Yet another overnight bus ride and we found ourselves transported from the isolated, small town charm of San Agustin to the overwhelming, bustling Colombian capital of Bogota. We booked ourselves into an upscale hostel in the historic district of Candelaria, where most of the buildings date back to the 16th or 17th century. As the epicenter of tourism in Bogota, we expected it to be a little nicer, but instead found it mostly run-down, dirty, and unsafe after dark.

That said, we did see some remarkable things during our three day stay. Just a few minutes walk from our hostel was the Plaza de Bolivar, a huge square flanked by a gigantic cathedral, the presidential palace, the supreme court, and numerous other historic government buildings. It was sad to see many of these tagged with graffiti, though, which detracted from the charm and historical significance of it all.

We also visited Monseratte, an incredible cathedral overlooking the city from atop one of the huge mountains that tower over the historic district. To reach it, we took a tram that climbs slowly up a track at an impossibly steep angle, providing increasingly amazing views across the neverending city skyline. At the top, a walkway leads visitors along a series of 14 beautiful copper statues telling the story of Christ as he prepared for, and eventually faced, the crucifixion. The path ends at the foot of the cathedral, a simple, gleaming white building surrounded by walkways from which hundreds of people were sitting enjoying the view. Lots of selfie sticks were present. There was a mass going on inside, and we stood in the back for a few minutes listening to the booming echo of the priest’s sermon filling the cavernous interior. Following that, we walked a winding path through souvineer booths and small snack and lunch stands before taking the tram back down the mountain.  We had planned to spend the afternoon exploring some of the museums in the area but due to the national elections taking place that day, they were all unfortunately closed. It was probably due to the high altitude (almost 9000 feet), but we were feeling fairly exhausted and just spent the rest of the day and night watching Netflix on our tablet in our hostel room instead.

The next day, we took a day trip out of the city to the nearby town of Zipaquira, where we visited a very unique attraction, the underground Salt Cathedral. Built inside an old vacated salt mine about 600 feet underground, our tour took us through a maze of giant caverns carved from salt, with various religious displays and sculptures throughout. We were taken aback by the scale of the place, and the unfathomable skill required to build it. Soft religious music, glowing lights fading through various colors, and the cool, musty air lent a solemn tone, especially once our tour concluded and we were left to wander on our own through the tunnels and displays. It was unlike anything we’ve ever seen.

We returned to Bogota, made a quick dinner of breakfast burritos, and happily prepared for our flight the next morning into the Amazon jungle town of Leticia.