I used to tell all my potential first-time nightlife industry employees a little ditty before they actually agreed to come aboard. If you are a regular reader (well, you must be quite irregular for that) you have heard this before… and now you’ll here it again: I told the people working for me to have an exit strategy. The money is good. The people, the celebrities, the action can be an addiction – but the life, except for a few, has an expiration date. When it’s over, you have to have a way to support yourself. It ends when you need a change but no one will hire you because they want younger, or you just can’t put in the hours anymore, or the "distractions" of the night become a real problem. I would tell them nightlife is like a rollercoaster…you pay a little money to get on and the first thing you do is go up a great hill and from there at the top it seems like you can see forever, when in reality you are seeing just a bit more. Then its a fast ride down and around, thrills spill treacherous curves, some screams, some fear, some exhilaration, and when it’s over you end up basically where you started, spent a little time, had some fun. Many creatures of the night are putting themselves through school or are actors or artists or dancers. They are pursuing dreams in a place built on them. They often service stars, people who were just like them a decade ago. Failure and shattered hopes often are a heavy burden as time goes on. Breaking out is hard to do. The odds are stacked against them. Emily Lazar left NY behind to chase her dreams on the left coast. She used to work with me. She’s a rock star trying to let the world realize that.
Bogota is what you make of it: it can be easy, breezy, and beautiful or wild, uncensored, and nocturnal. Or both. Either way, it’s a destination that comes with disclaimers. To prevent some potential mishaps, obey the following rules and you will be planning a return visit before you even leave.
Don’t Forget Your Inhaler
Most people don’t realize Bogota is 9,000 feet above sea level. When I arrived, I was immediately reminded of my first trip to Mexico City (7,500 feet), where I became winded climbing just ten steps up to my hotel. There are really no quick-fixes like the coca leaves you chomp on to alleviate altitude sickness in Cusco, Peru (11,000 feet). So take it easy on your first day and acclimate by hydrating yourself and avoiding a quick boozefest. Kill two birds with one stone by visiting the Catedral de Sal de Zipaquira (salt cathedral). It’s the only salt cathedral in the world, an underground, cavernous attraction that’s purely made of salt. Sure, you’re only less than 1,000 feet underground but it’s a head start for adjusting, not to mention it’s a fascinating site to absorb. The charming town of Zipaquira—just outside Bogota—is hundreds of years old and home to Gabriel Garcia Marquez’s high school.
Don’t Pack Your Bermuda Shorts
Unless you plan on visiting coastal cities like Cartagena or Santa Marta after Bogota, leave your Jams at home. Unlike many South American cities that have a steady, luke-warm temperature throughout the year, Bogota is on the chilly side. We’re talking an average high of 63 degrees every month. Remember, you’re up in the mountains where it’s much cooler. Nighttime is pretty much jacket weather. If you packed in a rush, head to Zona Rosa and pick up some warm threads. This trendy neighborhood is chockfull of local designer boutiques for both men and women, like Lina Cantillo, Pamela Duque and Julieta Suarez. It’s also the ‘hood for champ designers like Adidas, Lacoste, and Dolce & Gabbana if you want to remain brand loyal.
Don’t Talk To All Strangers
Obviously, use discretion. Colombians are incredibly fun, friendly and social but in some shady areas, you could get hustled. Be aware of occasional security imposters who could take all your money and run. It’s a city-wide scam that’s dwindling but even still, be alert. They usually linger around hotels and other hot spots for tourists. These fuckers will approach you with a fake badge, claim they are security or the police and ask you for identification. Once you’re hooked, they’ll ask for money in one way or another and the next thing you know, you’re robbed blind. There are no such people who do this. Keep on walking. They won’t follow, and you’ll have enough money for empanadas. Hiring a guide is smart. I loved Rosa Inez Rojas (or “Rosita”), who’s been in the industry for more than 25 years (Tel: 571-314-295-2258). She had me laughing for hours, knows Bogota like the back of her hand, and being with her was like being with an old friend. It’s also recommended to hire a private taxi. I had absolutely no regrets with the super-friendly, multi-lingual ex-flight attendant Luis Eduardo Suarez (or “Lucho”), luisesuarez – AT – hotmail – DOT – com, who only charges about $15 per hour, and made a great companion.
Don’t Pop That Viagra Just Yet
There’s no doubt in mind that Colombians come blessed with good genes. And perhaps at some point you’ll maybe want to “make friends” on your visit to Bogota. With that in mind, choose your hotel carefully. Some hotels will charge you a fee for having an overnight guest. Some hotels simply ban guests past 8 pm. Do your research. I thought Sofitel Victoria Regia was fair with their policy, which simply asks the hotel guest to register all visitors at the front desk. No big deal. Sofitel Victoria Regia is a comfortable, luxury hotel option and also happens to be in the popular Zona Rosa (in addition to great shopping, Zona Rosa is home to some of Bogota’s top restaurants and bars).
That Whole Cocaine Thing
While most people will justifiably associate Colombia with cocaine, it’s an image the country is not stoked about. In fact, it’s the last thing they want to discuss. Colombians are so over foreigners thinking they come equipped with the drug (this isn’t Bolivia where, at some establishments, a line comes complimentary with a drink). Remember, this country exports that shit. Don’t embarrass yourself and just be happy you are visiting one of the most wonderful cities in Colombia!