Are you picturing an underhand drug deal and street gangs at the mere thought of Colombia? Bogota can be a little on the shady side, though the vast majority of the illicit activity takes place out of town and away from the eyes of the authorities, leaving the capital bubbly and culture heavy, if a place to be careful where you hang out after dark.
Sat at 2,600 metres above sea level and surrounded by numerous myths and legends (for example, the civilizing God Bochica is said to have taught the inhabitants moral standards), Bogota was also once a major hub in gold trading, as well as – like most of South America – enduring long periods of Spanish colonialism before winning independence. The Spanish influences still shine through in the town’s older architecture.
There are plenty of quirky attractions to be enjoyed, such as the Cathedral of Salt, a striking and artistic take on Christ’s journey to the cross, or the Gold Museum, where you’ll find tales of ancient rituals and abundant artefacts that tell of times when real gold (not white gold) was the best way to make money. If you prefer natural attractions, you can get an overview of the already soaring city by heading up to the Monserrate Hill, which provides an all encompassing panorama of the city and the neighbouring countryside, or head an hour outside the city to the Laguna de Guatavita, a small national park set on a lake, where the soaring mountain provide an intense backdrop.
The capital itself, though, is an increasingly refined proposition, and – being at the very heart of Columbia – a useful launching pad for those intending to explore more widely. The open squares, aging architecture and dubious reputation have all been given a notable spring clean over the past few years, and while it’s still not the safest place you’ll ever visit (soak up the city’s pulsing nightlife with plenty of care), Bogota is the soul of Columbia, which is enough reason in itself to drop by.