What better way to get to know Bogota than like locals do?
If you are an experienced traveler and even if you are not, you will know that the best way to know a place is how those who live there know it. It is normal that most foreigners know more touristic spots than locals, but the best kept secrets are usually not in travelers' plans and you may be missing unique experiences for not taking a different path.
In this post you will find not only the basic plans to do when in Bogota, but also how to enjoy the city as we Bogotá citizens do, so let's start:
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Bogota is the capital of Colombia with 7.4 million inhabitants and is located in the middle of the national territory (more or less). It has an altitude of 2,630 meters at sea level, so you should not only prepare for a possible altitude sickness, but also pack a pair of jackets or sweaters (especially at night) so that you do not freeze during your stay.
Colombia, being geographically located near the equatorial meridian has no stations, so the climate in most of the country is relatively stable and constant, which makes the whole year a good time to travel to Colombia (isn't it great? ). However, Bogota is the rebel of the country and despite having no seasons, you can find all the climates (except snow) in a single day while you are in the capital. The weather varies from 5 degrees Celsius to 21 and sometimes up to 28 degrees, it will all depend on your luck and it may rain as it may not, so get a small umbrella or waterproof jacket every day (do not trust the weather forecasts, since in general they are never correct).
If you have already traveled to other Spanish-speaking place, you will notice upon arrival that the Bogota accent is much more neutral and surely easier to understand than in other places, so if you are thinking of learning Spanish, Bogotá is a good option to do what.
Things to Do:
Bogota offers plans for all tastes, but if you want to say you were 2,630 meters closer to the stars (this is the slogan of the city, by the way), you should do at least these things:
1. Go up to Monserrate:
The Monserrate mountain is located in the eastern hills of Bogota and a small church and a viewpoint were built on top of it, from where you can get a panoramic view of almost the entire city (the north view is complete).
There are 3 options to go up (it will depend on the time and day you go): walking, that will take you approximately 50 minutes (this depending on your physical condition and if height does not affect you); by cable car which is the most common option or by funicular (which is almost never enabled) where the journey takes about 10 minutes.
Upstairs there is not much to do but observe the city, walk the Way of the Cross and eat something or buy a souvenir (I advise you not to buy here because it is a little more expensive, but it is your decision), but the view is worth it.
If possible, avoid going on weekends, especially on Sundays, as this is when more people go up and you will have to line up to 2 hours to get up and/or down. It is also a good option to go after or before visiting the historical center, since you can walk from the Candelaria neighborhood.
2. Historical Center:
Like any city, the downtown is a must for travelers because it is where more tourist attractions are and Bogota is no exception. Although it is not a recommended place to walk freely with your valuables in hand, nor too late at night, it is a tourist spot you should not miss, because even lots of Bogota citizens enjoy this sector due to the number of plans to do here.
It is one of the most famous neighborhoods in the city since it is made up of several colonial houses and a few years ago, thanks to an artistic project, it became recognized for its murals and graffiti that look great on the photos (Instagrammers I'm talking to you).
Although you add this to your travel itinerary, or you're staying in one of the hostels here, some of the plans to do are:
Take the Graffiti Tour
Take the historical tour (which includes the Plaza de Bolivar and other things)
Spend an afternoon drinking craft beers and enjoy performances by street artists in Chorro de Quevedo square
2.2. PLAZA DE BOLIVAR:
It is the most important square in the city, since here you will find the buildings of the National Capitol, the Palace of Justice, the Cathedral and the Mayor's Office.
Around it you will find several places to buy souvenirs and at good price, restaurants with typical food and many many pigeons.
In Bogota there are more than seventy museums, so if you are someone who enjoys this activity, this is the city. These are some of the most important and interesting museums to visit:
Gold Museum: With more than 34.00 pieces of gold on display and with an $ 4,000 COP entry, it is a very good option for your itinerary in Bogota. My favorite part is the secret vault with the best pieces (it is "hidden" so you have to be patient to find it, but I assure you it will be worth it)
Botero Museum: If you are someone who enjoys art, this museum can not be missed. Here you will find the largest collection of “Gordos” paints of the renowned Colombian painter, Fernando Botero, and also enjoy one of the largest collections of art in Latin America
National Museum: Being a prison before, you will not only find its exhibition interesting but its architecture and adaptation too. If you are lucky, you can be part of temporary exhibitions that are exhibited here.
It is a neighborhood that has started to gain momentum here among the people of the capital, especially for plans with friends or couples who want to go eat or have a drink. So if you are staying downtown, it is a good option for a delicious meal and a few drinks.
3. Market place:
Colombia is known worldwide for the variety of fruits, vegetables and flowers that grow and are cultivated throughout the territory, because due to the diversity of climates and heights, it is possible to plant almost everything and continuously without depending of harvest seasons. One of the top plans to make in Bogota is to visit the markets squares, where you will find all kinds of food, exotic fruits and vegetables, flowers and even handicrafts to buy at unique prices.
If you decide to make this plan, I recommend that you do not do it on your own, because you will get lost and probably won’t get the best offers, instead, check with your hostel or hotel if they organize this tour or you can book one by yourself.
4. Day trips:
Although you can visit the tourist spots in Bogota on a weekend, it is worthy to stay a couple of days more to do one or more day trips like these:
4.1. ZIPAQUIRA’S SALT CATHEDRAL:
Zipaquira is a small town at one hour from Bogota (not counting the traffic leaving the city) that is known for its Salt Cathedral. It is a different tourist place and if you are a believer you will enjoy it much more, if not, enjoy the different salt formations along the way.
BONUS: If you like the Tour de France, you will see murals of Egan Bernal (winner of the Tour in 2019) around the town, since he was born here and this was one of the ways in which he was honored for his triumph.
4.2. LAGUNA DE GUATAVITA:
If you have heard of the legend of “El Dorado”, you should be interested in this place. Many years ago, the Chibchas (indigenous settled in a large part of the Colombian territory) performed the “coronation” rituals of their new chief in this lagoon. The future King was bathed in gold and transported to the middle of the lagoon on a balsa, where he then submerged himself and his people offered small pieces of gold by throwing them into the lagoon (if you go to the gold museum you will see a representation of this ritual).
The lagoon is approximately 2 hours from Bogotá. Take into account that there is no admission on Mondays, so plan your visit well before lose your time.
The entrance includes the tour guide, who will explain to you about the ecosystem and the history of the Chibchas when they lived on this land. Upon your return, you should go to eat something in the town of Guatavita before returning to Bogotá, because due to traffic it will be a trip of at least 3 hours.
4.3. CHINGAZA NATURAL PARK:
The Chigaza Natural National Park is one of the several natural reserves that Colombia has and one of the most important, since it has one of the largest water reserves in the eastern mountain range.
The Park offers several plans, from going to lunch to camping. But some of the most interesting treks are Siecha and Buitrago lagoons, trek where you will see different types of frailejones and you may come across a white-tailed deer or an Andean bear.
5. Afternoon and sunrise in Andres Chia:
Andres Chia is one of the most well-known restaurants / bars in Colombia. With its Colombian and international food menu (cannot miss the “tostón”), its unconventional but cozy decoration and the unbeatable attention of its hosts from the entrance of the place; this place has become the favorite place for both tourists and Colombians to spend their evenings or nights.
No matter on which plan you go on, you will find fun for everyone. If you are traveling with children or people who do not enjoy the party very much, is best that you go for lunch and stay the whoooole afternoon. Children do craft activities, games and there’s even puppets for the little ones or pizza classes so they are happy and distracted while the adults enjoy a delicious and long lunch accompanied by the actors parade that passes by the tables either celebrating an occasion or simply joking around and making their guests laugh.
If you plan to go with friends or with your partner, it is best to arrive around 6 - 7 PM to enjoy the food and the parades while you eat and then show your best moves on the dance floors. I recommend you to go on Saturday, because it will be crowded and you will feel better the energy of the place. The place is so big that there are times when they close a street so that people have more place to dance.
NOTE 1: Don't forget to order your honored guest badge and try the “caldo” before your return to Bogota after a good party! NOTE 2: If you get lazy to go to Andrés Chia (since it is 1 hour from Bogota), you can go to Andres DC, which is the same concept, the same food and everything, only less far and a little more modern in its decor.
6. Zona T:
It is one of Bogota people’ favorite places. You can shop, enjoy restaurants of all kinds, go for a few beers or go party.
From Wednesday to Sunday afternoon, this area is full of families, groups of friends and couples looking for something to do. One of the favorite plans of Bogota citizens on weekends is to get here, have a few beers at the BBC (Bogotá Beer Company, you will see this almost all over the city, it is the largest “craft” brewery in Colombia) or in some other brewery and then go dancing at one of the nearby bars like Bungalow, Furia or even Andres DC.
7. Simón Bolivar Park:
The Simon Bolivar Metropolitan Park is the Central Park of Bogota and is the lung of the city. With 113 hectares, in this park you can practice any exercise or go to have a pleasant time and give yourself a break from the pollution and rush of the city since it has walking trails, a bicycle circuit, skating rink, a lake to do rowing or canoeing and even a temple for religious celebrations (WHAT ?! – crazy I know)
Where to stay:
Although Bogota has hotels and lodging options everywhere, the best areas taking into account its location and number of offers are the following:
2. Chapinero: Here, although there are a couple of hotels and hostels, it is more for AirBnb. Chapinero is a neighborhood of university students and singles or young couples. It is an area with great nightlife and is known as the gay neighborhood of Bogota (one of the most famous bars is Teatrón). The location is excellent because it is about halfway between downtown and the north (where most of the tourist spots are) and the airport is not far (approx. 20 minutes with normal traffic)
3. Zona T and Zona G: In the north of Bogota, it is where the majority of hotels are because they are located on safe neighborhoods, near restaurants, bars, shopping centers and offices, they are good options for tourists when choosing where to stay. There are also a couple of hostels like Selina (you can check here) on this areas.
Where to eat:
As you will have noticed in this and other posts, food is something fundamental in my life, so here you will find recommendations on where to eat whether you want typical Colombian food or international food:
1. LA PLAZA DE ANDRÉS: It is a more relaxed and quick version of Andres Chia, where the decoration tries to simulate a marked square. Here you can try typical food such as Ajíaco soup, a typical Bogota dish or the Bandeja Paisa, a typical dish from Medellin but that you can get almost all around Colombia for how delicious it is.
2. LA PUERTA FALSA: This was the first restaurant in Bogota (AKA: more than 200 years old) and it is a must on your list of places to visit. It is a small place near Plaza de Bolivar where you can try the tamal or a hot chocolate with cheese and almojábana (if you want the full experience, you must break the cheese and put it in the chocolate. This is not only traditional for Colombian families, but also will help the chocolate to cool down a bit as well as being deliciouuuus)
(FOTO LA PUERTAFALSA)
3. LOCAL: It is a restaurant of typical Colombian gourmet food, which although it is a little expensive for tight budgets, the food is delicious and it is a more international way to taste Colombian flavors.
4. BBC: If you want something more relaxed, the empanadas on the BBC are incredible. And if you enjoy a good beer with body and consistency, I recommend the half and half (which mixes red and blond draft beer creating perfection.
Something not so typical:
1. Céntrico: It is a restaurant / bar located on the 41st floor of one of the buildings in the center of Bogotá. Although his menu is not very extensive, it is very tasty. So if you want to spend a night with a panoramic view of the city, good food and dancing, this is the option for you.
2. Primi: One of my favorite restaurants, because the food is delicious, the cocktails are very good and the atmosphere is very welcoming. I recommend the bull tail ravioli and any of the meat or meatballs, but in general everything is to die for.
How to get around:
In Bogota, the best way to get around is by taxi or using any of the applications such as Uber, Didi, Beat or Cabify. Although the distance between one place and another is not long, due to traffic it is normal for you to take an hour or more to reach your destination.
If you are more adventurous, you can use Transmilenio, especially if you are going to travel long distances (will be so much faster and cheaper). It will be a unique experience because you will feel like a real Bogota citizen as well as see performances by street artists who sing, dance and tell stories during the ride.
If you are going to use Transmilenio, keep in mind the following tips:
To use the sistem, you must buy the “Mi llave” card at any of the ticket offices at the stations entrance, which has a cost of $ 5,000 COP (2020) and you must charge it with the number of trips you need (each costs $ 2,500 (2020)
Google Maps or Moovit are good tools to know what routes you must take to reach your destination, you just need to know the name of the start and end stations.
Avoid using your cell phone or taking out valuables at stations so you don't have a bad time thanks to pocket thieves. Likewise, keep an eye on your personal belongings throughout the ride.
Try not to use the system during peak hours, since that is when the buses and stations are going to be the most crowded. These hours are from 6:00 AM to 8:30 AM and from 5:00 PM to 7:00 PM.
The names of the routes and its stations are located at the top of the doors where the buses stop, you just have to stand below and wait.
NOTE: Your card is also useful to use SITP buses (blue and orange buses). However, these routes are slightly more difficult to use as the stations do not have names.
Things to keep in mind while visiting Bogota:
During your stay in Bogotá it is good that you take into account the following things:
In principle, Bogotá is divided into North and South. Although Bogotá is not like Rio de Janeiro that you can clearly see the difference between safe neighborhoods and favelas, avoid going South as it is not a very safe area, especially for tourists.
Bogotá is in the top 5 of the cities with the worst traffic, so fill yourself with patience on your rides around the city and if you have to arrive at a certain time somewhere, always check Waze before or leave with enough time to not be late.
The weather is very changeable so dress in layers and take an umbrella or a waterproof jacket with you so your plans are not damaged by the rain.
Do not wear shorts or sandals, one because they do not match with Bogotá weather and two, because it will make it much more evident that you are not from here, which is not good to negotiate when you are buying souvenirs or food or for thieves in the surroundings.
If you are going to use Uber, Cabify, Didi or any of these platforms for transport, try to request services where there are no police officers since it is not legal (yet) to use that type of service in Colombia. But don't panic, everyone in Bogota uses it because it is much safer than taxis and sometimes cheaper, you just have to sit in the passenger seat and learn the license plate when you are waiting for your vehicle to pretend that it is someone you know who is picking you up.
As in any big city, you must be aware of your personal belongings and avoid walking with them on the street. Only take them out when necessary and if you use backpack, put it forward you or store valuables well (in other words: not in the outside pockets)
Although most people do not speak English, most will do their best to help you so do not worry if you do not know how to say something or need help, you will always find someone willing to give you a hand.
In conclusion, Bogota is a city for all tastes, plans and budgets and it is a good option to start or end your trip in Colombia.
Don't forget to write to me if you come to Bogotá to show you more of my city or at least go for a Bogota-style café!
Until next time my Stamp Dreamers.