One of the first things people notice when they arrive to Bogota is the mountains. Gigantic rock formations to the east of the city, with two miniature statues on top of the tallest hills. Well, miniature from where we stand. What you find up there are two churches, and two amazing viewpoints of the city: Monserrate and Guadalupe.
What’s Monserrate and Guadalupe?
Monserrate is the most famous mountain of Bogota, with an indigenous past that is less known but very important to the transformation of the city. So, to find out why, let’s go back in time to the arrival of the Spaniards in 1538.
When Gonzalo Jimenez de Quesada, the conquistador, arrived at Bogota, the legend says he was looking for El Dorado, the mythical city made of Gold. Some other sources say he was running away from a debt he had in the Caribbean coast.
Anyhow, when he arrived at this territory, known then as Bacatá, he was shocked by the different indigenous organizations, and the number of sacred places they had. Back then, Bogota had three main rivers in what we know today as La Candelaria. These rivers were used as reference points and limits to the new city that was being founded.
Going up the San Francisco River, back then the Vicachá River, you could find the place where the water was born, in the foothill of Monserrate. Now, following the paths the indigenous had traced, it was possible to find many sacred areas, as well as roads made with stone, that connected the new city with the communities behind the mountains, and with the other hills.
Now, if you have read a little bit about the colonization, you probably already know about the strategy the Spaniards used to force people into the Catholicism. All the places where you could find an indigenous sacred spot, there would be a church or hermit. Although it is normal to find so many churches per neighborhood in catholic countries, the foundation of this began in the colonial times.
All around the first Bogota, churches where erected to replace the ceremonial spots of the indigenous, and the mountain, being such an important item for the Muiscas needed to become a symbol for the Catholicism.
As a fun fact, Monserrate means mountains with the shape of teeth, and is named after La Virgen de Monserrate, in Spain.
On the other hand, Guadalupe, the mountain next to Monserrate, had a similar history of becoming the symbol for the catholic protection of Bogota, but the road that leads to Guadalupe wasn’t officially built until 1967, so the popularity of this sanctuary has been overshadowed by the touristic expansion of Monserrate.
Now, enough of history, let’s go the place!
How to go to Monserrate?
You can reach the mountain by walking, by car, or in a funnier way: horseback riding!
The first option, walking, is possible from La Candelaria. When you walk around the area, you’ll find a water canal right next to the road where giant buses go by. All you have to do is follow the canal to its origin. There you’ll find a huge building, which is a university. Go around the building by the road, to your right, and keep walking straight until you find the entrance to the mountain.
Once in the foothill, you can choose to take the funicular or the cable car to reach the top, or you can go up by walking. Next to the tickets booth you’ll find the stairs that lead to the top of Monserrate. There’s no fee to use the stairs, but we only recommend it if you don’t feel altitude sickness.
Now, the most recommended way to explore these mountains is horseback riding. Why?
We were just mentioning the history of Monserrate and Guadalupe, not only because history is enlightening, but because during our horseback riding tour you’ll explore these areas full of indigenous heritage.
For a start our guide will pick you up at the hotel. The driver will head south through the mountains to the first destination: Guadalupe, where you’ll have the first views of the city while enjoying a typical snack. As a curious fact, the statue on top of this mountain is not the Guadalupe virgin but the Immaculate conception Virgin. The name Guadalupe was the original one that the Spaniards chose for the mountain as a symbol for the protection of the city.
So, after the snack, you’ll continue to the spot where both mountains meet, where the horses will be waiting. Now is time to mount your horse and ride the trail that will take you back to Colombia’s religious colonialism through a road that was built hundreds of years ago.
Enjoy the horseback ride tour through mountain and forest into Monserrate, learn of the indigenous and rural traditions and their connection to the hills, before reaching the famous viewpoints and cathedral.
Once at Monserrate you can rest your weary haunches after the ride and take in the amazing views: the whole plateau is yours to take in. Then, you are welcome to explore Monserrate with us, its myths and legends still alive today. Seize the afternoon enjoying the views before descending back to Bogotá in cable car or funicular.
As a plus, for being December time, during the sunset and the nighttime, Monserrate will put on special Christmas lights to turn your visit into a magical memory.
So, are you ready to enjoy a great adventure while uncovering the tracks of the history of Bogota?