Bogotá never stood a chance. With all the Colombian marvels that had preceded it over the previous two months, the city that not a single person had anything positive to say about was always going to struggle to live up to the rest of the country’s experiences. Infamous for its terrible weather, horrendous traffic, and the worst reputation for crime in a country where safety is more than a mild concern for locals and visitors alike, Bogotá never stood a chance. So I didn’t give it one. Rather than attempt to engineer artificial enjoyment out of the city and risk leaving the country on a low note, I decided to place Bogotá’s fate in the hands of its inhabitants.

Having met Karen at a Couchsurfing social event in Medellín two weeks previously, I was pleasantly surprised to receive an invitation to stay with her and her family in Bogotá for my first two nights there, and have the honour of being her first ever Couchsurfer. An hour later, another couch offer from another host with an interesting profile, for my final night in Colombia. Rounding off a high octane day of social agenda bookings was confirmation of a lunch beer date with Julian, an old friend from Costa Rica I first met on a holiday to Croatia in 2007 and had seen sporadically across various European capitals over the intervening years. Suddenly Bogotá was shaping up very nicely, and an unexpected doubt entered my mind: was I even going to have enough time in the city?

For all the excitement of constantly being on the move, of discovering wonderful destinations on an almost daily basis, and meeting inspirational new people on every street corner, sometimes all a long term solo traveller craves is a very simple injection of normality and everyday life. The afternoon spent supermarket shopping with Karen, and the consequent evening cooking dinner together for her parents and grandmother will live long in my memory as a welcome and fun antidote to a hectic lifestyle of living permanently out of a backpack. Burrata and a bottle of Chianti will always win over tinned tuna and hostel bathroom tap water, in any case…

It’s always harder to impress a grandmother when cooking…

Encouraged by this unexpectedly positive start, the Colombian capital grew in confidence and boldly threw its three home bankers at me in quick succession: the impressive cityscape panorama viewed from the top of Montserrate’s 3,152m peak, the very literally dazzling Museum of Gold, and the quite stunning Distrito Graffiti street art neighbourhood, all combined to make me suspect there may be more to Bogotá than I initially presumed, and possibly even regret staying only three nights. A great catch up with Julian was followed by another fun Couchsurfing evening mixing locals and passing travellers, and my very last night in Colombia was spent having another dinner party and evening of card games with friends both new and old.

Well hello, Bogotá, aren’t you prettier than I expected?

Couchsurfing – create your own social life as you travel

As a torrential downpour and hailstorm doubled the duration of my taxi journey to the airport, I was almost grateful for the extra time allowed for reflection, on my experience in Bogotá and Colombia in general. As sad as I am to leave, I cannot have one single regret about my time in the country: it has been nothing short of incredible from the second I set foot in Cartagena, to my very last hour spent visiting Bogotá’s street art district.

Aside from my first long trip more than twenty years ago, when I travelled the length and breadth of Australia with the youthful/naive/immature/idiotic exuberance of a novice backpacker, the two months I have spent in Colombia amount to the longest period of time I have ever spent in any one country for leisure. That I strongly feel as though I am leaving with much unfinished business left to complete speaks volumes for the mark this country has made on me, and the riches it has on offer. I have no doubt that I will come back, to see the rest of this magnificent land, and perhaps even spend a few more days in its capital. El Dorado the man, city, kingdom, or empire may have only been a myth, but Colombia has truly set the gold standard for the rest of this adventure.

The Museum of Gold – enough bling to make old conquistadors turn in their graves

Distrito Graffiti – an entire industrial neighbourhood of street art paradise

Beers with Julian in Dubrovnik, Brussels, London, Bogotá. Next stop: Qatar World Cup 2022…

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