Sunday morning – Bogotá style

For Colombians, Sunday is a pretty special day. It’s a time when families get together to enjoy each other’s company and relax. No different to many other places around the world. But for the residents of Bogotá, the day offers another reason to be joyful.

Every Sunday, up to two million residents from across the sprawling city spill out onto the streets to reclaim them from the traffic. This is ‘Ciclovia’ and Bogotá has just celebrated 40 years since its inception. Ciclovia connects a circuit of over 120 km (70 miles) of main roads across the city, which remain car free from 7am to 2pm, with the primary purpose of allowing residents to indulge in a little recreation and fitness. It’s a great way to see Bogotá. And what better way to encourage an entire population of a huge capital city to think about their health and wellbeing?

In a place held to ransom on a daily basis by the slow grind of choking traffic, and a public transport system that struggles to cope with its (unofficially) estimated 10 million residents, this hugely popular event is testament to the tenacity and joyful spirit of the inhabitants of Bogotá. An attempt to shut down the Ciclovia by one congressman in 2007, under the allegation it caused traffic jams, was spectacularly defeated.

Every Sunday from 5am the Ciclovia management team, which models itself on the TV programme ‘Baywatch’ and is known as ‘Bikewatch’, gets busy closing and barricading the streets to cars. It’s a chance for people to get together as friends, families and neighbours, and enjoy being outside to walk, run, cycle, dance and skate through the metropolis. At regular intervals along the route you’ll also find a ‘Recreovia’; a series of free exercise classes including aerobics, stretching, yoga, classes for children, and of course, dance. This is Latin America after all, the home of salsa.  And all this jumps along to the beat of vibrant, uplifting, addictive music.

Ciclovia brings people from all walks of life together, like a party everyone is invited to, and is social integration at its best; old and young, rich and poor alike, uniting the city. Organisers say it has not only helped improve residents’ health but also lifted their spirits, making them more tolerant as a consequence – no mean feat in an overpopulated capital city. People are very proud of this tradition and even like to share stories of couples who have fallen in love having met at the Ciclovia.

The most recent event also shared centre stage with the annual Bogotá half marathon; an international race, which saw around 45,000 people pounding the streets, including an elite squad from GSK Colombia, running to raise money for Save the Children.

Since beginning in Bogotá, Ciclovia has now spread to other cities across Colombia, and has served to provide a blueprint for many other countries, including Argentina, Brazil, Chile, Costa Rica, Mexico, Venezuela, and has even been adopted in cities in the US, Europe, India and New Zealand, which have all initiated similar programmes.

None have so far achieved anything like the scale of that in Bogotá. What a great legacy for a city, and country, which is more frequently recognised for quite a different, more colourful, past.

Ciclovia dance class - street style

Ciclovia dance class – street style