Colombia’s capital and by a long stretch the country’s largest city, Bogota, sits c2600m above sea level bordered on its eastern side by the mountain peaks of Cerro de Monserrate and Cerro de Guadalupe. For many years a place to steer clear of it has since turned the corner and now promotes itself as a culturally rich destination where the old blends seemingly with the new and chaos and peace work in harmony. Boasting colonial charm, elegant churches, fine galleries and museums and nightlife that leaves most needing a holiday to recover from the holiday, Bogota has plenty to keep its visitors on their toes for a good few days.
As a city Bogota continues to grow and is split into a number districts of varying description. Tourists tend to spend their time in the historic central neighbourhood of La Candelaria, home to cafés, bars, hostels, museums and fine examples of colonial era architecture. If you happen to be in this area on a Friday or Sunday night then make a move to Carrera 7, which is closed off to a whole host of local street performers and craft stalls. North of La Candelaria, Parque de la Independencia is one of many appealing city parks frequented by locals relaxing amongst the pristine gardens or wandering the walkways. To the far north the city’s facade begins to change and the districts of Zona Rosa and Usaquen are the places to go for those wishing to hangout with the beautiful people and jet-set crowd.
For those who like to get out and explore independently then Bogota is truly the place to do so, that is once you’ve got used to the altitude and found your bearings. With over 300km of cycle lanes across the city, renting a bike is definitely the way to go, especially when moving around the northern suburbs. The centre still remains rather chaotic with traffic congestion; however La Candelaria with its plazas and winding streets is ideal for meandering aimlessly on foot.
Bogota is not always a city that makes an impact on first impression, but with time its appeal will grow on you and you’ll find a city with the true culture and character of South America unfolding before your eyes.
Things to do in
Plaza de Bolivar - The focal point of Bogota’s old historic town is the perfect place to begin a tour of the city as it is surrounded with an interesting mix of architectural styles and numerous other points of interest. Notable buildings to check out are the Greek influenced Capitolio National (Congress) and Palacio de Justica, the seat of the Supreme Court, to the south and the French styled Alcadia (Mayor’s office) to the west. At the heart of the plaza stands a monument to Simon Bolivar.
La Candelaria - The eastern side of Plaza de Bolivar is the colonial quarter and main tourist hub. For the most part purely pedestriansed, this historic neighbourhood is packed with fine museums and spectacular churches and the perfect place to let your legs and instinct guide you. When you’ve had enough of walking take a seat in any one of the wealth of street side cafés and enjoy a spot of people watching. La Candelaria is also home to many of the city’s budget hotels and backpacker hostels.
Bogota Churches - A consequence of the city’s long evangelist heritage, it almost seems as if there is a church on every corner of Bogota’s streets. There are many remarkable examples left from colonial time to be explored, each possessing its own unique air of grace and charm. The largest of them all is the Catedral Primada at Plaza de Bolivar yet the most striking is Iglesia de Santa Clara with an interior is covered top to bottom with paintings and statues. If making a tour of the churches then don’t miss Iglesia De La Veracruz that houses many of the tombs of the heroes from the war of independence, Iglesia De San Ignacio for its collection of colonial paintings and Iglesia de San Diego that was once set out of town but is now bizarrely encompassed by a series of high-rise buildings.
Cerro de Monserrate - For breathtaking views of the city head to the summit of Cerro de Monserrate, rising above the metropolis at 3160m. To reach the top take a ride on either the teleferico (cable car) or funicular railway. Those feeling energetic can join the hoards of pilgrims who set off on the 1-hour walk to the top every Sunday morning.
Museums in Bogota
Museo del Oro - If you only visit one museum in Bogota then make it this one, which is home to literally thousands of gold works from Colombia’s indigenous communities.
Donacion Botero - Excellent gallery in La Candelaria housing over 100 pieces from Fernado Botero, Colombia’s most famed artist, alongside works by such greats as Picasso and Dali.
Museo de Arte Moderno - MAMBO has changing displays of local and foreign artists with the emphasis on visual arts from the early 20thC until the present day.
Museo de Arte Colonial - Superb exhibition of the colonial era paintings of Gregorio Vasquez de Arce y Ceballos
NB If you don’t mind crowds and long queues then all of Bogota’s museums are free of charge on the last Sunday of every month.
Bullfights - If you can turn a blind eye to the barbaric nature of bullfighting and are visiting anytime from December thru February then plod along to La Plaza de Los Toros Santa Maria and take you seat amongst the locals and choose your favourite, bull or matador. The stadium itself is worth the visit, squeezing 14,500 spectators into its Coliseum-like structure.
Paragliding Bogota - For an altogether different view of the city and surrounding landscape tandem paragliding trips are the way to go. Flights usually start from a hilltop on the city outskirts and last for around 30-minutes. Ask in hostels/hotels for information. Cost around US$100.
Festival de Cine de Bogota - Held every October this film festival sees up to 700 films from 65 countries competing for selection.
Expoartesanias - December craft fair where artisans from across the country come to showcase their work. Also a great place to purchase souvenirs.
Bogota’s main areas for nightlife centre around the upmarket Zona Rosa district and the old town of La Candelaria. As is the norm in South America things start late, with bars only beginning to get lively around 11pm and clubs continuing on until the early hours. Backpacker favourites around La Candelaria include Escobar Rosas on Calle 15 jumping to 70s and 80s rock and Casa de Citas, with live music on weekends. Zona Rosa is where the stylish cutting-edge clubs are to found alongside some popular chains like Hard Rock Café and Hooters. Other spots certainly worth checking out are Andres Carne de Res, a huge grill, restaurant and party bar, and Museo de Tequila, the proud owner of over 1500 bottles of tequila.
Budget Hotels Bogota
Musicology Hostel - Popular hostel in La Candelaria with a great vibe and comfortable beds. Tel (57) 1 286 9093.
North House Hostel - New hostel in Zona Rosa, the popular nightlife district. Tel (57) 1 530 1968.
Platypus - Welcoming hostel and a long time favourite amongst backpackers. Tel (57) 1 341 3104.
Midrange Hotels Bogota
Hotel Saint Simon - Modern hotel equipped with business facilities in fashionable Zona Rosa. Tel (57) 1 621 8188.
Luxury Hotels Bogota
Hotel Casa Medina - Classy 5-star hotel with bags of colonial charm and superb facilities. Tel (57) 1 217 0288.
Hotel de la Opera - Elegant centrally located hotel housed in two century-old colonial buildings. Tel (57) 1 336 2066.