Cerro Monserrate – A 17th Century Sanctuary in Bogotá
I realised the other day that in the last two years I’ve been to Colombia four times with my current job, which seems like a lot! Much as I’ve enjoyed my trips to this beautiful country, Colombia does come with what could be considered quite a significant health and safety warning. I’ve never felt unsafe in Medellin, but there’s always been something about Bogotá that’s put me on edge slightly. Perhaps it’s the fact my spoken Spanish level is pidgin at best, or maybe it’s the constant warnings against taking a yellow taxi off the street for fear of being taken to a cash point and robbed at gunpoint. Whatever the reason, I feel like I’ve always thought carefully about leaving my hotel in Bogotá to go exploring.
This time around though, I ended up with some colleagues I’d never met before who were all native Spanish speakers (or fluent at the very least). This, combined with a certain (limited) degree of my local knowledge emboldened us to venture out and about in the city. Two of us got together one afternoon (both female) and we were trying to decide between Cerro Monserrate, a mountain overlooking the city and La Candelaria, which is right at the heart of Bogotá. The concierge took one look at us and immediately advised us not to go into La Candelaria. Basically, unless we magicked up a friendly Colombian man to show us around, it was more sensible to avoid the centre, where it’s easy to stray off the beaten track and into less desirable neighbourhoods.
So, we ordered ourselves a hotel car and asked the driver to take us to Cerro Monserrate! The best way to get around tourist spots (and business meetings for that matter!) can be in a hotel car, where you can basically book the driver for 2-3 hours and get them to wait for you and pick you up in an agreed location.
Don’t look down!
Cerro Monserrate is a mountain overlooking Bogotá that rises to 3,152m at its highest point. As you might imagine, the air’s getting pretty thin at this point so don’t try and do anything too strenuous if you’re heading up the mountain. It’s named after the mountain Montserrat, near Barcelona, and both are home to religious sanctuaries. There are two options for reaching the summit; you can either take the funicular or take the cable car. We opted for funicular up and cable car down so we got to experience both. The round trip cost $19.000 pesos, which is about £5. The mountainside is very, very steep, so this isn’t for the faint-hearted! I’m usually quite good with heights, but looking down some of these drops definitely made me feel slightly queasy.
A 17th Century sanctuary
Once you reach the top, expect incredible views, some shops and restaurants and a lovely 17th Century church. I would only recommend going up Cerro Monserrate if the weather is clear so you can take in the breath-taking view of Bogotá. There’s often quite low cloud cover in the city (Bogotá is already 2,640m above sea level) so it was a treat to get some good weather. Also, if you’re fortunate enough to get sun in the day, don’t forget lots of sun cream; you can burn like crazy at high altitude without even noticing.
As with any tourist hotspot in somewhere like Bogotá, I had expected to have some hassle from people trying to flog you some kind of tourist crap, but as we went up late afternoon it seemed to be devoid of anyone giving tourists grief, so it was lovely. It was fairly busy, and we did have to queue for a little while before coming down the mountain, but it wasn’t at all bad considering Cerro Monserrate is a major draw for tourists in Bogotá. If you’re passing through Bogotá and only have one or two days to spare, this is a must-do!
Have you been to Bogotá? What’s your favourite thing to do?