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Cerro Monserrate (Colombia)

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Monserrate is a mountain located in Bogota, Colombia. A popular tourist and pilgrim attraction.

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      28.04.2011 13:44
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      Fly up, skate down, and maybe nosy at the church at the top

      Bogota doesn't have all that many landmarks, but one thing you can see from virtually anywhere in the city is the church atop Monserrate mountain. I even used to have a view of it from my previous apartment and though I've moved now, I still see it every day as I walk to work and to the gym. At 3152 metres above sea level, it sounds ludicrously high until you remember that Bogota itself is some 2625m up. But still, that's quite a bit further up in the clouds. I wish that were just a figure of speech, but sadly cloudy days are the most common kind here, and while normally you can make out the church, sometimes the very peak is slightly or totally obscured by the puffy white things.

      I've wanted to go for ages, more for the trip than what's at the other end, but since it's not that cheap I thought I'd save it for when Big Sis hit town as it was no doubt something she would want to do, and we finally made the trip on Good Friday.


      .... It Is SO The Journey, Not The Destination ....

      Bogota is at the bottom of the mountain, and the church is at the top. And what's the best way to get up a steep hill? Why, by cable car or funicular, of course, and Monserrate really goes all out by having both options. They normally run at alternate times (cable car in the morning, funicular in the afternoon) but on Sundays and public holidays both are in operation. And, on Sundays and public holidays they lower the prices too, which is everso nice since other companies do the opposite and hike them during peak periods.

      Though I can see the top from just about everywhere, the base on Monserrate is a little further than it looks. The nearest Transmilenio is Las Aguas, but we just walked from my home in La Candelaria (the old town) and it took maybe 25 minutes. The slope up to the station is not the safest according to my guide book, but when we went it was overrun with police and street sellers, and felt no different from the rest of town.

      The station is the departure point for both forms of transport, and the tickets are the same for each so you can buy your return and then decide which one to use for each leg. The first ticket office is obvious but if it's crowded there is another one round the corner that was getting less attention. We paid $8200 return. During the week I think it is normally $14000 and on Sundays it's about $7000, so quite a difference in price for the same trip. We decided to go up on the cable car and come down on the funicular, so joined a long though quite orderly queue for the former.

      The cable cars are gondola style. They hold quite a lot of people (40 max) and have no seats, but the journey is very quick and very, very steep. The only downside is you can't move around and take photos from different angles because there's no room to manoeuvre - I think we had exactly 40 squeezed into ours. The cable cars are bright orange and there are two running (up different lines). I'd seen the lines before and assumed that's what they were, but had never seen the cars on them. Since we went on, however, I've spotted them every day as they stand out quite strongly against the backdrop of the forest up the mountainside.


      .... Up The Airy Mountain ....

      At the top we were shooed out of the arrival area before we could take photos (we'd been facing upwards as we traveled, so wanted some downwards shots too). As we followed the crowd out I immediately realized how much more there is at the summit than just the iconic church. In fact, since services were in progress we didn't even nosy in the building, but we did check out everything else.

      The top is quite flat, despite being the peak of a mountain, with just the occasional ramp / stairs combo. There are various places to eat at the top, from fancy looking waiter service restaurants to self-service snack bars. They also have a range of food stands selling everything from chicken to Obleas, a sweet wafer sandwich snack that is to die for. There are lots of loos, too, plus a first aid centre.

      To one side is a path filled with souvenir sellers. The things are mainly the same as you get back at city level, but with a more religious theme due to the proximity to the church. Though it was quite crowded there were lots of police around to keep an eye on things. The prices seemed pretty average - no premium to compensate the sellers for the effort needed to get to work, but also no reduction as a result of the fierce competition. I think here, as many places on this continent, a friendly price fixing agreement was probably in operation, so no one lost out.

      The top of the mountain includes several landscaped gardens and a series of statues that tell the story of Christ's crucifixion - obviously very popular over the Easter period! I imagine on a day when it wasn't raining, and when it wasn't over run with crowds of pilgrims, you could spend a nice time at the top wandering around and enjoying the stunning views of the city to one side, and a valley to the other. We spent maybe half an hour at the top but it was quite cold and cloudy, and Crepes y Waffles was calling.


      ..... Going Down's Rather Nice ....

      At first we thought the funicular wasn't running, but really there was just no one waiting for it. We queued up behind a closed door and eventually there was a click and a crunch and it was opened for us. The Funicular has maybe 5 sections, but only 4 are ever accessible as the other is for the driver (who always goes at the front, so changes from the bottom section to the top depending on the direction). We got the 2nd section for a good view, but because it's so tiered I think everyone in the others could see too. Again, there are no seats, but again the journey is quite quick. It is super steep and crosses underneath the cable cars before curving round to the same base station. There are also 2 funiculars running, with only one track though there's a diversion half way down to allow them to pass safely.


      .... Some After Thoughts ....

      I may well return, either on a busy Sunday or during the quieter mid week lull. I would like to have a nosy at the church, built in the 17th century with a shrine, devoted to "El Señor Caído" or the Fallen Lord.

      Previously you could trek up the hill on foot, but local rumour has it the path has been closed since a runner was killed by a fluke lightning strike on the path. It should be reopening soon, but again that's going of the local say so, and I've not seen official notice of this. The first person ever to visit Monserrate was an English nutter, sorry, tourist, who strung a rope from the neighbouring Guadeloupe hill, and tight-rope walked across. There is a picture of this as you queue up for the cable car at the base station.

      The transport runs into the evening, and my students keep saying we should go after class. It's supposed to be a nice place to watch the sunset (at about 6pm, all year round)


      .... Sadly Faster Than Fairies & Faster Than Witches ....

      Monserrate is a funny place to think about value for money, seeing as everything on the top of the hill is free....you're just paying to get there. I wouldn't normally factor in, say, a bus fare when considering whether or not to recommend something, but here the best part of the excursion (for me at least) is the transport used to get you there and bring you home. On a £-per-minute basis, they're not super cheap as each journey is under 5 minutes, but when you factor in how much time you could spend at the top without spending anything else, it reduces drastically.

      I enjoyed my trip up the hill, but was just sad it wasn't longer. It took a smidge over 4 minutes on my watch to get from bottom to top, which is rather fleeting. I suppose this could be good for nervous travellers though, as you barely have time to realise you're above the earth when you arrive on solid ground again. For cable car enthusiasts visiting Colombia, I do think Medellin's set up is much better, as it's free once you're inside the Metro system, and the ride takes much longer - over 30 minutes with no chance of getting off for one of the various stretches.

      http://www.cerromonserrate.com/eng_files/index_eng.html

      3000 pesos = £1 in April 2011

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