Bogota, Colombia: Top things to do in the sprawling city

Like most large South American cities, Colombia’s sprawling capital Bogota can be described as chaotic. Home to nearly nine million people, roadways are clogged with a dizzying amount of speeding, honking vehicles trying to dodge the massive potholes that litter the streets. Dogs bark all night long, and the streets are full of commuters spilling out of bus stations as they clamor for a spot to get home.

However, the city itself is beautiful, featuring a lush mountain backdrop, tens of thousands of well-maintained brick buildings surrounded by leafy green trees, and historic architecture. Even the graffiti sprayed on just about every public wall is picturesque, and has become a tourist attraction on its own. Meantime, the well-heeled residents are surprisingly fashionable, making the vibrant Zona Rosa area more akin to a catwalk than simply a fun place to spend the night on the town.

Bogota is absolutely huge—which is partly to blame for its epic traffic jams—and can leave a visitor wondering where to begin when it comes time to sightsee! With that in mind, here are some of the city’s top districts.

Graffiti in Bogota.

Graffiti in Bogota.

La Candelaria

By far the most touristy spot in the entire city, this is where you’ll see the heart of Bogota while getting a blast from the past. The historic centre features narrow streets, a towering cathedral in the Plaza de Bolivar, a church dating back to the 1600s, and even the presidential palace which takes up several city blocks.

A street in La Candelaria.

A street in La Candelaria.

Many visitors head to the Museum del Oro, a multi-storey gold museum filled with ancient treasures, collections from different periods of Colombia’s history as well as displays detailing the country’s past. Keep in mind the building is closed on Mondays—otherwise, it’s open from 9 a.m. to 6 p.m. Tuesday through Saturday, and 10 a.m. to 4 p.m. on Sundays and public holidays.

A piece at the Gold Museum.

A piece at the Gold Museum.

The district’s main thoroughfare is also a site in itself. Closed to traffic, the streets are lined with performance artists, including some strangely dressed folks (think superheroes and aliens), musicians, and even artists who use spray paint and fire! There are also a number of roaming food stalls where visitors can grab fresh fruit, juice or a sweet treat. Every Sunday, a number of roadways leading into the district are totally shut down to traffic from 7 a.m. to 2 p.m., and are instead used by cyclists and pedestrians.

A young woman uses spray paint and fire to create art.

A young woman uses spray paint and fire to create art.

Monserrate

Hands down, nowhere else can compete with the incredible views granted from this vantage point.

The view of Bogota from Monserrate.

The view of Bogota from Monserrate.

Monserrate is a 3,152 metre high mountain in the centre of the city which is topped by a church, two restaurants popular with couples and visiting dignitaries, cafes, an exercise area, and dozens of beautiful, lush gardens. Pilgrims travel up the mountain to take in the Stations of the Cross pathway, and there is also a little market full of handicrafts and souvenirs. Monserrate is an incredibly romantic spot, making it a popular place for engagements as the twinkling lights of the city shine below.

The top of Monserrate.

The top of Monserrate.

What makes the site so special is its perch over the entire city below, as well as all of the fun ways to reach the top. Most people head up on the Telefirico, which is made up of cable cars that can hold up to 40 people a time while gliding soundlessly up the side of the mountain. There is also an option to get to the top via Furnicular, which is basically a vertical train. Both take only a few minutes to go up or down, and cost about $7 each way. The price on Sunday is about half that, but keep in mind it can be extremely busy—we’re talking hour and a half queues to get back down! It is also possible to walk up or down the mountain for those who are up to the challenge. In years past it was considered dangerous due to thefts, but police have since been stationed along the trail.

The Teleifirico heading up to Monserrate.

The Teleifirico heading up to Monserrate.

Zona Rosa de Bogota

This spot is the definition of cosmopolitan cool. The district is made up of luxury retailers (think Louis Vuitton, Burberry), glitzy shopping malls and rows and rows of outdoor cafés, bars and nightclubs. Streets in the Zona T area of the district aren’t open to vehicles, and at night the area is hopping with Bogota’s best dressed enjoying a night out on the town. On the weekend, some bars charge around $5 cover, but you can get around it by heading to one of the many pubs or restaurants. Prices are also much higher in the area than elsewhere in the city, but it’s worth it for the ambiance.

If you’re just after a quick lunch, head inside the El Retiro shopping centre which has a fantastic food court featuring several made-to-order food stalls. Crepes & Waffles—a national favourite!—is also a great pick.

colombia-bogota-zonarosa

La Calera

If you don’t feel like braving the crowds at Monserrate but still want an epic view, head to the high hills of La Calera. A winding road takes you up the mountainside, and there are a couple of spots to pull over and take in the city below. One offers a simple set up, aka a few folding chairs along the cliffside accompanied by vendors selling cold drinks. Just a little way up the road, there are a number of restaurants that make the most of the view, as well as small bars. There are also a number of horseback riding stables, so trail riding is an option.

The view from La Calera.

The view from La Calera.

PRACTICALITIES:

Currency: The Colombian peso

Getting around: The TransMilenio bus lines go around the city, but keep in mind they are packed like sardines during rush hour and are famous for being the scene of assaults and theft. Alternatively, bright yellow taxis are everywhere- try and agree on a price before you get in as drivers won’t always use the meter.

How to get there: Bogota’s airport is El Dorado International Airport, which offers both international and domestic flights. Avianca—a major carrier—also has its section of the terminal. If you are flying out internationally, be sure to get a stamp at the desk near the entrance prior to checking in, which signifies that you’ve already paid the airport tax (usually included in your ticket price).

Top tip: Keep an eye on your stuff! Bogota is full of pickpockets, especially in La Candelaria. Click here for tips to avoid getting robbed while travelling.

colombia-bogota-people

YOU MIGHT ALSO ENJOY:

The Salt Cathedral of Zipaquira: Colombia’s underground church

Colombia’s Taj Mahal: A trip to Jaime Duque Parque

Why Cartagena is Colombia’s Caribbean treasure

Learning to salsa dance in Cartagena, Colombia

 

 

 

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7 Responses

  1. genibre2013 says:

    You should still NEVER hike alone up or down the path to Montserrate. Your blog falsely gives the impression that it is totally safe now and that is not the case. I was there last year and Colombians all told me to not do so.

    • Hi there,
      I did not specifically recommend walking the trail to Monserrate, I just said it is an option and also mentioned that in the past it has been dangerous, so hopefully people will take that into consideration. I was staying with a family that lives in Bogota, and one of them said he has done the trail multiple times with no problems. As a travel writer, I try to give information about all of the ways to do things, and then people can decide from there what they feel most comfortable with.
      Thanks for reading!

  2. The city I want to return to the most in South America. Awesome guide, great tips for the city!

  3. Hello, loved the article, just one thing, is “La Calera” not “La Carrera” 😉

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