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Bogota

Introduction: Bogota, Colombia's capital and largest city, is a thriving economic and cultural metropolis, located in the center of the country at an altitude of 2600 meters above sea level. At 9 million people, it vastly outnumbers its northwestern neighbor Medellin, at 3.5 million, and its southwestern neighbor Cali, at 3.2 million. These three cities form a triangular core of Colombia geographically. While it is often maligned for violence and its cold and wet weather, those who take the time to get to know the city will be pleasantly surprised. Indeed tourism is booming in Bogota, and the rest of the country as well.

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Orientation and Location: Bogota is located in the geographic center of Colombia, sandwiched between the Eastern Cordillera of the Andes and the Bogota River. Visitors to Bogota will find it a very easy city to navigate if they are familiar with Manhattan's street layout. Similarly, avenues run north to south, and the numbers increase heading westward, while streets run east to west, and the numbers increase heading northward. Bogota is ringed by lush emerald hills, and delights visitors with its perpetual greenery. It's geographic size can be overwhelming, with enormous neighborhoods stretching out to the west, north, and south of the city's downtown. Most visitors will find themselves in the eastern part of the city.

How to Get There: Bogota, in addition to being the governmental, economic, and cultural capital, is also the transportation capital. The majority of international tourists arrive here to Bogota's El Dorado International Airport, located west of the city's downtown along Calle 26.

If you're flying into Bogota, a taxi to the area between la Candelaria/El Chorro/El Centro and Chapinero/Zona Rosa/Parque 93 should cost between $15.000 and $25.000. Remember that Bogota has its own taxi price system: First of all, make sure your taxi driver starts el taximetro, a small box on the dashboard that begins at 25 and increases with time and distance. At the end of your trip, locate the "carta de precios", or price list, to find the cost of your taxi ride, then add the required $3.500 additional charge for rides to or from the airport. Some taxi drivers may not have a visible carta de precios or may become angry if you ask to see it, but they are required to show it to you by law. Remember that while most taxi drivers in Colombia are honest, some may try to take advantage of you if you are a foreigner, and especially if you do not speak good Spanish.

International flights to Bogota from the United States, Canda, Australia, and Europe vary depending upon numerous factors, including the season (high or low), the price of aviation fuel, and (of course) supply and demand. From the United States to Bogota, round trip, expect to pay anywhere from $450 to $850 for a round trip flight. Flights from the East Coast, and especially Miami, Orlando, and Fort Lauderdale, tend to be quite a bit cheaper.

If you're arriving into Bogota at "la Terminal", Bogota's main bus terminal, a taxi should cost roughly the same. There is frequent and fairly cheap bus service from Bogota to virtually anywhere in the entire country. Buses to Cali and Medellin typically take around 10 hours and cost between $50.000 and $60.000. Buses to the coastal cities of Cartagena, Santa Marta, and Barranquilla take about 20, 22, and 24 hours respectively, and cost around $100.000 to $140.000.

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What to See: The heart of Bogota is the Candelaria. Looking eastward through the neighborhoods's historic buildings, you'll see the vast Eastern Cordillera of the Andes. The Candelaria's quaint architecture, good food, and cheap bars have been enthralling tourists and visitors for years. The Candelaria also is where you'll find most of the country's greatest universities, inlcuding the famed Universidad de los Andes. Colombia is the quintessential rich ethnic tapestry of Latin America, with its strong Afro-Colombian, indigenous, and European influences. The Candelaria, with its large and vibrant artistic community, is famed for its murals and graffiti.

The Chorro de Quevedo is located on the southern end of the Candelaria, and is its cultural center. In fact, the cathedral was the site of the city's founding. Connecting the two neighborhoods is the Callejon del Embudo, a lovely cobblestoned street where you will find great places to try typical Colombian food, buy souvenirs, or listen to live music. Check out the Gato Negro for its live jazz several nights a week. And make sure to try some chicha, a sweet beverage made from fermented corn.

Avenida Jimenez runs east to west through the centro, and is the downtown's main artery. Here you'll find Mueso de Oro, la Iglesia San Francisco, and the government building for the department of Cundinamarca. One of the busiest intersections in the city is where la Septima (7th Avenue) and Avenida Jimenez meet. Protests of a national level in Colombia invariably start on la Septima (7th Avenue) and head south towards the Plaza de Bolivar, where Colombia's Senate, Congress, Supreme Court, and presidential residence (La Casa de Narino) are located.

Monserrate, at 3200 meters above sea level, towers 600 meters over the city, and is one of the city's most famous landmarks. Bogota is renowned for its cloudy and foggy weather, although outside of the rainy season (Spring and Fall), its weather is much more agreeable. For $15.000 round trip, you can take a cable car (teleferico) to the top, or the intrepid can walk up a path that has recently been rehabilitated. Monserrate, in addition to the Cathedral, has an elaborate stations of the cross pathway. Each station includes an elaborate sculpture depicting the last days of Christ. Close to the entrance to Monserrate, you can also visit la Quinta de Bolivar, where the hero of South American independence Simon Bolivar resided.

Heading north from the centro, you'll find the fabulous Museo Nacional. Each floor houses a collection of a different time period: the first floor is Precolumbian, the second colonial, and the third modern. Behind the Museo Nacional you'll find one of the best neighborhoods in the city: the delightful Macarena, with some of the best restaurants in the city.

The North of Bogota has a very glitzy feel compared to downtown and the South. It is the greatest example of Colombia's economic boom, with skyscrapers and ritzy condominium projects springing up all over the place. Here you'll find the city's financial center on Calle 72, the entertainment center, centered around the Zona Rosa/Calle 82/Parque 93 area, and the rapidly up and coming neighborhood of Usaquen, which features some of the trendiest cafes, restaurants, shops, bars, and hangout spots in Colombia. Northern Bogota has assumed a characteristic brick look in its buildings, and stretches more than 200 blocks from downtown to the city's northern border with Cundinamarca.

Just south of Bogota's entertainment center the Zona Rosa/Zona T/Calle 82, you'll find a quaint old cathedral on la 11, overshadowed by a modern office highrise. This is characteristic of the pace of urban development in Bogota, which has seen incredibly fast growth as millions of Colombians fled the countryside during the peak of Colombia's Civil War. The FARC has been largely marginalized in recent years, and the government is now pursuing peace talks with them.

Fernando Botero, perhaps Colombia's finest artist, is famous for his unique style of representing animate objects. Though Botero is originally from Medellin, the Botero Museum, which offers free admission to Colombians and foreigners alike, is located in downtown Bogota.

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Ambience: Bogota offers up something for everyone, except those looking for warm, sunny weather. It's size and population are daunting, and it has emerged as not only a national capital, but a regional one as well, with a vibrant international community, particularly populated by Venezuelans and Ecuadorians.

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