By Delaney Turner
Canadian copywriter Delaney Turner moved to Bogotá from Ottawa in 2015, after his wife’s job was transferred to the Colombian capital. He blogs about his experiences, and writes about arts and technology for English-language newspaper The Bogotá Post.
Every conversation about Bogotá begins with security, which remains a complex issue. On one hand, the murder rate is at its lowest in decades. On the other, street crime is a persistent problem, particularly in tourist areas such as La Candelaria, the historical centre. The car bomb that killed around 20 people and injured some 70 others in January has revived fears of the violence residents thought they had left behind.
Though life has largely returned to normal since, Bogotá is a sprawling metropolis of more than 8m people so, inevitably, there are areas expats should avoid. Most live in the smaller neighbourhoods of Parque 93, Chapinero Alto, Los Rosales, Cedritos and Usaquén. Condos here are typically newer and feature controlled access, doormen, underground parking and video security.
Residential units can cost more than $6,000 per square metre. Nevertheless, real estate remains the city’s golden investment opportunity, given that Colombian legislation protects the property market from bubbles. The volume of property sales is growing at more than 15 per cent a year.
Under Colombia’s Estrato (stratum) system, every neighbourhood carries a rating between 1 and 6 based on its relative affluence. This determines the cost of municipal services. For example, a $175 water bill in Estrato 6 will be $100 in Estrato 3 for the same amount of water, and lower in Estratos 1 and 2. Colombia originally conceived the system as a progressive way to provide affordable utilities for everyone; critics say it has further entrenched social inequality.
Bogotá offers all the services and amenities you would expect of a major North American or European capital, but expats can expect to pay less than they would at home: consumer prices, rent and groceries are on average 55 per cent lower than in Ottawa, according to cost of living database Numbeo.
Bogotanos benefit from a mild year-round climate that is perfect for the city’s many free festivals and events. La Ciclovía runs every Sunday and public holiday on 120km of streets handed over to cyclists, runners, walkers and their dogs (Bogotá is very dog-friendly). Now replicated in cities the world over, La Ciclovía is part of mayor Enrique Peñalosa’s ambitious plan for Bogotá to join Copenhagen and Amsterdam as a global cycling capital.
The biggest drawback to life here is getting around — traffic congestion in Bogotá is among the world’s worst. The buses are overcrowded, the long-awaited subway is still years away, and drivers are alternately aggressive and distracted. Perhaps it is no surprise, then, that Colombia is home to Rappi, a delivery app that provides access to “Rappitenderos”, who criss-cross Bogotá on motorbikes or bicycles to pick up your groceries or dry cleaning.
Many of the city’s challenges stem from its rapid growth after being depressed by more than 50 years of violence, starting in the mid-1960s. Colombia’s civil war drove millions of people from the countryside to Bogotá’s outskirts and its infrastructure has simply not kept pace.
However, the city offers abundant arts and cultural activities, exciting nightlife, two professional football teams and what may be the world’s largest gay bar, Theatron. Colombians love to dance and you can shake your stuff at salsa clubs nearly every night. Galería Café Libro offers classes for beginners and has its own house band.
The restaurant scene is becoming more eclectic and varied, with homegrown and expat chefs adding new flavours to traditional ingredients. Mesa Franca and Salvo Patria are among the favourites in this regard.
Colombia grows some of the world’s best coffees and I spend a lot of time in specialty coffee shops. My favourites, Varietale and Café Cultor, provide reliable Wi-Fi in addition to excellent brews. The Flavors of Bogotá “specialty coffee experiences” are a great introduction to a world beyond Starbucks — which also has a presence here.
Bogotá offers outstanding possibilities for hiking and excursions. Chief among these is the Salt Cathedral of Zipaquirá, an underground cathedral carved out of the walls of a former salt mine.
Other options include Guatavita, a lake reputed to be the mythical El Dorado, and Chicaque, a national park offering spectacular hiking and vistas. All lie within 60km of the city centre.
Building a social life can be difficult. Bogotá has long been a conservative and class-conscious city, and residents historically have been either suspicious of, or indifferent to, newcomers. That Colombians view Bogotá as cold is only partly due to its climate.
In response, my wife and I made an effort to say “yes” to as many activities as we could, meaning we have built a strong network of Colombian friends. New arrivals would be well advised to check out The Bogotá Post for event listings and InterNations, a social networking platform for expats and locals.
The French Embassy’s Club Concorde runs wine tastings and food-related events, while Gringo Tuesdays, a free language exchange and dance party, is held every week in the upmarket Andino neighbourhood. Many of these events attract people from the city’s large number of British, French and German expats.
Unfortunately, our time here is coming to an end. I will miss the fantastic fresh fruit, the friendly faces and watching the mists rise off Las Cordilleras Orientales every morning as I walk our two adopted street dogs. For nearly four years Bogotá has been more than where we have lived — it has been where we have built a life. I just will not miss the traffic.
What do you wish you had known before you moved?
The level of everyday English among Bogotanos is relatively low, apart from in tourist areas. Newcomers would be well advised to learn Spanish. Doing so made my life here easier and more enjoyable.
If you would like to be considered for this series please complete our short survey.
Photographs: Franck Camhi; Delaney Turner; Dreamstime; AFP/Getty Images; Alexis Mann/Pixel Perfect Photography