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Bogota

Bogota looks like it wants to be a capital but doesn’t really fool anyone. It’s a wide, sweeping kind of place with forested hills rising above the city and is way too big to negotiate on foot. The people here are as bright and positive as elsewhere though some Colombians find the Bogotanos a little dry and superior.

This city is divided into two main zones, south and north and you can figure out where you are by counting the streets. The south is definitely dangerous for a gringo and you don’t want to be wandering around below calle 19 or so. South of this point are the slums and poor barrios with every kind of scam imaginable.

Good people live there of course but it only needs a few thugs with a knife to change the way you feel about Colombia forever. You could go into these areas with a guide or a friend who lived there but still it would be better to do so by day.

All the hostels are dotted around the historic district, La Candelaria. This is a fun place to walk around and people-watch but watch out for the numerous con-artists working the few tourists that there are. Common tricks include:

Pretending to be policemen who demand to see your passports and then ‘fining’ you for not having applied for some non-existent form.

One person may spill something on your clothes while his partner rifles your pockets from the other side.

Offering you exclusive deals on emeralds that only you, as a Westerner, will be able to take through customs.

Tell these crooks to stuff it and walk away with a purpose.

Apart from the Candelaria you don’t really want to be wandering around the streets until you hit around calle 60. From thereon the neighbourhoods get richer and thus safer. There are private security guards around and the police regularly patrol the streets. Here you can find malls and cinemas and also the fancy night spots around calle 80. There are a fair number of strip clubs too which are anthropologically interesting but you’ll fall over when you see the drinks bill.