If you really want to meet the real Bogota, wake up early.
The city starts to move just before dawn, with buses beginning to load and unload at every corner, especially near Paloquemao.
Paloquemao is Bogota’s famous flower market, made up of bodegas, food stalls, and a maze of baskets and boxes all piled high with every fruit and vegetable you’ve (never) ever heard of. By 4am, the market is buzzing with people haggling and negotiating on prices and products, loading their trucks and rolling away with their produce for the week.
It’s in a dusty, gritty part of the city which might be ignored if you didn’t know where to look but inside it lights up with colors and smells from around Latin America. While you can find almost every local delicacy within the market, you will also stumble upon Asian or Middle Eastern products.
When you arrive, start early. Order yourself a tinto (short, strong coffee) from a local stand and a pan de yuca (yuca bread). Make your rounds, being sure to smell every fruit you can and ask questions. Those working the stands are hustling, but they’re also always willing to help explain. After the fruits and vegetables, venture into the eggs and meat if you can stomach it. Afterwards, freshen your senses in the flower market section. Shop keepers whistle and shout at each other, each selling every version of bouquets, long stem roses, colorful tropical flowers, baskets overflowing with greenery and potted plants.
After a few hours, you’ll probably be hungry from all the shopping. Pop outside to one of the food stands that line the outdoor section for a classic Colombian-worker lunch. For 10.000 pesos, you can fill up on rice, salad, potato, chicken or meat, a hearty soup, and a fresh juice. I once went to lunch there with a vegetarian, and after explaining to the cook that she could not eat any meat. (“Vegeteriana. Cero carne!! No puede comer carne!!!!“) He chuckled and said, “Si, tranquila! I have just the thing for her!” He returned shortly with a fish stew. Not quite vegetarian, but his helpfulness was endearing. *My friend ended up eating rice and yucca for lunch. It’s tough to be a veggie in Colombia.