Nestled in the Andes, Bogota is the capital city of Colombia. It is one of the highest capital cities in the world, sitting at 2,600 meters above sea level. Bogota is a huge sprawling metropolis of around 10 million people, with a rich history and many things to do for visitors. And as Colombia continues to carve out its spot as one of the top tourism destinations in Latin America, Bogota is receiving more and more visitors each year.
Getting in and around
Bogota is easy to reach from most capitals in Latin America. Plenty of flights come in from the US and Canada. There are also a few flights to Europe, including Madrid, Istanbul, and Lisbon. For those looking at budget airlines, Panama City, Quito and Lima are good points of origin. If you are already in Colombia then you have the choice of bus or air travel. But remember that it’s a mountainous region, so even short distances can take a while
When it comes to getting around Bogota, there are also plenty of options. The city was one of the first to establish a Metropolitano bus system with its own bus lanes. There are also regular buses serving every corner of the city. Taxis and Ubers are very affordable and often make for the best way to get around. Just make sure that you are taking a registered taxi, as ones on the street may not be too safe. One thing to keep in mind is the insane traffic during rush hour – best to avoid travel at these times.
Where to stay
Bogota is a big city, so staying close to the areas you want to see is your best bet. It is important to do some research into your accommodation, as some areas are still not safe for tourists. That said, the city has some really wonderful hotels, from international chains to awesome boutique hotels. You can also opt for one of the many hostels and AirBnBs.
Candelaria: this is the historic part of the city. It’s very quaint and quirky, with many restaurants, bars and street art. It is also the best place to reach most of the city’s top attractions. For some, it may be a little too alternative and can get somewhat dodgy at night.
Chapinero: Bogota’s midtown, Chapinero is a bohemian neighbourhood with many hipster places springing up. It’s a great place for smaller hotels or an AirBnB. Plus it is close to both the historic Candelaria and the more posh Parque de la 93. Do your research here, as some areas are safer than others.
Parque de la 93: one of the higher-end neighbourhoods in the city, you will find all of the posh hotels and fine dining restaurants here. While it may be a little snobby for some, the area is very safe, has wonderful parks and lovely cafes and shops.
Usaquen: further north, you will find the quaint and chilled Usaquen. This is my favourite area of the city. It’s trimmed and proper but not high-end like Parque de la 93. It also has a really nice colonial area and some wonderful shops and restaurants. However, it is quite far from the main attractions.
What to do
Bogota is a city full of life. It is a very artistic place, with plenty of live music, theatre performances, gallery exhibits and entertainment on any day of the week. Once you’ve arrived, it’s a good idea to ask around to see what’s on. Also, check out the many different neighbourhoods in the city. You can find markets, hipster shops, restaurants, craft stores and more. However, here are some of the standard tourist attractions that are a must-see in the city.
1. Candelaria and its museums
The colonial part of Bogota, Candelaria has seen many revivals over the past decade. What was once a very sketchy area of the city, it is now full of live and entertainment. Here, you can visit the main square and cathedral or just wander around the streets to see lovely architecture. Art-lovers should check out the Botero Museum with an amazing collection of the Colombian painter’s works. Museo del Oro (Museum of Gold) is also a must-see. It houses an extensive collection of pre-Columbian gold pieces and has a really cool interactive exhibit. If you’d like to learn more about Colombia’s history, there is the Anthropological Museum in the area as well.
2. Go on a graffiti tour
This was by far my favourite activity in Bogota. This group leads a daily free graffiti tour (you’ll want to tip at the end – trust me!). This is a must-see. The Candelaria and surrounding areas have some really amazing graffiti pieces that have popped up over the past decade or so. A lot of them have strong political messages, so the explanation is definitely worth it. Plus, the tour walks you around to places you might have missed otherwise. The artwork is stunning and really defines the city.
3. Walk up the Monserrat
One of the iconic places in Bogota is the Monserrat hill. It’s very centrally located and has a monastery at the top. Families come here on Sunday to walk up to the monastery. Not only is it an important place for locals, but it’s also a great place for a hike. The walk is not too strenuous and you get amazing views of the city from the top. If you are not feeling up to climbing, you can always take the cable car up as well.
4. Take a day trip to the Salt Cathedral
This is another attraction on the top of my travel list. About an hour away from Bogota, you will find the Salt Cathedral. It is built underground inside salt mines and is absolutely stunning. You can see really cool rock formations as you walk around the site. There is also a chapel with a giant cross carved out entirely of salt rock. The site is pretty easy to get to by bus or you can take a tour from your hostel or hotel. There is also a cute little town nearby, where you can grab lunch.
Colombian food is fresh and delicious. For me, the best meals are found in the little canteens that serve cheap set lunch menus with a soup, main and fresh juice. Alternatively, grab an arepa (cornbread) with coffee or hot chocolate, and you are set! That said, the food scene in Bogota has grown immensely over the past decade. You can find elevated traditional Colombia food, international restaurants, alternative cafes, hipster coffee shops, farm-to-table options and much more. One great thing is that Colombia has amazing hygiene. So you can pretty much eat anywhere – just follow your gut and you will surely find some amazing options.
Bogota has become much safer in recent years. The first time I travelled here, there were barely any tourists and kids stared at me on the street. Today, it’s a top backpacker destination and is quickly becoming popular for mid-range travellers as well. But it is still Colombia and you need to take certain measures to stay safe. The first rule of thumb is to follow instructions from locals. If they tell you not to go somewhere or not to do something – there is a reason for it. This is the best way to stay safe in Bogota. As a general rule, don’t take taxis off the street – order a registered cab or an uber. Do not take money out of an ATM at night and try to go with someone when you do. Do not flash expensive technology or money in general. Overall, take extra precautions at night.