25 Reasons Why I Love Bogotá

About four months into living in another country is when one allegedly hits that first real “low” of culture shock. It takes different forms and manifests in various ways for different people, of course — I’m overall a pretty upbeat, cheerful person, so anytime I don’t feel like hugging half the city is a warning sign for me. Luckily, this is fairly uncommon, and I usually just blame my bad-mood days on the rain, PMS, a painfully crowded bus or the fact that I cannot get my sixth-graders to shut up for two minutes, for the love of god.

Personally, I have yet to really hit that all-out valley of crap feelings — and, barring some sort of traumatic event, I’m not entirely sure I ever will, at least not completely. It’s barely been five months, and I already feel so at home here, in so many ways. The difference between how I feel at five months in Bogotá (blissfully happy) and how I felt at five months during study abroad in Buenos Aires (oh my god get me on a plane I miss baseball season and walking down the street without people saying creepy shit to me more than anything in the world) is just astronomical. I know this is blasphemy and everyone loves Buenos Aires and yay you can totally function there without even really speaking Spanish and blah blah blah etc., but all I can speak for is my own experience. While I’d love to go back and visit all of the parts of Argentina I didn’t get a chance to see the first time, I don’t think I’ll ever be tempted to live there again. The way I feel here right now, they’ll be dragging me out of Colombia kicking and screaming in December, if I end up leaving at all.

But back to the culture shock for a minute. Last weekend I was talking with a few friends about how a lot of us volunteers — who all arrived here at the beginning of January —  are probably going through similar low points around the same time. Living abroad, it’s even easier to feel isolated than it is at home; or to think you’re the only one feeling the way you are; or feeling a lot of pressure to keep up a happy facade, whether it’s for friends and family or because everyone else seems happy and you don’t want to be the only Debbie Downer of the group. This is normal, but it’s not positive. We all have bad days, but we also all have reasons why we came here, and reasons why we haven’t left yet. And those bad days are the times when it’s most important to remember those reasons.

One of my friends already wrote a very entertaining blog post about some of her favorite things in Colombia, and another excellent gringa blogger in Colombia has a really delightful list of reasons to love Bogotá. Encouraged by these ladies’ efforts, I want to toss my own hat into the ring. You can call it copying — I call it inspiration. Everyone else is talking about what they love about Colombia, and I just don’t want to be left out!

just, you know, about 40% of the time

See? It doesn’t rain ALL the time!

So, ladies and gents, in what I expect may be somewhat of a continuing series:

25 Things That Make Me Never Want To Leave Bogotá

1. No matter where I am in the city, I can see mountains. It is impossible to overstate how beneficial this is to my mental and emotional health.

2. It is totally socially acceptable for adults to walk around eating all kinds of sugary treats.

3. People stop to help other people change their flat tires. In the middle of the street. At 11:30 at night.

4. Crepes & Waffles. Oh my god, Crepes & Waffles.

5. At most tiendas (and grocery stores), a beer costs about US$1.

6. Random people at bars will buy you a beer, invite you to join them at their table and talk to you like they’ve known you for years.

7. Everyone has a finca outside the city. And they all want you to visit. You could spend months just finca-hopping every weekend.

8. Walks of shame do not visibly exist here (or are at least extremely covert), because tons of women are normally walking around in dresses and heels on weekend mornings.

9. People drink hot chocolate at breakfast and dinner.

10. Colombians will invite you to their birthday parties after knowing you for exactly two hours — or to their weddings after two months.

11. You can buy a cup of strong, dark coffee on pretty much any street corner in the city, for about 25 cents.

12. Also lollipops, if you’re into that.

13. When the guy at my favorite local bakery calls me “amor,” it actually does make me feel just a little more loved.

14. There are dogs everywhere. Everywhere. And they are beautiful.

15. Passengers on crowded buses will happily pass bus fare and change back and forth between fellow passengers and the driver.

16. The cops posted at every TransMilenio station are basically unofficial travel agents in flourescent jackets. The only things I’ve ever seen them do are text, give people directions and occasionally ask random people for identification if they’re feeling especially bored.

17. People keep their horses in the strangest, most surprising places. Like the field next to the Éxito on my walk home from school. Or their back yards.

18. Eggs are fresh, delicious, cheap and probably came from the chicken strolling down the sidewalk outside the store.

19. Reading is considered a worthwhile and normal use of personal time.

20. They have beer towers in more than a few bars. I missed you, college.

21. If you’re an hour late arriving somewhere, it is perfectly acceptable to blame it on the traffic, even if it’s not true. Everyone will understand.

22. Sundays are exactly the way Sundays should be: lazy, quiet, with empty offices and full bike paths and cafés. You can even get away with walking around in sweatpants on Sundays.

23. There is some sort of holiday almost every week. Most of them are celebrated on multiple days, and they often involve presents.

24. For some reason, stilts are really popular here. At almost any kind of large public event, there are guaranteed to be people on stilts. I think I’ve seen more stilts in my five months here than the rest of my life prior to this year.

25. Teenagers are not too embarrassed to be seen in public with their parents. Sometimes they even hug them.

#26: Chocolate-covered strawberries. They have stores specifically for these treats. I’m never leaving.

24 thoughts on “25 Reasons Why I Love Bogotá

  1. You’re so funny, I love so many of these things. Police officers doing nothing but flirting, texting and studying the Transmilenio map amuse me too – especially the slightly furtive way they wish you ‘Good Morning’ as you dash past. But I was also interested in your BA experiences, I thought about living there too but couldn’t handle it – Bogota is too easy, too polite, too friendly when you compare it to BA where I thought everything was a battle, a fight, an effort… I wrote this (http://bananaskinflipflops.com/2012/03/21/pride-and-prejudice-dancing-with-the-devil-in-buenos-aires/) at the time – forgive the spam, just so happy I’m not the only one in the love-it-but-couldn’t-live-in-it BA camp!

    • They always say it at the very last second, so you have to turn around to say “Buenos días” back and not be rude! Silly cops with poor timing.

      I totally agree with your feelings about BA — it’s a beautiful, cosmopolitan city with tons of stuff to do and some really awesome people, but it is a LOT of effort, and it just never seemed to have the same warmth that exists here. At the same time, I feel like it’s so easy to be a foreigner there — it’s more of a battle here, but in a good way. There’s such a big expat community there that, as a foreigner, it’s easy to stay in that group and never have to really confront the reality of living in another country without that safety blanket. Here, we’re few and far between, so we have to work that much harder to assimilate, but it’s SO worth it. For me, BsAs could be a fantastic vacation spot, but Bogotá can be home.

      • Yeah, although the scary thing about mostly being with Colombians is that you become Colombian… which is not a bad thing, except on Monday for the first time in forever I was with about 15 English people (Euro football) and it took me AGES to figure out the humour, which doesn’t bear well for my first trip home in two years this summer! Must remember to be sharp and banter without smiling!

    • As a vegetarian, I’m sadly unable to enjoy most of the empanada options here, so that got left out based on personal bias. But you’re spot-on about the ají — that’s an embarrassing oversight, since ají is outrageously delicious. It’ll be #1 on my next list.

      And don’t worry, the city will still be here when you decide to visit again, so try not to miss it too much in the meantime!

  2. Hola. I am thinking about moving to Bogota. I have been there already. I am wondering if you expats get together. I would like to meet up with some expats when I am there in July for lunch or a beer. Is this possible? Thanks. Stan

    • Hi Stan,
      I obviously can’t speak for the entire expat community in Bogotá, but I would definitely say that there are good resources for meeting up with people if you want to. I certainly spend a fair amount of time hanging out with other volunteers from my program, and I know that there are a good number of other American and British transplants around here. Afar.com and the Internations Bogotá group are both good online resources to find people living or traveling here, and I’m sure many of them would be happy to meet up. When in July are you visiting?

      • Hi Natalie. Thanks for getting back to me. We will be there on July 6 and be coming home July 15. I will check out the two organizations that you gave me on the post. I hope to check out various neighborhoods while I am there and try to figure out, should we decide to move to Bogota, where exactly to live. I am reading the other blogs which are also very interesting. Stay well. Maybe we will see each other in Bogota. Nos vemos. Stan

      • well, I would probably add something in relation to little “essentials” like a full professional hairstyle for US$10 or less for women (most female friends in Bogota go to the beauty saloon every week). Another one I like is how people look after their teeth… after lunch in every office there is a queue in the toilet of people brushing their teeth. Everyone seems to have a nice smile 🙂

  3. Your post is so astute. I have been in Bogota for a little less than three weeks now, but have had little luck meeting people. Yes, I had locked myself in a friend’s house doing job applications, but now that I finished and have a job I can’t wait to get out of the house. However, now it feels like ok where am I going exactly myself? I was here in December so I’ve done just about all the tourist stuff. Now since I will be living here for some time it would be great to know where are some good places to go and meet people, that will be in Bogota more than 2 weeks (other than Andres Carne) :). Do you have any suggestions? I am a friendly positive person too, but my Spanish is basically non-existent (learning is a process) which makes me pretty shy when approaching people. One thing I do know is smile… Thanks Alix

  4. Hi. Really enjoyed this post. I have recently moved to Bogota (less than 3 weeks ago). I have locked myself in my friend’s house until 2 days ago when I finally got a job (yeah!). Now I am ready and able to go out of the house and meet people, but I don’t really know where to go (other than Andres Carne). I am a friendly positive person, but with minimal Spanish I become a bit shy when approaching a bunch of people. Smiling is clutch, I know, and I know the various neighborhoods, but when going myself I would appreciate knowing specific places or ways to meet some people. I will be living in Bogota for at least a year starting June 1st. 🙂 Thanks Alix

    • Congratulations on the job and welcome to Bogotá! It’s an awesome, fun, exciting city, but I can absolutely see how it can be intimidating at first. I’d say the best thing to do is to just try to find groups of people doing what you’re interested in — a friend of mine made lots of Colombian friends by joining a rugby team, for example. Couchsurfing has tons of groups of people who play sports, go to theater or just meet up to have coffee, so that would probably be a good place to start — and lots of them just want to make friends! There are also tons of events and groups catering to international folks and expats. InterNations is a website for expats that organizes monthly events and has clubs, and if you haven’t heard of Gringo Tuesdays yet, you haven’t been talking to the right people. It’s a language exchange that happens at a Zona Rosa bar every Tuesday, and it’s gotten really popular in the last year or so. Tons of people come to practice all different languages, so that would be a great place for you to go, especially if you’re shy about your Spanish, because they have everything from beginner to advanced level (and tables for English learners if you’re too nervous for español!). It’s mostly people who live here, and lots of them are interested in learning English. I’ve met some awesome people there, so definitely check that out if you’re looking to make more friends and practice Spanish.

      Hope these help — there are tons of great people here, but it can be super intimidating when you first arrive. Good luck with everything, and I hope you end up liking Bogotá as much as I do!

  5. This is a great list! I especially love adults walking around eating candy- so true! And buying gum for cien pesos on the street. I’m getting excited to move from the country to the city 🙂

    • There are definitely lots of advantages to city living… mostly the carts selling everything, everywhere. Focus on that and ignore the traffic and you’ll be great!

  6. Loved your post…such helpful info…I noticed your tag “a year without peanut butter’ Im going to assume Colombia is like Brazil in the PB department! Hard to find and expensive if you do happen upon it!
    Do you know anything about hiring house maids/nannies? Is it affordable or is it weighed down in bureaucracy like Brazil. We may be moving to Bogota in the near future and Im trying to get some legwork done beforehand. And a long shot question, but I thought I would ask since I see you are a teacher….do you know of any schools for physically handicapped children? I see some things on google but most of it is coming up in Spanish. thanks for any help you can give me!

  7. Ah this was o good to read, I’m heading to Bogota in January and if I wasn’t sold before the excessive amount of hot chocolate has totally done it for me! Can’t wait now!

  8. Pingback: 15 Free Things to Do in Bogotá | a year without peanut butter

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