How to Blend in With the Locals in Bogota
***My article was originally published in See Colombia Travel Blog.
You have just arrived in the capital and have mapped out all the things to see in Bogotá, including the main tourist attractions, the best eats in town, and the hottest spots where the locals in Bogota hang out. Of course, you want to blend in as much as possible to get the best possible deals and not get ripped off or treated differently by locals in Bogota. Unfortunately, you know your Spanish is a dead giveaway to your exotic heritage. Not to mention you’re 5’6 with dirty blonde hair and fair skin. However, Colombians do come in all different shapes, sizes, and colors so with a few simple tricks you can pass as a local even if it’s just at first glance.
To avoid sticking out like a sore thumb, here are a few pointers on what NOT to do:
DON’T wear sandals, shorts, and other tropical accessories.
Many tourists head to the Bogotá thinking a tropical paradise awaits them. The capital of Colombia is 2640m above sea level and has a cooler climate than the rest of the country, usually fluctuating between 10-24 degrees Celsius. Instead, bring jeans, toe-covered shoes and a light jacket just in case it gets chilly or it suddenly starts to pour. Oh and by the way, bogotanos are rather conservative dressers, so avoid showing too much leg, chest or whatever sexy attributes you may have in the streets.
DON’T wear your best outfit when going sightseeing.
We know you want to look good for the pictures that you’re going to show your friends back home. However, bogotanos always try not bring too much attention to themselves when out and about. Dress simple and leave precious jewelry at home to avoid unwanted attention.
DON’T walk around with your valuables exposed.
You like to stroll the streets with your camera around your neck just in case you catch a moment you want to capture forever. However, doing so is as if you’re practically asking to be robbed; or how Colombians like to put it, dar papaya. Keep all valuables out of sight, including cameras and cell phones, and only take them out only when necessary. It’s better to be safe than sorry.
DON’T look lost.
Maybe you’ve taken a wrong turn and you’re not sure where you are. Avoid whipping out your cell phone or huge city map which would totally give you away as a lost and confused tourist. Instead, try to remember the address and location or write it down on a small piece of paper. As Colombians say, people here are very ‘vivos’ or opportunists and will take advantage of any chance they get. Don’t make yourself an easy target.
DON’T hail a taxi in the street.
You’ve just spent all day walking and are absolutely beat. The last thing you want to do is walk back 30 minutes to your hotel. So you try to hail a taxi in the street with your bright-colored shorts and flowery top, like the locals in Bogota do. This is not Paris or New York. Not only is your driver most likely to take you on a friendly ride around the block a few times, but getting a taxi in the street is simply dangerous. Always get your taxis through mobile apps such as Tappsi, Easytaxi or Uber, or simply ask assistance at the front desk of any establishment to call a cab for you.
DON’T make drug references and jokes.
Colombia is working hard to get past its unwanted international fame of Pablo Escobar and cocaine. The last thing they want to hear is a lame joke about what they do for a living or in their spare time. Be respectful of Colombia’s efforts to more forward and avoid making any touchy remarks. No one is making jokes of the Khmer Rouge while traveling around Cambodia. Same rules apply here.
DON’T complain about Colombia.
Colombians are well known for being patriotic. Wherever in the world they might be living or visiting, they are probably spreading positive vibes and energy about all the goodness their country has to offer. They don’t want to hear about how the subway system back in your city is so much more effective than the Transmilenio. Whatever is lacking in their country, they are well aware and don’t need to be reminded. Colombians are some of the happiest people in the world despite their political infrastructure and it’s perhaps because they choose to focus on the good things in life.
With these few tips, you’re bound to get on well with locals in Bogota and even pass as one (maybe?). Bogotá is a great city with lots to offer, so dig in and enjoy yourself!