Why you should care
Because do this tourist attraction wrong and it might be game over.
Monserrate. Top of the Andes mountains. This glistening, white stucco church that looks out from a ledge over Colombia’s capital city of Bogotá is breathtaking. After dating Monica for two years, it seemed like the perfect place to spend a Sunday afternoon. We would climb to the top on foot and soak up some nature, followed by an evening at Casa San Isidro, noted to be one of Bogotá’s best gastronomic experiences. I planted the idea.
She looked at me, petrified. “But I don’t want to break up with you!”
Break up? I was sure we were in love. But then this mountain all of the sudden posed a menacing threat. Traveling couples, beware. If you’re in Bogotá with your sweetheart, the hike up Monserrate es un buen plan … as long as you don’t do it together. “I’ve seen couples go up the mountain whimpering,” says 48-year-old Jose Pacheco, a security guard for the mountain trail. “They come down sobbing.”
Old-timer Guillermo Velandia, 60, who grew up and still lives on the steep ledges of Monserrate, confirms the myth’s powers. “There’s a strong indigenous culture in our language, in our stories here,” he says. Another legend, according to Velandia: If a young boy gets too obsessed with pretty girls, a beautiful woman will appear on the mountain trail, beckon him to follow her and then kick him off the side, sending him tumbling into a briar patch. “It happened to my uncle,” says Velandia. “He went missing for three days.”
But even if you’re fit, you’ll likely get smacked by the high altitude squeezing your lungs as you climb the switchbacks.
According to Monserrate’s tourism office, this mountain is a place of spiritual importance for the Muisca people, who dominated the region before the Spanish conquest. Under the Spanish, Don Juan de Borja built a church as an homage to the Virgen Morena of Monserrate and inspired decades of pilgrims to drop to their knees and crawl to the top, often arriving bloodied … but spiritually renewed. But you can get to the top without doing the knee thing. Cable car. Funicular. Or the trail — it’s free and located just off to the right of the cable car station.
Out of shape? Expect huffing and puffing. You’re rising from about 2,700 to 3,152 meters above sea level in a matter of 45 minutes. But even if you’re fit, you’ll likely get smacked by the high altitude squeezing your lungs as you climb the switchbacks. You’re not a slacker if you just take a breather and enjoy the view. In fact, about halfway up is a pueblito, where Velandia runs a shop. Here, you can use a rustic outhouse for 500 pesos and grab a bottle of fermented Colombian corn booze (known as chicha ) — a variety of the murky drink is available (for 2,000 pesos) in soda bottles capped at tremendous pressures.
At the bottom I find Melany, 19, smooching with her boyfriend Johan, 20. Recently returned from the top, they seem rather infatuated with each other, so I ask them about the legend. “No, that’s a superstition. Nothing’s going to happen to us,” insists Johan, puffing his chest out from beneath a white Adidas track jacket. “Yeah, we’re chill,” says Melany. Simple as that, and Johan pasted another blissful kiss on Melany’s lips.
Hell of a fearless little thing they had going on. I almost wish it were mine.