As a result of an institutional campaign run many years ago, people in Bogotá learned to say that their city is located 2,600 meters closer to the stars. In fact, by going up to Monserrate (a distinctive landmark located to the east of the city) you will be at 3,152 meters of altitude!
Photo source: http://www.colombia.travel
From an outsider’s perspective, Monserrate is a mountain with a church on top; a place full of locals and tourists with a breathtaking view of the city (especially if you decide to climb the hundreds of steps of the newly refurbished eco-path, instead of taking the mountain railway or the cable car). However, having been born and bred in Bogota, I have a different view on the place.
I grew up hearing diverse myths and superstitions about Monserrate. For example, an urban myth says that Monserrate is in fact an inactive volcano (this is definitely false), one more says that the mountain is full of water and one day it will brake and flood the city (ahem… I don’t believe this one has much ground either). Another widespread superstition among women from Bogota is that if you visit Monserrate with your boyfriend you will never marry him. I was one of those women and never went there with my, then boyfriend until we married (better safe than sorry ).
The other, perhaps more famous dimension of Monserrate is as a local religious centre. Every Sunday, thousands visit the whitewashed shrine of the Fallen Lord (to whom the church of Monserrate is dedicated) to ask for miracles; numbers are even greater during Easter celebrations. The walls of the temple are filled with plaques with written messages of gratitude to the Fallen Lord from the recipients of such miracles. Some people say that the spirits of indigenous gods live in the mountain together with the Fallen Lord, and that is why He concedes miracles.
Photo copyright Uncover Colombia 2012
But superstition and religion aside, Monserrate is for me a relaxing experience during the day and a very romantic place during the evening. During the day you can walk around, enjoy the fresh air and tranquillity of the mountain, take the best photos with panoramic views of Bogotá, have some tamales and do some handcraft shopping. In the evening you can go up there to have a nice meal in one of the two restaurants: “San Isidro” which offers French food or “Santa Clara” that offers Colombian food. From any of these restaurants, you can see the city and the starts while having a nice meal, weather permitting, of course.
In summary, if you visit Bogotá don’t forget to go up to Monserrate to enjoy the view and be part of one of the most ancient traditions among the locals. That is, of course, if you are not planning to marry your companion.