A couple of weeks ago, I traveled to Bogotá, Colombia for the weekend to take a stab at my first South American music festival. The festival, Estéreo Picnic, hosted 50+ artists from around the world and was held about 20km outside of downtown Bogotá on a plot of land that sat below the Andes Mountains. Not only did the natural landscape of the festival elicit some “wows”, but the festival transformed the landscape into a modern renaissance fair, with life-size army tanks constructed from balloons, a pop-up town of artisans, and sculptures in tune with the festival’s theme of trippy animals and muted neon colors.
Granted, Colombia has a home field advantage since most artists would love to play in and jaunt around Bogotá. But to whoever facilitated the compilation of artists: you did your job well. The result was a fantastic mix: alternative artists like the Alabama Shakes, The Flaming Lips, and Tame Impala; electronic favorites like Jack Ü, Kygo, and Odesza; homegrown Latin American artists like Nicola Cruz, Nicolas Jaar, and Ximena Sariñana; and a patchwork of superstars like Florence + the Machine, Snoop Dogg, and Mumford & Sons. Also, the psychotic brother and sister duo that makes up the band Die Antwoord appeared, adding a full dose of weirdness to the mix. Unlike other festivals that have a central theme of EDM, bluegrass, folk, or jazz, Estéreo Picnic managed to fit in all of the genres without diluting its allure. Selfishly, the eclecticism of the festival was a great touch because the group of people I went to the festival with, who each had their own music tastes, could pick and choose among the genres featured during each of the time slots.
I have a very American-centric point of comparison for most things, so with this mindset, when compared to its American counterpart, the festival was well planned and struck a great balance between an energized atmosphere and a respectful crowd. It offered a host of remedies to feel like an adult-child hybrid, like a massive ball pit, rock climbing, and a number of ways to temporarily change the way you look via an in-house barbershop, face paint artists, and various stations to purchase artist apparel.
I've been to a few festivals in the States and one thing stood out in my mind as a huge difference. I'm only 24, but I went to a festival last summer and I clearly felt on the older end of the spectrum. In my opinion, feeling old at 24 is a clear indication you are in the wrong place. Granted, there is a general trend that live music crowds are younger than ever, but the great thing about Estéreo Picnic was that I felt right in the middle age-wise, if not a tad young. I also think a 50-something could feel equally at ease at this festival. And I think this notion reflects the general atmosphere as that of a very considerate but loose, happy crowd.
Know before you go
In comparison to festivals in America, Estéreo Picnic was extremely cheap. The festival ran from Thursday to Saturday and only cost $178 per person.
Airfare in South America is relatively expensive, but a new company called Viva Colombia is shaking up the airline industry. It is a low-cost carrier, similar to Ryanair in Europe or Frontier in the States. My round-trip ticket from Quito was roughly $185, whereas the next cheapest option was around $400. Granted, the airline experience wasn't spectacular. My flight to Bogotá was delayed 4 hours and the line to check in lasted over an hour. That being said, if you're on a tight budget then Viva Colombia is worth the minor nuisances.
Be prepared to spend some money on food and drinks. Although Colombia is notoriously cheap, if you want to fully enjoy the experience, be willing to buy drinks, coffee, and food while inside. I recall the burgers I ate to be excellent and relatively cheap. Concerts start around 5PM and end around 2AM, so you'll be inside the venue for several hours (likely more than 8+ hours a day), so bring some pesos with you to ease the process.
Pack rain boots, or any kind of water-resistant shoes. Bogotá, like Quito, is known for its erratic weather patterns. It will almost definitely rain on you, and since you'll be outside all night, you’ll want to be prepared so you're not miserably sloshing around to EDM. Don’t be like me and buy a pair of knee-high Crocs in a Bogotá mall 10 minutes before the festival. They also sell ponchos as you walk into the festival for a dollar or two that were well worth it. Think Coachella garb + a light jacket that you don’t mind wrapping around your waist or one that can fit in a book bag.
This festival is like a somewhat adult Disneyworld. Enjoy yo' self.
The festival’s schedule leaves lots of free time in the morning and early afternoon to gallivant around Bogotá. Here’s a couple of the must-sees:
Andrés Carne de Res – A quirky, overly-decorated restaurant. This place is very well known, very delicious, very expensive, and very worth it. The menu is more of a magazine than a menu, so they [literally] have everything on the menu. My group shared eight plates ranging from the traditional empanadas and Arepas, to pizza with a plantain crust.
Museo Botero – I can’t claim that I’m a huge art buff, but this museum is amazing. Fernando Botero is a Colombian artist from Medellin, who has a very unique style of art. He draws everything morbidly obese and it is hilarious and awesome. Obese people. Obese tigers. Obese apples. Obese forks and knives. This was by far my favorite activity outside of the festival, so make sure to add it to your list.
Al Agua Patos – Another restaurant, perfect for brunch. The concept is centered around toasts. For example, you can order toast with honey buffalo chicken, truffled egg, or mole chicken. I tried all three, and all three were incredible. We also ordered coffee and a drink called monkey lemonade, which is lemonade with condensed milk and banana – buenazo.
I was only in Bogotá for a few days but during my short time there I felt the same Quito charm, spent way less money, and finally got to see Florence + the Machine live.