Tag: Colombia


by Alex on Jul.06, 2010, under Blog

I’ve heard a few explosions since being in our new(ish) flat. I’ve never worried that they might be bombs and the lack of any subsequent siren action has suggested that they were indeed something other than bombs.

Hearing two bangs in quick succession this afternoon, I thought nothing of it, after all from the not unusual noises one hears ’round here it seems that letting off fireworks is not infrequent… Ten minutes later in my local shop I asked Ángel, the owner, what all the police were doing – he told me that they were looking for a criminal. I asked him about the bangs and he said that indeed they had been gunshots. Apparently the police had fired (into the air), presumably to frighten the guy. To be fair if anyone fired a shot near me I’d run like shit, cops or otherwise!

The mental thing is that about 2 blocks from here is a massive police complex with plenty of guys outside sporting automatic weaponry, not the place to do crime, by any means.

Still, I guess it’s better than worse, definitely a safe part of town to live in…

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Parque Natural Chicaque

by Alex on Jun.22, 2010, under Blog, What to do in Bogotá

Parque Natural Chicaque is a cloud forest reserve to the south west of Bogotá. It is visitable from central Bogotá in one (long) day but it’s probably best to stay there for a night, or two.

View from park entrance:


Its website tells of 18 km of footpaths through seven types of forest and more than 300 species of birds and 20 of mammals.


Accommodation is available at the refuge (right) or in nearby cabañas, both options including breakfast, lunch and dinner. Camping at the refuge camp site includes the three meals as well as use of the refuge’s toilets, showers etc. You can also camp near the park entrance, no food is available there so bring cooking stuff.


The refuge has a large circular dining room with balcony with stunning views (left) of the valley of San Antonio de Tequendama, the large fireplace in the middle providing for a cosy evening after a day of exercise and general naturey stuff.

To get there by public transport from Bogotá, take the Transmilenio to the Portal Sur (1,600 COP) and from there take a bus west along the autopista to Soacha (1,300 – 1,350 COP). If you can, get a bus to El Parque de Soacha and get off the bus at El Parque (an obvious central plaza type place), other buses pass Soacha on the autopista, ask someone to tell you where to get off and walk the 3-4 blocks from the autopista to El Parque. I’ve heard that in the mornings you can find cars that will take you from El Parque to Chicaque for 10,000 – 15,000 COP. The other option is to walk two blocks south from El Parque to a small roundabout from where you can get buses that pass the entrance road to Chicaque. Buses to Apulo, Anapoima, La Mesa, Mondoñedo and Funza all pass the park entrance road. Your best bet is to stop any bus that passes and ask. As well as asking the driver to stop at the entrance to the park, it’s wise to ask fellow passengers to tell you where to get off the bus, it’s not unusual to find yourself at the end of a bus route with an unapologetic driver telling you that he forgot that he was supposed to stop for you…


From where the bus drops you it’s about a 30 minute walk to the park entrance where you pay the park entrance fee (if you get a private car from Soacha’s Parque it will bring you to the entrance). From here you can walk the trails of the upper part of the park and also use the park entrance camp site. If you are staying at the refuge/cabañas/refuge camp site, there is a fairly lengthy decent through probably about 500 metres to get to there, it’s reckoned to take about 50 minutes – we managed to scab a lift in one of the park vehicles having had a shambles of a time getting there, including ending up in Funza explaining to the bus driver that implicit in my question ‘do you go past Chicaque’ was the request that he stop there… You pay for your accommodation at the refuge. If you don’t fancy the long climb out of the park you can hire a horse to take the strain for you.

They have peacocks too…


Entrance to park – 10,000 COP
Camping at the entrance camp site – 10,000 COP
Camping at the refuge campsite including breakfast, lunch and dinner – 42,000 COP
Accommodation, breakfast, lunch and dinner at the refuge – 75,000 COP
Accommodation, breakfast, lunch and dinner per couple at the refuge – 159,000 COP
Accommodation per couple in a cabaña plus brekka, lunch and dinner at the refuge – 220,000 COP
Horse rental – 16,000 COP
Guide (general) – 55,000 COP
Guide (specialist) – 65,000 COP

Just found some lovely pictures of Chicaque here

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Police escort dos

by Alex on Jun.01, 2010, under Blog

Although the title of this post sounds like a shit sequel to an equally shit what ever you call the film that precedes the sequel, it pertains to a much cooler set up than was my first police escort experience in Colombia.

Having worked out that paying in cash rather than by debit card is going to be part of doing business here, we headed to the bank to withdraw ten million pesos. That’s about £3500/USD 5000. On signing receipt of my wads of currency, the teller told us that we could use one of the office phones to call the police for an escort. Clearly we were at first a little confused but we thought it over, figured why not, verified that it wasn’t going to cost anything and then called the boys in… green and reflective.

The standard two cops on a bike set up turned up, and in very friendly manner too. We’d not planned on this and had stuff to do before going home but didn’t want to impose on them, what to do… Basically they would come with us wherever we needed to go, so long as it was in Bogotá – decent! So we hailed a cab, one cop got in the front and the other followed us on his bike. Stopped off at an office to pay for an engineering survey then headed to the furniture district to sort some stuff out there. The guys were more than happy to chip in regarding what colour material to chose for the sofa although there was a little disagreement on the selection of colour for the cushions. We certainly got more looks than usual as we wandered around, the people in the beanbag shop were almost dumbfounded.

I guess that it might have been a small-scale insight into what it might be like living as an ‘important’ person surrounded by body guards and escorts, I must admit it did feel pretty cool in the taxi on the way home with a motorcycle outrider stopping traffic so that my beanbag-stuffed taxi could change lanes as it pleased.

I can’t think of a better example of acting out the motto ‘To Protect and Serve’…

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Santandercito – a day trip from Bogotá

by Alex on May.14, 2010, under Blog, What to do in Bogotá

Or a couple of days in the countryside, either way, it’s a great place to go to escape the hecticosity of the city…

The first part of the journey across town to Portal del Sur on Bogotá’s transmilenio is as quick as you might like, dedicated bus lanes avoiding the seemingly constant congestion of the capital:


OK, so that picture was taken on the only day sans congestion, that’s not the point…

From Portal del Sur take a green ‘alimentador’ (feeder bus) to the Terminal del Sur, the cost of the journey is included in your Transmilenio ticket, buses leave every 20 minutes and the journey takes about 4 minutes. Alternatively, it’s a 10 min walk west along the autopista. At the Terminal del Sur get a bus towards Mesitas del Colegio to Bella Vista, price 8,000 COP. It’s not long before you pass the city limits and the views start to pick up…


The Salto de Tequendama (above) is stunning to say the least. There are plenty of eateries at viewpoints opposite the falls and in fact it would not be a bad idea to get a ticket to the falls, hang there for a while soaking in the view and smells of barbecuing meats mixed with the stench of most of Bogotá’s sewerage that it seems flows over the falls, then catch another bus the twenty or so minutes on to Bella Vista.

Although only an hour out of Bogotá it feels as if it could be 5, 10, 15, whatever. Warm (18-22 degrees year-round) and with beautiful views of the mountains to east and west, Bella Vista is a one horse town with two petrol stations and half a dozen or so purveyors of food that probably exists only to service passing traffic – muy tranquillo indeed:


Just uphill of the Santandercito road is a great arepera that does arepas in the Boyacense style, if you’re after a snack. If you are not going to stay in Santandercito, you might want to wander the 100 or so metres down the main road to the Parque Temático Orquideas del Tequendama and continue your relaxation with some prettiness. Entrance is 7,000 COP which includes a guided tour and a tinto.


If you are going to stay then walk down the Santandercito road from Bella Vista. After about 10 minutes you pass the Alto de la Palma hotel on the right hand side, it’s expensive and I’ve read some pretty dire reviews. About two minutes further on you come across a road on the left (this is the first turning since taking the Santandercito road from the highway). This road leads to Santandercito village and a few buildings down on the right hand side is Hotel El Prado run by Carlos Ortega (tel. 316 613 9972). Double rooms cost 50,000 – 60,000 COP per night. Continue down the road from the hotel to get to the village centre:


The highlight of the town square is spectacular hand-made ice cream from a shop opposite the square from the church. There are a few bars and eateries and down-hill from the church is a shop/cafe run by Gustavo, a friendly Venezuelan who speaks good English. There is also a pizzeria in town.

You can usually get a bus back to Bogotá from Bella Vista, if you are visiting over a bank holiday weekend or other busy period it is worth the effort to book a bus from the office on the left hand side of the road that leaves the square opposite the church – during busy periods buses passing through Bella Vista can be full and a long wait can be had waiting to get back to town…

Click here for orchid garden pictures and here for pictures of Santandercito.

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In Colombia, they love trees…

by Alex on Mar.21, 2010, under Blog

They must do.

Look. These trees are obviously ill and they’ve put drips in them to make them more betterer.

I’ve never seen tree drips before…

tree-drips tree-drip
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Getting a bank account in Colombia without a cédula

by Alex on Mar.07, 2010, under Blog

Go to the bottom of the page for the factual information to which the title of this post alludes.

A cédula (de identidad) is the ID document issued in many Latin American countries, including Colombia. It’s said that you need one to open a bank account here and in Colombia you cannot get a cédula with a tourist visa, which I have.

I reasoned that having an HSBC account in the UK, opening one here should be no issue. I can prove who I am with my passport and HSBC UK have access to pretty much all my banking history having opened an account with Midland Bank probably 25 years ago on the strength of getting a free sports bag – far more valuable in the ‘do I or do I not give this guy a bank account’ decision that the fact that I have an official ID card. I’ve heard such nonsense as money laundering mentioned as some kind of shit pseudo-explanation for this rule. Why might I be able to launder money now and suddenly find the need to stop once I have an ID card and Pablo Escobar most probably had a cédula are two ripostes that took me approximately 0.25 of a second to come up with.

Obviously the automaton with whom I spoke upon calling HSBC UK was no help, not that I expected anything but ‘rules’ being quoted at me – flawless logic meaning nothing in the face of rules. The frustrating irony for me is that there are not many who have not experience ‘rules’ being bent or even simply ignored.

Salvation though seemed to be at hand. A friend put me on to HSBC Premier and after a brief phone call we’d arranged a meeting to open a bank account. And get this: the guy was going to come to my apartment for the meeting. I was amazed to the extent of almost falling over – in a country where the buck rarely stops and where you can get inconsistent and often conflicting information from government officials working in the same position in the same office and queues at banks can go round the block with people selling umbrellas to those queueing on sunny days and it’s generally a pain in the ass to get anything done, someone was going to come to my house to open a bank account for me – bonus!

The guy turned up at 08:15, a quarter of an hour late yet about fifteen minutes early on Colombian time. Five minutes later his mate arrived. It is funny how things work here and funny can be replaced by many a word – so often so hard to get things done and then two guys come to your house to open a bank account for you. Once reassured of our business plans and that we intended to get business owners visas as quickly as humanly and legally possible, (and therefore be entitled to cédulas) opening a bank account without a cédula was not an issue. Many many forms were presented to us and brilliantly the guy completed them for us, just like in the olden days back home. I put my fingerprint on, without exaggeration, at least 10 documents – makes far more sense than a signature alone, being impossible to fake, probably. After two hours we’d finished the process and they’d contact us soon with an update. They’d need to contact HSBC UK to confirm banky stuff with them and they’d let us know.

That was about 3 weeks ago. I’ve not been proactively contacted by them and upon enquiring as to the state of the application am told that they are awaiting information from the UK. I wonder just how many calls per day they are making to the UK, chasing my info. My guess would be roughly zero.

Facts of the matter:

  • If you want to set up a bank account in Colombia and do not have a cédula, contact HSBC Premier
  • I imagine that you’d need an HSBC account in another country for them to help
  • To qualify for an HSBC premier account you need to actually/pretend that you will maintain a balance of 50,000 USD in that account – worth bearing in mind for the meeting
  • Update, 21st March:

    It’s now probably about 5 weeks since the great show that was two guys coming to the apartment to sort out the bank accounts. This is after many many phone calls and a chance bumping into of one of them. Sadly this, in my experience, is standard fayre in Latin America and anyone with ‘western’ standards that wants to do business here wants to bear that in mind. Allow long time frames and I suggest paying a lot of attention to the critical path of your business plans – you will be let down, a lot, it’s just part of life here…

    We had a very productive meeting with Bancolombia last week. If you are in a position where you need a bank account and do not have a cédula, and you have convincing business plans then get in touch and I’ll hook you up with our contact.

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    Why Colombia for business and what indeed is my business?

    by Alex on Feb.06, 2010, under Blog

    In the post My new life, I chatted about how I’d ended up here, in Colombia, enthusing about the people and country in general, but why do business here?

    Well… during my travels and thoughts of what the hell do I do next after a typical British upbringing and 6 years of corporate London life, I settled on the idea of opening a hostel with a view to creating a chain of hostels across Colombia. I love travel, love meeting, talking to and helping people and can be reasonably hypercritical – finding fault in the many systems and processes that we’re surrounded by and interact with on a daily basis. Many hostels are run by fellow travellers who’ve chosen to settle in some paradise, far removed from their home countries and upbringings with travel being their main qualification for running a hostel. Unfortunately, often, their enthusiasm and loving of ‘the road’ is not necessarily met with the business acumen and attention to detail necessary to create a great place to stay.

    So, I decided that it’s time to put my money where my mouth is, stop bitching about the failings of other people’s efforts and get the hell on with it. And where better than Colombia? As an hispanophile, it had to be Latin America and as previously explained Colombia is my favourite place for the people, as well as all the country has to offer. Key for business though is the fact that tourism here is going mental!

    I imagine that general international perception of Colombia is still that it is ‘a dangerous place’. Indeed, when I was here 8 years ago, tales of armed hold ups of buses with the occasional kidnap were common place and indeed after spending some time in ‘safe’ areas on the Caribbean coast, I flew to Ecuador, there being no way that I was prepared to bus through the country. Whereas ’1234 tourists brutally executed’ makes for a great international news headline, ‘Colombia is now safe’ is hardly news-worthy and therefore the only information that many have of this country is negative and out-of-date. You’d be better off espousing the slogan of Colombia Tourism – ‘The only risk is wanting to stay’.

    And the word is spreading. It’s not just backpackers that I’m meeting – there are plenty of people coming to Colombia for a 2 or 3 week holiday maintaining that they’ll tell friends and family on their return how wonderful a place this is to visit and the numbers are there to back it up – an increase in tourist arrivals of over 10% per year is reported in official figures. This recent boom in tourism means that you need to book to get in to the best hostels – Cranky Croc operates at about 95% occupancy and during high season turns away about 25 people a day and there are plenty of places that would not get away with their shoddy service and poor facilities in a more mature backpacking market. So this place is perfect for doing my thing – the market is here and my business partner and I have the knowledge, will and passion to do it – create a fantastic backpackers’ hostel in Bogotá. I’ll write soon of the fun we’ve had finding the house we want to buy…

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    Twelve grapes and a stuffed pig

    by Alex on Dec.31, 2009, under Blog

    Apparently I have to find twelve grapes for this evening. And then I’m to eat one in time with every strike of midnight’s bells. If I succeed (and I read it’s quite difficult) then I’ll enjoy a prosperous two thousand and ten. It’s a Spanish tradition of about one hundred years and it seems that it’s made its way to Colombia, I’ll let you know how I get on…

    A celebratory thing that is one hundred percent Colombian is lechona. It’s not Yuletide-specific but one was served on Christmas eve when we went with the guys from Cranky Croc (hostel) to Destino Nómada (hostel) for our Christmas dinner.

    lechona-2 lechona-1 lechona

    The meat is first removed from the pig and mixed with garlic, onion, peas and rice and seasoned with salt, pepper and cumin, shoved back in the pig which is basted with bitter orange juice and roasted for ages.

    It sounds pretty tasty though didn’t have any, being a veggie and all.

    Well, it’s a few minutes before midnight in the UK so HNY to all over there, we’re still wondering what to do this side, am sure we’ll come up with something good though wonder how I’ll fayre being four days into my month (or so) off booze!

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    Tiësto in Bogotá

    by Alex on Dec.12, 2009, under Blog

    T’was the eve of my birthday the dress code white and the destination Parque Jaime Duque, about an hour’s drive north of Bogotá. We had to pay a ‘fine’ of 50,000 pesos when flagged down by the policia as Marty didn’t have his driving license on him and when we got there the parking set up was a shambles, naturally…

    I wondered if our ‘VIP’ tickets might get us close to the action and laughed when I realised that a ‘VIP’ ticket in Colombia, at least at a Tiësto concert, holds about as much kudos as does the title ‘Vice President’ when working for a large United Statesian corporate. We were right at the back, platinum ticket-holders in front of us and uberplatinum (or something) in front of them. It was for the best though as we had plenty of space and didn’t have a half hour queue for the toilets.

    What a night: we were about 15,000, the music was amazing and the smoke effects were provided by mother nature – the mist rolling across the open-air arena added to the ambience no end though brought with it the distinct threat of hypothermia.

    Music-wise, at least electronically-speaking, I’m a bit of a turn-of-the-millennium trance boy, my first favourite of the night was Gouryella then came one of my bestest choons of all time – Silence. The pièce de résistance was Barbers Adagio for Strings with a firework accompaniment. The fact that you see me dancing hands in pockets at the end of the video below is reflective of the fact that it was freakin’ freezing, it’s neither a sign of apathy nor lack of enjoyment! Stick with the video ’til the end for the fireworks. Oh and a special thanks to Travis for spending so much time finding the worst possible photo of me for the vid x.

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    Día de las velitas

    by Alex on Dec.08, 2009, under Blog

    I was both surprised and happy to find out that the ‘day of the candles’ is a specifically Colombian thing. Surprised as being of Catholic origin I’d have thought that it would be celebrated in other Catholic countries and happy as being specific to Colombia means that you probably know nothing about it.

    It is said that celebrations vary across the country but it seems they mostly consist of lining the streets with millions of candles and hanging lanterns from everywhere, either on the eve of the 7th or morn of the 8th of December. My friends told me that the tradition is one of celebration of love and friendship and that on their balconies and from their eaves, on their doorsteps and on their streets, people place and hang the candles and lanterns as individual dedications to those for whom they care and it’s pretty. For me the candles will always mean this – I’m quite happy to ignore the alternative (religious) explanation.

    From our apartment, we watched the fireworks explode from the top of the Colpatria building then went out for a wander. The streets were lively and indeed were lined with lanterns made from paper bags, sand and candles with paper lanterns hanging all over the shop. Front doors were open with families hanging out on what would be their stoops were they a little bigger – this in itself is unusual as doors are normally securely locked in this part of town. Septima, the main street, was packed to bursting; I’ve never seen it so full, nor Plaza de Bolívar. Rammed with sightseers and vendors selling hot drinks food and stuff with flashing lights on, the massive Christmas tree was lit up as were the buildings around the squares as you can see from the pics below:

    [imageflow id="37"]

    I couldn’t find anyone selling (cell phone) minutes though, which seemed odd as you can go there on a day when it’s mostly empty and find at least 30 people selling calls. I’ve dug around on the interweb and found these pictures from around Colombia.

    Well, they certainly like to celebrate here. So far not a week has gone by without learning of a new festival or celebration or at least a big event of some kind, which is great as far as I’m concerned!

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