fairly safe despite the armed guards. You can see this in most cities I’ve traveled to. A few friends were concerned about the danger but I can tell you from my many travels, that you can find danger in EVERY city, New York especially! So just be a smart and respectful traveler and you’ll have no problems in Colombia.
When I come back to this beautiful country I plan to visit Medellín, the second-largest city. I hope you enjoyed these travel tips. If you’ve been to Colombia please share your comments and tips in the comments below!