Bogota is the capital of Colombia and one of the biggest cities in Latin America. Sitting over 8,660 feet (2640 m) above sea level in the Colombian Andes region, Bogota’s well preserved historic quarter has a good claim to be the original capital of Spanish Colonial South America and the mythical “El Dorado.”
Concert crowd in Simon Bolivar Park
Rich with nightlife where the parties last well into the night at sweaty salsa clubs, English pubs, caffeinated indie rock shows, cocktail lounges, steakhouses, and dance venues, Bogota can be rightfully called as the “Athens of South America”.
Things To Do In Bogota
Bogota is a city of contrasts and as such it offers a unique experience to its visitors. You could see the sights in a few days or linger for a month to live the cosmopolitan life.
View of Bogota from Monserrate
Bogota can be divided into four sections:
The North which is where most modern development has taken place and combines many upscale living spaces with affluent shopping centers, boutiques, cafes, nightclubs, and many new business neighborhoods offering headquarters to many multinational corporations.
The Downtown is the city’s original Downtown and hosts most of its traditional heritage locations, city and public offices, and financial headquarters. Few people live in the area.
The West, which is home to Bogota’s major sporting venues and outdoor parks, as well as residential areas for the middle-class living.
The South which is mainly the poorer section of the city is mostly working-class residential area.
Note: Below, we’ll highlight the best tourist spots fro the North and Downtown area, and as well as, popular neighborhoods such as Usaquen, Zona Rosa, and Parque 93.
Cerro de Monserrate
Monserrate is undoubtedly the #1 destination in Bogota.
Bogota city view from Monserrate hill
A truly beautiful panoramic view of the city is only a funicular (small train) or transferico (cable car) ride away. You can take the funicular (the small train) up and the transferico (cable car) down, or vice versa.
You have the option of buying one-way tickets, too, so if you wish you can walk down by yourself soaking in the majestic Bogota city view!
Note: If you want to hike up the stone-set path up Monserrate (as many locals do), it will approximately take 1-1.5 hours up and 45 minutes down. If you are walking, there is no entrance fee.
On Sunday is a very crowded place, so be ready to get into a long line. It is very important to also wear sunscreen and hat because, at such a high altitude, you will burn very easily even if it is “cloudy”. Also, remember to bring a warm coat, because it is chilly up there.
La Candelaria is the historic center of Bogota and the city’s principal destination for tourists.
An old colonial charm
Home to the top museums, the government palaces, and beautiful old colonial buildings along narrow cobblestone streets, it’s a must see.
Plaza de Bolivar
Bolivar Square is the main tourist attraction in La Candelaria of Bogota and the site for various protests.
The square, previously called Plaza Mayor, is located in the heart of the historical area of the city and hosts a statue of Simón Bolívar, sculpted in 1846 by the Italian Pietro Tenerani, which was the first public monument in the city.
Explore Street Market
Near Plaza Boliver, in the La Candelaria, you have several streets filled with local street vendors and local restaurants. It’s a lively place both during the day and in the evening.
Shop for local handicrafts, sip coffee, eat street food, take photos, and enjoy various street performances.
Guadalupe Hill is a 3,360 m (11,020 ft) mountain located in the Eastern Hills, uphill from the center of Bogota. Together with its neighboring hill Monserrate, it is one of the landmarks of Bogota.
Guadalupe Hill & Virgin Mary Church as seen from Monserrate
The massive statue of the Virgin of Guadalupe is among the main touristic attractions of Bogota. The top of the hill also offers a viewpoint for the Colombian capital.
Note: The hill can be accessed via a walking trail but it a long and steep. Cellphone signals are weak or non-existent on the top or for most of the second half of the climb. The trail is actually a narrow paved road used by all modes of transportation. We recommend taking a Uber or Taxi or Public Bus.
Locally called the El Museo del Oro, the gold museum has an impressive collection of pre-Colombian gold and artifacts from all over Colombia.
It’s unique and you won’t find a better place to see the pre-Spanish indigenous artwork made of gold and other precious stones.
The Botero Museum contains works by Fernando Botero, Colombia’s most famous artist, and the contents of his private collection, including works by Picasso, Renoir, Dali, Monet, Renoir, and others.
Botero’s signature style, also known as “Boterismo”, depicts people and figures in large, exaggerated volume, which can represent political and social criticism mixed with humor. He is considered the most recognized artist from Latin America.
Museum entrance is free to all.
Banco de la Republica Art Collection
Exhibits Permanent Banco de la República Art Collection consisting of nearly 3,000 paintings, sculptures, and assembly of Colombian and Latin American masters from the 16th century to the present day.
Visitors may appreciate a selection of Colombian painters, for instance, Gregorio Vázquez de Arce y Ceballos, the most important Colony painter, Alejandro Obregón, Enrique Grau, Latin American as Rufino Tamayo, David Alfaro Siqueiros and many other globally renowned.
Casa de Moneda
Has a collection of Colombian coins and the history of moneymaking. Free entrance.
The National Museum is the oldest in the country and one of the oldest in the continent, built in 1823. Its fortress architecture is built in stone and brick. The plant includes arches, domes, and columns forming a sort of Greek cross over which 104 prison cells are distributed, with solid wall facade.
The museum houses a collection of over 20,000 pieces including works of art and objects representing different national history periods.
Permanent exhibitions present archaeological and ethnographical samples from most antique Colombian vestiges: 10,000 years BC, up to 20th century indigenous and Afro-Colombian art and culture.
Museum of Modern Art of Bogota
“MamBo” as it is called exhibits a complete collection of modern art work basically consisting of drawing, paintings, engraved work, sculpture, and assembly.
It houses work of Colombian masters such as Fernando Botero, Alejandro Obregón, Enrique Grau, and Edgar Negret, among many others together, with many other important Latin American artists.
Bogota’s tallest building “Colpatria Tower” is one of South America’s tallest buildings. You can visit the panoramic deck on the top of the building (50-story) on Saturdays and Sundays.
Note: There is a fee for this.
Usaquen is the northernmost district of Bogota. It is home to many sightseeing locations including its own colonial center and upscale bohemium neighborhood.
The main town square is the meeting point of the area where you can find pretty nice restaurants and bars.
Hacienda Santa Barbara Mall
A 19th-century house that belonged to Pepe Sierra, one of the wealthiest Colombians in that time, that became a mall in the late-80s.
It’s famous for its nationally renowned cafes and is not as crowded as other malls and touristy hotspots.
LGBT-Friendly Zona G
Chapinero is an affluent district in the north-east of Bogota. It is home to the Zona G, an area of upscale restaurants.
As one of the most LGBT tolerant zones of the metropolis and also known as Chapigay or Gay Hills, it is home to the larger part of the LGBT population of Bogota.
Zona Rosa, also known as “Zona T” for the T shaped area at its heart, is the prime nightclub district of Bogota, and also home to plenty of upscale restaurants, nice hotels, and shopping.
Parque 93 is the centerpiece of a lovely section of Bogota just north of the Zona Rosa. The whole neighborhood is a lovely place for walking and has great restaurants and nightlife—especially on the park itself.
The park is usually filled with temporary art installments and sees frequent festivals.
It’s also one of the best spots in the city for a picnic, with views up towards the mountains, and a laid-back, but still lively atmosphere.
Parque & Museo del Chico
Parque del Chico has trees, gardens, artificial creeks and ponds, and a colonial-style house converted into a museum, Museo del Chico.
It hosts the exhibition on many different topics such as porcelain from all over the world, jewelry crafting from Europe and America, and colonial objects.
Out of City Destinations
It’s a good idea to get out of the city as Bogota is surrounded by lots of relaxing and peaceful places.
Jardin in Coffee Zone
Book and go for a coffee tour. You are in Colombia, the world’s third-largest producer of pure Arabica coffee.
The famous coffee triangle and three major cities
Zipaquira is a cute colonial town just about an hour north of Bogota in the Cundinamarca province.
It is Colombia’s salt mining capital and is famous for its Salt Cathedral (Catedral de Sal), constructed almost entirely of salt within a defunct mine.
Catedral de Sal
A colossal church built underground in a former salt mine, with passages lined with exquisite sculptures, and a radiant cross rising over the altar of the cavernous nave. (Pictured above)
Choachi is the best-kept secret in town. This small village is just an hour east of Bogota. You have to climb and cross the Guadeloupe Hill first (with an amazing view of Monserrate). Make a pitstop at the top of Guadeloupe Hill.
Then continue on to relaxing hot springs and restaurants serving local food.
Next, you can hike to Choachi waterfall, the highest waterfall in Colombia (at 590 m).
Laguna del Guatavita is a spiritual lake is where the legend of El Dorado originated. The Muisca Indian King used to have a religious ceremony in the middle of the lake with body painted all over with gold dust and gold offerings sacrifice into the lake.
From the drop off point, you’ll have to walk to the edge of the rim to see this lake. It’s quite a hike on a steep hill but your taxi driver may take you to the entrance if requested.
Explore Rest of Colombia
Medellin city, Colombia
As the capital city is centrally located you can easily visit many distinct destinations as the Amazon Jungle (1½ hr by plane), Spanish colonial cities Cartagena or Popayan (1-hr flight), modern cities like Medellin located in an impressive Andean valley or Cali at the foothills of the Andes.
Even though it may not seem like, actually the city of Bogota is built on a grid system. An imperfect one but nevertheless most places that tourists visit are easy to find.
Carreras (which means “roads”) are abbreviated as Cr., Kra., and Cra. and run parallel to the mountains from South to North. Carrera numbers increase from East to West, away from the mountains – so Carrera 7 is near the mountains and Carrera 100 is far from them.
Calles (which means “streets”) cross the Carreras and run from East to West. Calles are abbreviated as Cll. and Cl.
Avenidas, abbreviated as Av. or Ave.., are usually larger, main streets.
Taxis (though more expensive than Uber) are cheap in Bogota. Taxis should not be hailed off the street—only called through dispatch. Nice restaurants and any place of lodging will be happy to do this for you.
Otherwise, call one yourself at 599-9999, 311-1111 or 411-1111.
Note: Read about the taxi scam and dangers below in the Safety section.
Private Car Services
If public transit isn’t your thing, consider keeping a private car service on hand. They are a pretty good deal for the money when all is considered. Your hotel or tour guide should be able to recommend one.
The cab-hailing app Uber is a safe and affordable option in Bogota, though it will require you to have Internet access from your phone. But, keep in mind that Uber is illegal and you’ll sit in the front with the driver to make it seems you are friends or family members.
Note: If you experience a problem in a taxi or with the driver, dial 123 to report a complaint with the police. You should also call the company with which the taxi is registered.
Bogota has Latin America’s largest network of bicycle routes, called ‘Ciclorutas.’ On Sunday’s and public holidays, many main and secondary roads are closed to cars for the bicyclists from 7 AM – 2 PM.
This is done so people can safely run, bicycle, or skate. You can also watch from the side. There are refreshment stands along the way and most parks host some type of event such as yoga, dancing, stretching, spinning, etc.
The Spanish spoken in Bogota is considered among the most neutral and clear in the world. If you know the basics, you’ll probably be fine. Bogota is full of bilingual schools, so English is spoken by many people (mostly the young kids and adults).
But overall if you don’t know Spanish it will be a challenge. So brush up your Spanish skills and learn the numbers and basic words.
Most street vendors, local people, and as well as Uber, Taxi or Bus drivers can barely speak any English.
Arepas: Corn flour based pancakes, sometimes made with cheese or slightly salted.
Bandeja Paisa: Bandeja paisa, with variations known as bandeja de arriero, bandeja montañera, or bandeja antioqueña, is a typical meal popular in Colombian cuisine. The main characteristic of this dish is red beans cooked with pork, white rice, carne molida (ground meat), chicharrón, fried egg, plantain, chorizo, arepa, hogao sauce, black pudding (morcilla), avocado, and lemon.
Empanadas: The closest comparison would be pastries. These are popular all over South America, so generally, each region has its own recipe. The filling usually consists of meat, potato, vegetables, and rice wrapped in a corn flour crust.
Tamale: Usually eaten for breakfast. A mixture of meat, chicken, potato, vegetables and yellow corn wrapped in plantain leaves and then boiled. Should be accompanied by a large mug of hot chocolate.
Ajiaco: Traditional thick soup based on three kinds of potatoes, chicken, avocado, dairy cream, herbs, corn, among others, usually eaten for Christmas and other important festivals. Typically from the altiplano region, and considered the city’s official dish.
Hot drinks: The choices normally include Coffee, Hot Chocolate, and Agua de Panela. The latter is a drink prepared with Panela (dried cane juice), sometimes with cinnamon and cloves, which gives it a special taste.
Agua de Panela: The cold agua de panela is like lemonade but more delicious.
Coffee: Well this is Colombia. Cafes are everywhere and coffee is usually taken with a lot of milk and even coffee liquor.
Cheese in your drink: In Bogota and the region around, it’s customary to use cheese along with the drink, in a way that small pieces of cheese are put into the cup and then after they are melt, you can use a spoon to pick them up and eat it like a soup. Colombians can add cheese to pretty much any drink!
Nightlife in Bogota is very diverse and you can almost certainly find whatever experience it is you are looking for.
There are English pubs, Latin dance halls, electronic music clubs, quiet storefront bars, wacky themed clubs, salsa clubs, a huge indie-rock scene (if Cali is Salsa, Bogota is Rock n’ Roll), clubs, cocktail lounges, etc.
The cosmopolitan side of Bogota nightlife is overwhelming to be found in Zona Rosa and Parque 93.
Chapinero and La Candelaria tend to be more bohemian/hipster. Chapinero is also the center of gay nightlife.
- Bogota’s tap water is safe to drink and of high quality.
- Beware of street foods that may cause an upset stomach.
- Altitude sickness is, in fact, the largest health problem affecting tourists — so get acclimated, get plenty of rest, and take it easy on yourself!
- On the good side, Bogota has no tropical diseases like malaria because of its high altitude.
Bogota is not as dangerous as it is perceived to be. Its once insanely high murder rate, which was the highest in the world, has dropped to a rate comfortably below most major Latin American cities, like Rio de Janeiro, Sao Paulo, Caracas, and Mexico City.
Bombings and kidnappings are a thing of the past, and should not be a concern to visitors at all.
The principal safety concerns for travelers are muggings and taxi crime. Muggers are usually high on drugs and armed with knives or guns, and you should simply give them what they ask for without a fight—it’s never anything worth dying over.
Neighborhoods that are frequented by travelers that have a significant problem with muggings include La Candelaria (after dark on weekdays), most parts of Santa Fe, and to a much lesser extent the more southern parts of Chapinero close to Avenida Caracas area.
Taxi crime is a weird problem here. It happens frequently enough where in most social situations with Bogotanos, at least someone or someone close to them has had an experience.
It occurs when you hail a taxi on the street, the taxi stops, you get in, then someone else gets in with you, and they take you for a ride until you have taken an important sum out of your bank accounts. This is usually accomplished with legitimate threats of violence.
Pay attention when using cash machines that nobody follows you after you have withdrawn the money.
It’s a precaution foreign visitors aren’t always used to taking, but it’s not hard—look around as you step up to the machine to see if anyone’s paying too much attention, then do the same afterward.
Try to use ATMs that are inside (the supermarket Exito always has them), while still paying attention to your surroundings.
June 4, 2019 10:31 pm
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