Bogota On The Rise
The following is an article I wrote for myself as an afterthought to my experience in Bogota in which I learned about the city’s thriving civility, technology, and tourism industries –
I had a Jet Blue buddy pass, no job, and a desire to escape New York for my birthday. An open call to suggestions, friends poured in their picks: Bogota, Colombia. It was decided.
Funny how a destination that has never crossed your mind before all of a sudden becomes the only thing you read about. A list of bookmarked articles, quotes, and travel tips quickly filled my Internet browser as I jotted down notes for my itinerary day-in and day-out. But, as often traveling does, seeing Bogota for myself changed everything.
You never really know how a city will welcome you, especially a city with such an unfortunate (but also outdated) reputation for drug lords and expansive crime. My guard was up for the first day or two, I admit, but I quickly learned Bogota was making a new impression on me: progress.
FOCUSED ON THE FUTURE
In many ways Bogota has been left in the dark despite its proactive efforts of moving forward. Papers still pour out headlines of crime and corruption, yet many travel blogs have recently shed light on the advantages offered in Bogota. Colombia is a maturing country improving on its security and development while taking advantage of its geographical resources. It’s often a stopover for travelers in Latin America since it’s a relatively cheap destination with beautiful landscapes, a laid-back vibe, and invigorating culture. Yet travelers often flock to Medellin or Cartagena for summer weather and amicable women, passing on Bogota during their trip. But while everyone was raving about other parts of Colombia, I was taking my time discovering a city that truly encompasses the meaning, “the only risk is wanting to stay.”
ON CIVIC ENGAGEMENT
Bogota’s transition into a dynamic Colombian city has been marked by a number of recent events I got to experience first hand. For one, civility has improved and the capitol city is filled with ambitious citizens who realize that technology and social organization drive development. Take Bogota’s Ciclovia on Sundays for example: every week from 7am to 2pm 120km of streets including La Septima (7th Avenue) and is shut down as a city-wide, car-free pathway open for recreational use. As I walked up and down the coiled highway – which is normally congested with bus fumes, tiny speeding taxis, and endless cars weaving in and out of traffic – I understood how Ciclovia could bring an entire city together. Parks are turned into performance spaces, bike paths and help stations are lined along the streets, pedestrians walk freely with their families in hand, and fresh fruits and snacks are offered to passersby. With the support of Mayor Enrique Peñalosa, Bogota has made a positive impact on the environment and its infrastructure.
AN ENTREPRENEURIAL HUB
Of course as a digital nomad, I also researched other travelers and native Colombians to connect with immediately upon my arrival. As luck would have it, one of my contacts from New York had a startup incubator, hubBOG, headquartered right in Bogota off Parque 93. Within a few days, I set up a meeting with the team to absorb the rise of technology in Bogota and its “new generation of entrepreneurs.” It turns out, despite Bogota’s strictly traditional work culture (9am-5pm isn’t the half of it), there has been a rise in “self-employed interest” amongst recent graduates notes Rene Rojas, CEO of hubBOG. Opportunities for employment and open collaboration with government, university, and enterprise projects have influenced new professional ventures, including angel investors for start-ups, plus tech-based talent and business mentorship programs. This is evidenced by startup hatchery, Torrenegra Labs, of which my friends Alex Torrenegra and Leonardo Suarez founded back in 2001.
As observed by the hubBOG and Torrenegra team, a demand for digital applications (see: BogoDev) started to replace the desire to work in traditional job settings. What ideas were once judged as crazy – like leaving a secure position in banking to become an independent contractor – are now embraced and led by young professionals. Despite hesitation amongst web developers, their small circle of the like-minded grew into a global movement, eventually making headlines at this year’s Social Media Week.
SAFETY IN NUMBERS
To boost, with the expansion of transit systems like the Transmilenio across the country, Colombians sought out ways to travel more often and away from home, escaping to fincas or houses in the countryside outside of the city. Here was an opportunity to build a marketplace of travel and lodging booking for eager locals who wanted to now use the online space, ditching traditional travel agents. Fortunately, sites like LetMeGo came on board to aid travelers not only in Colombia but throughout South America. At the same time, American tourists flooded Colombia as backpackers added the country to their round-the-world trips. All of these changes fueled the growth of internet-based business, as well as the country’s commerce and tourism, which now shape a new attraction for travelers visiting the country’s capital, Bogota.
Safe to say my travels in Bogota were sparked by curiosity as I continued to meet locals encouraging these changes its city was making, and with each conversation breaking down the stereotypes of a once plagued nation. I also met enthusiastic young people craving a new way to connect to the outside world through local meetups and blogs just as I have on all my travels. I made friends with cabbies who challenged themselves to test their bilingual skills with me while we were stuck in traffic. I ran into nomads and expats who – though originally planning to see Bogota for a week – now somehow had transplanted themselves happily amongst friends and hosts for months. I fell in love with a Bogota I never read about in papers back home, but instead a thriving, insatiable culture with secrets up its sleeves.
It’s only a short time before the rest of the world finds Bogota out.