Saturday, June 22, 2013

Photo album of Monserrate, the mountain overlooking Bogota in Colombia

For centuries, one of the primary attractions of Bogotá, the capital of Colombia, has been the mountain called Monserrate overlooking the center of town. Its height is 3,152 meters or 10,341 feet above sea level, compared to the city proper at 2614 meters or 8576 feet. This mountain reminded the Spaniards of a similar mountain in Catalonia called Montserrat, hence the name. Monserrate also shares with Monserrat its popularity as a pilgrimage for the faithful, who visit the church at the top to pray for assistance or express thanks for prayers answered.

Whenever I go to Bogotá, Monserrate seems to beckon me to go to it, time and again, especially as the mountain and church, which are on the eastern side of the city, are visible from virtually any vantage point. As a graduate student, I first went to the top in 1980 with some of my fellow students, and my latest trip was in 2012 with the family. The appearance of the site has improved greatly over the years.

There are two options to take the comfortable route to the top: by inclined railway or "funícular," or by cable car or "teleférico." Regardless of which means of transportation is taken, the ticket for the round trip is pricey by the standards of Colombian attractions. The other option is to take the long walk to the top via the footpath, but it is generally recommended to do this only on the weekends when there are many more people making the same trip, and of course if your physical condition permits it. I climbed up once with a large group back in 2004, but we opted to take one of the easy routes down. There is a page in Spanish, updated in April 2013, explaining the restrictions in using the footpath, including hours that the path is open to the public.

It's inevitable to find fellow foreigners when traveling to Monserrate. On the one short trip we took in 2012, I met travelers from the United States, Canada, France, Brazil and Japan. There are plenty of souvenirs for the visitor to choose from and lots of delicious food at all price ranges.

For more information, go to the official English-language page for the Cerro de Monserrate.

From Monserrate one can also see the Cerro de Guadalupe, which is higher than Monserrate and features a statue of the Virgin overlooking the city. The Bogota webpage for the Cerro de Guadalupe mentions that public transportation services this attraction on Sundays for celebration of Mass. Inquire locally about schedules and conditions. (Note: There is no safe footpath to the top of Cerro de Guadalupe.)

The building at the base of Monserrate

There are stands to buy food and drinks at the bottom as well as at the top

The rail cars (in Spanish: "funícular") used to make the climb have changed over the years

Pulling out of the station; an older train (red) can be seen at the right 

Higher and higher

One view while ascending
The "funicular" is about to disappear into the tunnel
In the tunnel, near the top

You see this sign shortly after leaving the "funícular" rail station: 10,259 feet above sea level.  From there you climb higher to reach the sanctuary. The abbreviations in the Spanish text stand for "metros sobre el nivel del mar" or meters above sea level.
The climb after leaving the "funícular" station

View of nearby Cerro de Guadalupe, which is higher than Monserrate
Lots of pretty plants at every step of the way

Nearly at the top, facing the front of the sanctuary
Looking to the southwest of Monserrate

The part of Bogotá nearest the station to Monserrate

Cerro el Tablazo is the name of the flat mountain visible in the center
View in the distance, past the edge of Bogota

Bogotá extending north

The beginning of the path down the mountain. The path is best used on weekends when there is safety in numbers.

Inside the sanctuary

Another view inside the sanctuary

The statue of the Black Virgin or "Virgen Morena"

View "behind" Bogota, facing east

Going toward the food and crafts stands behind the church

Lots of foreigners as well as locals congregate in this area

Lots of souvenirs to choose from

Still more souvenirs. After so many years of traveling to Colombia, I gravitate toward food

Homer Simpson couldn't be forgotten, right?

The famous Colombian hat called "sombrero vueltiao"

Ruanas, hats and men's shoulder bags, called "carrieles"

Coca tea comes from one of the indigenous populations of Colombia

Achiras, a favorite snack made of cheese and a local flour

At the top are replicas of jeeps and the folk buses called "chivas." Men's hats are still popular; at times you will even see women from the countryside wearing these, as is common throughout the Andes. The bag in the left center reads "Guajira," a province in the north of Colombia.

This is during a weekday, but Monserrate still draws a crowd

Lots to eat, but my favorite are the crunchy roasted corncobs

View of the church from the souvenir stands

In the center you can see scarves with the logos of two of Bogota's soccer teams: Millonarios (blue) and Santa Fe (red). The yellow bag below the scarves has the pattern of the "molas" of the Kuna people of northwestern Colombia and Panama

Returning to the church from the souvenir stands

Buildings further down the hill, Cerro de Guadalupe and another mountain in the background

More panoramic views of Bogota

A popular restaurant on the left

The frailejón or espeletia grows at the higher elevations

There is a path for Stations of the Cross behind the sanctuary and extending down the mountain on the other side

Looking back toward the church along the Way of the Cross

A tall eucalyptus tree with ferns to the right. The eucalyptus tree has a characteristic fragrance. 

The flowers that grow at different elevations are fascinating

Many ferns also grow in this area

The top features some nice restaurants as well as a cafeteria

Cable car or "Teleférico" station, where we will begin our descent
Workers in a precarious position

Cable car beginning its descent

Looking straight down from the front of the cable car or teleférico

Lots of interesting plants are visible during the ascent or descent

Now from the bottom, looking upward

This pretty sight is at the bottom

Back where we started!

Monserrate beckons...again!

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