April 17, 2014 – April 20, 2014
After our unpleasant experience on Monserrate, we were left uncertain as to whether we liked Bogota and whether we even wanted to stay. We did decide to stay however, and gave the city a second chance, vowing this time to avoid any unreasonably dense crowds. On our walk home from dinner at the Bogota Beer Company on Good Friday, we came across a Good Friday religious procession consisting of perhaps seventy people. We enjoyed the smell of the incense, and were bemused by the sight of a transparent coffin raised overhead, carrying a likeness of dead Jesus.
In the days after Monserrate we discovered that Bogota does have many worthwhile places to see, and redeeming qualities. In particular Bogota is known for its museums, many of which are free or free on certain days.
Museo Botero – The Fernando Botero Art Museum – Free Museum
Fernando Botero (born 1932) is Colombia’s most famous painter and sculptor, known for his portraits of disproportionate subjects. Most notably large undressed or semi dressed men and women. Some people love them and some hate them, I just thought they were comical and snapped a few pics. Botero statues can be seen in many cities throughout Colombia.
City of Zipaquira, and the Salt Cathedral
On Saturday we took a half hour long ride on Bogota’s Transmilenio subway like bus system and a second hour long intercity bus ride to the city of Zipaquira, north of Bogota. On a low hill over looking the small town of Zipaquira the famous Salt Cathedral can be found. The self proclaimed premier attraction in Colombia. A short hike partway up the hill will take you to the entrance, which is just a large hole dug right into the side of the hill. A long walk down the sloping and quite dark mine entrance will take you deep underground into a salt mine. The hillside is actually just the top of a massive underground pillar of salt that has produced salt since long before the Spanish arrived in South America. The ancient Pre-Columbian Muisca culture noticed that salt could be found in the streams draining from the hill. When the Spanish arrived, early mine shafts were drilled into the mountain. In the 1930’s the mine was expanded more and the miners set up a modest sanctuary underground where they could pray each day before their days work. The sanctuary was expanded over the years but had to be abandoned for structural safety reasons in the 1990’s. The current Salt Cathedral is a modern reconstruction of the original and is quite beautiful.
We descended with a horde of tourists and our Spanish tour guide but quickly abandoned the tour in favor of exploring without the crowds, highly recommended unless you speak Spanish and/or don’t mind peering through large groups of people.
Museo de Oro
On Easter Sunday, our last day in Bogota, we went to check out the Museo de Oro. It is situated conveniently right downtown near the financial district and is free to tour on Sundays. This modern museum is filled to the brim with traditional ceremonial gold pieces from the various Pre-Columbian cultures which once existed in South America. These pieces were either saved from being melted down by the Spanish Conquistadors or discovered at various archeological sites long after the Spanish gold rushes had ended.
We slowly toured many rooms filled with artifacts on the first floor.
There are however four floors and we found ourselves walking faster and faster through the rooms in order to get through the tremendous number of pieces that the museum has collected. You will not see just a handful of gold artifacts here but instead a dazzling collection of tens or even hundreds of thousands of beautifully handcrafted pieces of art. The Museo de Oro turned out to be one of our favorite museums on this trip, and one of the best that we have ever visited.
Bogota – Our impressions
Bogota was our least favorite destination so far. Though under different circumstances it could have been much better, and we will not label it a terrible place by any means. Although if you have only a limited amount of time in Colombia and don’t have a specific reason to visit the city, we would recommend skipping Bogota or limiting your time there in favor of a half dozen other much more inviting places. While Bogota does have many redeeming qualities, it did not make it onto our list of places we would love to re-visit someday.