On our trip to Colombia in 2016, we had about 10 days to see everything we wanted to see. We spent about three of those days in Bogota, and one of them absolutely had to be a Sunday.
Having been an instrumental part in starting Philly Free Streets, LeeAnne had become interested in other pedestrian events around the world, and none of them are quite like Bogota’s Ciclovia. From 7am to 2pm every Sunday (and on holidays as well), Bogota shuts down 76 miles of streets for people to use car-free. This program has been going on since 1974, with an estimated 1.7 million residents taking advantage every weekend, which totals about a quarter of Bogota’s population.
We booked a bike tour through Bogota for the Sunday we were there in order to take advantage of Ciclovia. Bogota Bike Tours, just two blocks from our hotel in the La Candelaria neighborhood, was an excellent choice. Along with the normal bike tour things you see—a trip through a market to see the local fruit, some history lessons at the major sites, a stop at a coffee shop that roasts its own beans, a game of tejo—we were able to fully experience Ciclovia.
We rode through streets absolutely packed with people. It made riding a little difficult at some points, but people on foot were cognizant of the bikers and let us through whenever we were noticed. We stopped to take part in one of the mass exercise classes in the middle of the street (one of many—the event is packed with them), got snacks, and just enjoyed the car-free experience while we did the rest of our usual tour.
The most amazing part, to me, was how many streets were closed down. The main highway that goes through Bogota—and leads to the airport—was closed! In Philadelphia, they skirt around the issue and close minimal streets and people still complain; I can’t imagine what would happen if the main highway leading to the airport was closed for seven hours every Sunday so people could ride their bikes and dance in the street.
While the bike tour was a great experience and definitely killed two birds with one stone, I would have loved to experience more of the Ciclovia on our own. While I had fun on the bike channeling my inner Nairo Quintana (and failing miserably at the first hill I came to—my legs still burn thinking about it), walking through the streets with a mass of people will always be a great draw for me. For any city usually packed with traffic, being able to experience it without cars is always a treat. Seeing so many people out and about, exercising, hanging out, taking advantage of the outdoors, is always a wonderful thing.
If you are going to Bogota—and you absolutely should—be sure to schedule in a Sunday while you’re there. Ciclovia demonstrates the best of “mass recreation events,” and is a model for the rest of the world. Every city should strive to have open streets for its pedestrians, and hopefully we can shrug off our dependence on cars, if only for one day a week, in order to enjoy our cities that much more.