“ Location: Botanical Garden in Bogota / Address: Avenida Calle 63 No. 68-95, Bogota „
As is customary in this part of the world, Bogota's Botanical Garden is an extension of the largest park in the city - Parque Simon Bolivar. However unlike the similar one in Quito or the one in Mexico City, it is not so much in the middle of a park as it is tagged on to one end. The far end. It took me a while to get there, getting a bus from the centre which took about half an hour, and then walking for another 20 minutes or so to get to the entrance. I was spurred on, however, by being able to see and in particular smell the gardens, though I was still on the wrong side of a fence and had a long way to walk. The fragrance is astonishing and as inviting as the biscuit factory I live near in Manchester, and it made me speed up so I could get inside.
The Jardín Botánico José Celestino Mutis is open daily, from 8am during the week and from 9am at weekends. There is a nominal entrance fee ($2000 or 66p for adults, half that for children), and sadly you don't get a ticket, just a receipt you then hand over as you go through the turnstile. Once inside paths take you in all directions, and you're free to explore and wander as you please, assisted by various 'you are here' maps at strategic points. The thing that first struck me was how popular the place was. I always think it's a shame when Botanical Gardens fly under the radar of both locals and tourists, but given by the number of families streaming through the gates at 10am on a holiday Monday, the Bogatenos are clearly proud of this space and justifiably so.
To call this a Botanical Garden undersells it somewhat, since the place is massive and 'Botanical Park' might be a better label for a space that spans more than 19 hectares. It's beautifully laid out and very spacious, so you're not trying to hack your way through vines or duck under low hanging branches as you explore. Clear paths loop around the edge and zig zag across the space, but walking on the grass isn't forbidden, and in some cases it seems to be actively encouraged since some shrubs are signed at a distance that requires you to get a little closer if you want to read them. The down side of this is that there aren't any of the wonderfully hilarious "'No pisar el césped" signs to giggle at.
The space, which I really do refuse to call a garden, is themed into distinct areas. Each one is labelled nicely and though I went as a tourist, not a botanist, it seemed pretty thorough with plant family, scientific name, origin and so on, albeit only in Spanish. The "Garden of Exotic Plants" was the first thing I came across and included ones from each continent. This led on to a more wooded area that came complete with huge wire life-sized statues of animals, making you feel like you'd wandered into a sculpture park. This reassured me somewhat as when I had arrived I had seen a man 'tending to' a horse in the distance and had wondered what on earth he was doing - now I knew he had simply been repairing it...
My favourite part was the rose garden which was immensely fragrant and so colourful, with different types of the flower from all over. I also liked the herb garden close by though had to stop myself from sneakily taking some cuttings home for my tea. At times I also walked along paths that took me away from the neatly planted and painstakingly labelled shrubs and into more general park areas - though all within the walls of the compound, and not in the main park itself.
In the middle there were your predictable large, climatised green houses and even though Bogota was having one of its unusually warm days, the difference was immediate as you stepped into a humid, hot environment. Housing everything from cacti to lily ponds, with bright tropical flowers in between, this is definitely worth a look even if you don't normally like the feeling of being inside such places, because the plants it showcases are totally different from anything that could grow outside (due to Bogota's 'lovely' inhospitable climate) . One part is literally like being in a tropical rain forest, while another is lined with poinsettias. We have a bit of a thing for poinsettias in our family. Though I don't normally like enclosed places with wildlife that thinks you're fair game as a landing site, the tiny, colouful butterflies in here kept well clear of the people and were gorgeous to look at, much more vibrant that the sort you'd see in the UK, and a fraction of the size.
I thought the park-sized-garden achieved a spot on balance between carefully landscaped areas and a more natural look - they weren't anal about sweeping up rose petals or fallen leaves, for example. I liked this because it didn't in anyway feel artificial, though perhaps being at an altitude of over 2600 meters I should have been more sceptical of the palm trees towering above me as if I were at the beach. In addition to the flora and fauna there were various pagodas and other structures, bridges and a large looping lake which made it so much more than just a glorified garden and you can tell it is tended with love by those who work there. Several guided tours were taking place while I was there, but it was unclear whether these were a free for all or had been pre-arranged. I eavesdropped on a few and the guides in question were clearly passionate about the subject.
The Garden has a cafe and a mini garden centre at the entrance though this is the only shop. There were lots of staff members on hand to answer questions, while others were hard at it, getting on with work around the visitors. Several paths were also cordoned off 'for scientific reasons' but there are so many ways to go that even with these restrictions you never end up at a dead end.
Aside from the odd plane roaring over head (the site is out towards the airport) this is a peaceful place to while away some time. There is so much to see and do, but also tons of places simply to sit and relax in beautiful surroundings, and if I'd thought, I'd have brought a picnic with me to linger a little. This is definitely the most beautiful part of Colombia's capital in my opinion. I stuck up some photos on Facebook and got various 'likes' and comments about how attractive the city is, though what they really meant was how lovely the Botanical Garden. Bogota has tree-lined avenues in the wealthier parts, and the mountains surrounding us on various sides are planted with greenery, but generally for day to day wandering I don't see much that makes me want to stop and, well, smell the flowers. They have more plazas - i.e. concrete squares - than they do city parks, so the contrast between the streets I usually tread and this place was immense. It was a wonderful morning out and had I known how fab it was, I would have gone sooner. Even so, despite a mere 4 weeks left in the city, I know I'll be back and if it were slightly more central I'd pop in every few days for that price - it's so big and so impressive and there's so much to see, I'm sure I'd never get bored.
The Jardín Botánico José Celestino Mutis has something for everything, and was being enjoyed by couples and families of all ages while I was there. If you take your time it could easily take up half a day of your time, and it would be a half day well spent. The only downside I can think of is the location, quite a way from any other tourist sites, the main shopping areas and so on, though it is near the industrial zone so some of the larger name hotels such as the Sheraton are very close by.
To reach the Botanical Garden you can catch a bus along Calle 19 marked "aeropuerto" and get off after you go past the Gran Estacion shopping mall. Or, the Transmilenio has a stop for the main park (aptly called "Parque Simon Bolivar"), but the gardens are right at the other side so you'll have to walk quite a long way. Alternatively, if you're here only temporarily and spending pounds or dollars, a taxi won't cost more than about £3 and will take you right to the entrance.