Last year when my sister came to Colombia for her yearly visit from China, I was trying to think of something different to do with her and her kids (9 and 6 years old at the time). Suddenly I remembered Mike and his Bogotá Bike Tours in La Candelaria, the historic center of Bogotá. I’d been wanting to take the tour and this was my chance.
I mentioned it to my sister and she agreed that it sounded like an excellent adventure for a day. It turned out to be something which I now recommend most visitors, if not all, should have on their to-do list. Even locals would benefit from getting to know their city a little better.
We arrived at around 10am for the guided tour which departs daily. The process of choosing the right bike and helmet, organizing ourselves, and signing consent forms took a while but soon enough we were rolling down the street.
Mike (a journalist from the U.S. who started the Bogotá Bike Tours almost four years ago) provides a well-rounded tour, making sure to include even the “…scars of the nation’s long, drug-fueled armed conflict”. I think it’s important for everyone to see these things – it is reality, after all. Tourists, and even locals like us, can get a unique glimpse of the city’s past and present, learn more about Colombia’s illegal armed groups and their violence and drug trafficking that crippled the country for decades, and how progress is now being made.
On a lighter note and aside from Colombian history and current events, Mike loves introducing tour-goers to the wonderful array of foods in Colombia, particularly the fruits and vegetables which are available year round. A visit to at least one market is mandatory on every tour.
On our tour (because not all tours visit the same places) we first came across ants, big-ass ants (hormigas culonas), a delicacy from the Department of Santander. We bought some from a street vendor in the Plaza de Bolívar and my nephew and some of the other gringos had a taste. I think it’s the kind of thing you try once and leave it at that, unless you’ve grown up eating them and just love that indescribable anty taste.
Later on we arrived at the San Victorino Plaza where we got pictures holding huge guanabanas (soursop) and drank fresh tangerine juice and salpicón. There was also the well-known llama which my niece and nephew recognized from their visit the previous year. His bottom-front teeth stick out just a touch, making him unforgettable.
Our next stop was a little fruit market just a few streets from the Gold Museum called Mercado Las Nieves. Here we got a taste of mangosteen, tomate de árbol, lulo, uchuvas and a whole variety of other tropical fruits. I never get over seeing the wonder and surprise and happiness in the eyes of tourists when they taste some of these fruits for the first time. It makes me happy and reminds me that we in Colombia are so lucky to have these fruits available all the time.
Our final food stop came at the Parque Nacional where we ate mazorca (corn on the cob), empanadas, more salpicón and other typical day-at-the-park snacks. The bike tour continued to a free concert being held at the Parque Simón Bolivar, but since we were with the kids, we decided to call it a day. We rode back to Café-Bici, dropped off our bikes and went to lunch in La Macarena
The tour really was a lot of fun as well as eye-opening which made it more than just a fluffy touristy thing. True, some parts of the ride had our nerves on edge. Riding through certain neighborhoods was interesting – areas that you are generally warned about to be careful, grab your things, and try to blend in. Well, the locals looked at us like animals in a zoo, riding bikes no less, so we weren’t exactly blending in, but I never felt threatened.
You’ll find all the information you need at the Bogotá Bike Tours webpage. I’m having a friend visit me next month and a bike tour is definitely high on the list of things to do.
Bogotá Bike Tours @ the Café-Bici
Carrera 3 #12-72 (La Candelaria)
Phone: +57 (1) 281-9924
E-mail: bogotabiketours (at)gmail (dot) com