Monserrate is a hill that rises from the edges of downtown Bogotá, Colombia, reaching a height of 10,341 feet. The hill is not only a geographic feature of the city, but a site of history, religious devotion and touristic appeal.
The hill can be accessed by funicular or cable car. At the top, visitors will find a number restaurants and shops, viewpoints from which to see the city below, a pathway with stations of the cross and a Roman Catholic sanctuary at the hill's highest point. Bogotá's Monserrate Hill is wheelchair accessible, but with some caveats, described in detail here.
History of Monserrate
Monserrate Hill's history did not begin with Spanish colonization, but its present-day attraction is largely the result of it.
The foundations of what we now find atop the hill were laid in the 17th century, with the construction of a Catholic monastery devoted to the Virgin Mary. The sanctuary which peeks above the treetops was constructed in 1657, and is now known as the Sanctuary of El Señor Caído, or The Fallen Lord.
The sanctuary gained its name from the people's devotion to a crucifix created by the local artist Pedro de Lugo y Albarrac. Worshippers traveled from across the region to see that cross and the statue of Jesus which adorned it. Beyond the image and artwork, their devotion was to the sacrifice of "The Fallen Lord," and the sanctuary was so named (or, re-named).
Getting to Monserrate
You won't be able to ride public transport all the way to Monserrate if you utilize a wheelchair, but you can get close. There are accessible TransMilenio stations along Carrera 3, Carrera 10 and Avenida Caracas, approximately 1 to 2 kilometers from the base of Monserrate.
Unfortunately, sidewalks along a portion of Calle 22, the road leading up to the Monserrate funicular station, are not accessible. I was forced to ride my wheelchair in the street, which is wide. Riding a wheelchair in the street is always dangerous, but I did so with extreme caution and in daylight conditions. Be careful!
Funicular — Wheelchair Access
After getting your ticket to ride the funicular (it's only about $5 USD round-trip), you'll be directed to a wheelchair stair lift inside the funicular station. The lift is new and was installed within the past year.
The stair lift transported me and my wheelchair safely to the top of the stairs, a total weight of about 275 kg or 600 lbs. Once at the top, I positioned my wheelchair towards the funicular car.
The funicular vehicle will be moved to be in line with the top step. The threshold has a gap of 2-3 inches. The platform is not quite level with the car, as pictured below.
I expressed to the staff the need for a ramp to bridge the gap, but there isn't one. My sister, who took the trip with me, told me it was "too dangerous" given the many stairs below. I insisted on giving it a go, however. The staff did their best to help and I made it aboard.
The second photo above was taken at the upper station (at the top of Monserrate) and it was much more manageable. The lower station is the one that is scary and could be troublesome, but I made it with a very heavy power wheelchair. Obviously, boarding the funicular is not without risk and you should consider that in making your decision. I didn't want to visit Bogota without going to Monserrate, so the risk was worth it to me.
The funicular is a multi-tiered vehicle, and wheelchairs go in the top section of the vehicle. Views are difficult from the seat of the wheelchair, but I utilized the seat elevation feature on my power wheelchair to get better views.
Cable Car — Wheelchair Access
A cable car operates along same route as the funicular. The Monserrate cable car is wheelchair accessible, but I have not ridden it. During my visit in February 2019, the cable car was undergoing maintenance and the funicular was being used on a constant basis. Typically, the funicular operates before lunch time and the cable car operates starting from 12:00 p.m.
Sidewalks and Pathways
After riding the funicular or cable car, visitors will then have two choices for making their top the top of Monserrate: stairs or a winding pathway. The winding pathway is composed primarily of cobblestones, but a smooth brick path has also been created. The brick path is accessible to wheelchairs, strollers and users of walkers/canes.
The main pathway is steep, but my power wheelchair handled it without issues. Manual wheelchair users will require some help in certain areas.
The pathways are surrounded by beautiful greenery — trees, flowers, shrubs and other plants. You'll also notice some beehive installations, but I never encountered a single bumblebee.
Pictured above are a few paths that I deemed too steep to navigate with my power wheelchair. Fortunately, neither of these pathways were on the route to the hilltop and did not impede my ability to enjoy the attraction. Wheelchair users may find it impossible to reach some of the restaurants and shops due to steep pathways like these, however.
Stations of the Cross
Visitors to Monserrate can follow the Way of the Cross on the journey up the hill. An accessible path gradually winds its way up from the upper funicular station to the top of the hill. Along this path are 14 stations of the cross, statues which depict the journey of Jesus Christ — from His condemnation by Pontius Pilate, to His death on the cross and the placement of His body in the sepulcher.
Religious pilgrims visit Monseratte to follow these stations each day, but the largest numbers visit on Good Friday and during the Triduum. On the day of my visit in February, I noticed only a few people prayerfully following the stations.
Churches, Roman Catholic ones in particular, are very interesting to me. When I heard about the Catholic sanctuary at the very top of Monserrate, I wanted to see it. Unfortunately, do to the steep incline, I was only able to see the exterior of the church.
The picture above was taken from the highest point I was able to reach without tipping over my power wheelchair. You'll notice that the ramp seen to the right of the stairs is incredibly steep, and would never have been possible for me to summit.
I inquired about a lift, but there isn't one. Though an additional fee of $1 per visit for tourists (not locals) would pay for one. We should be making every religion, church and faith community accessible to people with disabilities (for me, that means making Catholicism accessible).
Since I didn't have anyone to carry me up the steps, I settled for Googling photos of the sanctuary's interior. It is beautiful. If you make it up there, let me know!
During my tour of Monserrate, I came upon three bathroom facilities marked as accessible. I was only able to get inside once, which is located right next to the funicular's upper station. You can't miss it.
The bathroom wasn't actually very accessible, but the photo above should demonstrate what's there. The grab bars are fixed around the toilet and form a barrier in their own right.
People are drawn to Monserrate out of curiosity — a desire to see Bogotá from above, to explore the beautiful scenery, to ride the funicular and to climb the city's hill. And while accessibility is lacking on the hill, I was able to see a lot from the seat of my wheelchair. I found the trip worthwhile, and am confident you will enjoy the experience too. Fulfill your curiosity, because you can!