When you hear someone say Colombia, what do you think of? Drug cartels? Narcos? These are the images that I am sure flashed through the minds of my family and friends as I told them we were traveling to Colombia, with a one year old. Is it safe? They all asked. If you are thinking the same thing right now, you are not alone. I had my own reservations about traveling to a country with such negative stereotypes, but Colombia is quickly overcoming this decades old perception.
This was our first international trip with an infant (sorry Montreal you aren’t quite as different from the United States as Bogota, although I love your croissants and cheese). Because we are parents, one of our first adventures in Bogota was to find infant formula, which apparently is very expensive in Colombia. The cost of baby products in Colombia is almost triple what it is in the United States despite other costs being much lower. Since our baby was almost one year old, we decided to give whole milk a go instead. Easy enough to find, right? We searched store after store, aisle after aisle for milk. Here’s the yogurt. Now here’s the cheese… We have to be getting close. I know people in Colombia drink milk! Where is it? Just as we were about to give up, we found it! It was not where our American brains thought to look. On the shelf, of course! Only silly Americans actually refrigerate milk before opening it.
Although it goes against my idea of not traveling like a tourist, we stayed at the JW Marriott in Bogota, which is located in an area frequented by business travelers. We used Marriott points from credit card bonuses (more on this later) to fund the entire trip, which made the trip almost entirely free, which does not go against my opinion that traveling does not have to be expensive even when you get to stay in a luxury hotel!
Traveling around Bogota it becomes quickly apparent that this city is one of contrasts. Wealth and poverty. Tradition and modernity. Religious devotion and commercialism.
Traditional markets are right across the street from large modern shopping centers. For example, the brand new Calima shopping mall towers over Paloquemao, a fruit market. While people sit with their friends in the busy and lively market to enjoy freshly squeezed juice across the street in the mall people line up to buy orange juice from a vending machine or desserts from KFC. Yes, you read that correctly. Dunkin’ Donuts are also extremely popular in Bogota.
Modern culture butts up against tradition all over Bogota. Large malls often have an area to pray with candles and Jesus on the cross which not something you see in shopping malls in the United States or anywhere else I have been for that matter.
I always enjoy taking public transit when traveling, which by the way the concierge at the JW Marriott was confused about. I don’t think their guests typically ask about public transit. I guess I am not that surprised.
London has the Tube and New York has its Subway, but Bogota has the TransMilenio. Unlike other public transit systems in the world, it is like a subway system, but it is above ground. It is a vast network of buses with some even having their own lanes to avoid traffic. Many of the stations operate like subway stations where you swipe a card to enter and then you find the correct bus and enter through any of its doors somewhat like a subway car. Bogota scrapped the idea of an underground train system a few years ago and decided to put more money into their bus system and bam, you have a hybrid of the two. Although taxis (Uber is quite popular although illegal in Bogota) are convenient when you travel you live more like a local when you use public transportation.
Although traveling around the world with a baby has its challenges it also lets you see a different side of people that they do not show to adults. It seemed like we couldn’t walk a block without someone coming up to us to fawn over our baby. Traveling to Bogota made me realize the importance of not letting fear prevent you from traveling. Always research where you travel and take precautions, but don’t avoid areas of the world because of stereotypes. You will be missing out.