Bogotá can be a difficult city and many visitors see it as little more than a necessary stopover to get to other, most interesting destinations. And they’re not wrong, especially if time is limited. Colombia is about nature and exploring the incredibly diverse landscapes it has to offer, and whilst Bogotá is in the mountains, it’s very much a busy, polluted and, at times, stressful city. However, it is a place we both call home and definitely worth a look-in! Here is our honest guide to what you should do in the Colombian capital.
How long should you go for?
Two or three days is plenty to see Bogotá, perhaps more if you are keen to explore nearby places.
When should you go?
Ideally, come on a weekend. Not only can you enjoy ciclovia and Usaquén market, but weekends tend to be calmer. If you can, come during a puente long-weekend, Holy Week, or December-January when most capitalinos escape the city for the holidays.
What should you do in Bogotá?
Sundays and Monday festivos, 7am-2pm
Every Sunday and public holiday Mondays, a network of roads are closed to create a cycle route around the city. It’s pretty extensive, connecting different areas of the city with 120 km of car-free roads for people go out cycling, walk their dogs, go running without fearing for their lives. Ciclovia is growing increasingly popular, with over 2000 people using it every weekend.
You can rent a bike from your hostel (should be around 30.000COP). You can combine ciclovia with a trip to Usaquén or if it’s a particularly sunny day, Parque Simon Bolivar. I wouldn’t recommend cycling around the Candelaria, it’s too busy! Stop for a snack on the way at any of the little stalls that sell lemonade, fruit cups, salpicón.
Usaquén is a traditional, middle class area which used to be a village that was engulfed by the ever-growing capital. It is centred around a cute plaza with a church, and is popular for its Sunday “flea market”. It’s not at all a flea market, it’s a posh, artisanal market, selling everything from traditional handicrafts, bags and jewelry to plants, notebooks, spices and household decor… It is perfect for souvenirs, if a little overpriced compared to the Candelaria. There is a great atmosphere; kids running around, people lounging on the grass and street performers entertaining.
There are plenty of nice restaurants and cafés in the area, or if you can fill yourself with delicious street food such as mazorca (the most delicious corn on the cob you will ever taste – the corn is gigantic!), luladas, obleas… also look out for the rastafaris, they sell the most delicious vegetarian burgers I’ve ever had in my life (for $5.000COP).
3. The Candelaria
The Candelaria was the first official neighbourhood of Bogotá, the capital being founded in the Chorro de Quevedo. Here, the old, traditional original houses have been maintained. This is the historical center, where most hostels are and the tourist hub of Bogotá. Plaza Bolivar is the main square where lies the Primatial Cathedral of Bogota, the statue of Simon Bolivar and important official buildings such as the Lievano Palace, Congress, and the Palace of Justice. It is also full of pigeons, which, bizarrely, locals enjoy feeding maize and posing with them on their heads. Strolling around, you will also find plenty of graffiti art, artisanal craft shops, bookshops, museums, cafés and restaurants.
Get up early and walk up to Monserrate which takes about an hour. It’s not a difficult hike, the path has recently been reconstructed, but might probably suffer due the altitude. Alternatively, get the cable car or funicular up for $9.500COP. At the top, you can enjoy the spectacular views of the city, visit the church and peruse the souvenir market. There is also typical Colombian food available. For some peace from all the other tourists, keep heading all the way past the souvenirs and food to reach the back of the mountain, which is a lot quieter.
If you are a fan of museums, head to Museo de Oro, Museo Nacional, and Banco de la República. I wouldn’t say it’s necessary to visit all three – but a short visit will give you a feel of Colombian history and its national treasures. In Museo de Oro, the most interesting is the 3rd floor, the sala of “Cosmologia y Simbolismo” and “El Vuelo Chamánico”. The Museo Nacional used to be a prison, and exhibits historical artefacts, statues and paintings from all over the country. My favourite room is “Memoria y nación”, it’s the newest room, well-curated and really interesting. Banco de la República holds a permanent exhbition of Botero paintings (really fat people).
6. Simón Bolivar Park & The Botanical Gardens
If you are lucky enough to get some sunshine, head to Parque Simon Bolivar (free) or the Botanical Gardens ($3.500) for a picnic and a wander, make the most of the sunshine! Simon Bolivar Park or “El Simón” is a huge park where local families spend sunny weekends having picnics, flying kites, riding bike, running. Bogotá Botanical Gardens is Colombia’s biggest Botanical Gardens and features plants from every Colombian altitude, climate and region and the only one in the nation that specialises in preserving and collecting Andean species of flowers. They also have regular special events and exhibitions, such as Jardín Botánico Nocturno with food markets and live music.
7. A Night Out
Like any capital city, Bogotá has a buzzing nightlife. For the most traditional Colombian night out, head to Andres Chia. It’s about 45 minutes north of Bogotá but it’s really quirky and fun night out. If you don’t fancy the trek, there is also an Andrés in Zona T or plenty alternative options, the main areas to go out in Bogotá are Chapinero and Zona T (La 85).
- Chapinero, or “Chapi-gay” is full of fun casual bars and clubs. The gay bars are around Plaza de Los Hippies – Teatron, the biggest gay club in Latin America makes for an unforgettable night out. Heading South, around Calle 51 is where the students go out – Café Cinema, Casa Babylon, Disco Jaguar, La Negra.
- For a more fancy night out, head to Zona T (La 85) – but you’ll have to dress to impress! Most places are crossover – that is mix of everything – reggaeton, salsa and international chart music.
- For electronic music and alternative DJ nights, head to Octava, BAUM or Videoclub. For salsa fans, El Goce Pagano, Quiebra Canto and Cuban Jazz Café are traditional salsa bars (Candelaria) with live bands where you dance all night!
8. Eat to your heart's content!
Colombia food isn’t so… varied, so Bogotá, being the capital has plenty of international cuisine – this is your opportunity to not eat rice, frijoles and plantain. And the best thing is, for tourists, you’ll spend about the same in the poshest restaurants here than in an average restaurant at home. Zona G, Zona T, Usaquen, Parque de La 93 for plenty of restaurant choice.
For a delicious fancy version of traditional Colombian food, head to Club Colombia (Calle 82 # 9-11) – order a selection of starters and mains to share like tapas and you’ll probably cover most of what Colombia cuisine has to offer…
Ajiaco is my favourite Colombian dish, which happens to be from Bogotá. It is a delicious creamy potatoey chicken soup with avocado. “El mejor ajiaco del mundo” (Cl. 11 #6-20) is a restaurant just off Plaza Bolivar that genuinely does the best ajiaco I’ve ever had!
When it comes to street food, you cannot miss arepas and mazorca. Arepa are grilled corn pancakes – you can’t beat a breakfast arepa with scrambled egg and cheese! Mazorca is the best form of corn that exists in the world. Imagine a corn-on-the-cob but better: gigantic, tender kernals of corn, salted and buttered, fresh of the grill… heaven.
However, I would avoid hotdogs and hamburgers off the street!
9. Mountain views from the Calera
Escape the city and head to the hills – go to Alto de Patio towards La Calera which is around 20 mins on bus away. There are various restaurants and cafés, where you can go and enjoy the spectacular mountain view over the city. Many keen cyclists even brave the the 6.4km climb at the weekend! You can get the bus from Calle 72 with Carrera 11, opposite the Universidad Pedadgógica with colectivos with a sign “Calera”. It should cost $2.300COP. You can get off at Alto de Patios (you wil see signs – if you reach the toll you’ve gone too far).
10. Tours in the Candelaria
As unappealing as walking around as a conspicuous group of foreign tourists is, it cannot be denied that tours are always a great way to get a good overview of a culture, especially if you don’t have time to read up before visiting a place.
The classic free walking tour will take you to the important spots in the Candelaría, and you will learn about the history, politics and current social issues of Bogotá. The tour is runs everyday at 10am and 2pm from Santander park in front of the Museo del Oro. It is run off tips, suggested amount $20,000-30,000COP.
A more interesting option is the graffiti tour – discover how and why street art flourished in Bogota as the graffiti tour will tell you story of various works, from the prettiest to the most political. Thetour runs 10am and 2pm every day from Parque de los Periodistas (near Las Aguas/ Universidades, where stands the domed statue of Bolivar). More info at http://bogotagraffiti.com/
Bike tours are also a popular alternative to seeing the city. Expect to pay around $40.000COP. I think the Candelaria is too crowded most of the time for cycling – I’d rather catch the ciclovia where you can cycle at leisure! However, these will cover more of the city than walking tours.http://www.bogotabiketours.com/