Like many 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.
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Dogs bark all night long, and the streets are full of commuters spilling out of bus stations as they clamour for a spot to get home.
However, look past the frenetic pace and you’ll find a beautiful, mountainous city framed by a lush backdrop and leafy green trees. Historic architecture anchors the city centre, and even the graffiti sprayed on just about every public wall is picturesque and has become a tourist attraction on its own.
From incredible viewpoints to cool districts, here are the best things to do in Bogota, Colombia.
La Candelaria Bogotá
Most Bogota sightseeing tours start in La Candelaria, which is the historic centre and heart of the city. With 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, it’s one of the most charming places to visit in Bogota.
The buildings are great examples of Spanish colonial architecture, and the district is home to the Museo Iglesia Santa Clara which is one of the oldest churches in Bogotá. Head inside to marvel at its ornate interior painted entirely in gold, and covered with more than 100 paintings and sculptures.
The National Shrine of Our Lady of Carmen (Santuario Nuestra Senora del Carmen) is another one of the best Bogota tourist attractions, and famous for its striking red and white facade.
For those interested in art, head to the Museo Botero which is dedicated to Colombian artist Fernando Botero, or book a graffiti tour to see the incredible street art.
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 serving up Colombian food like 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., so cyclists and pedestrians can enjoy the streets.
Gold Museum Bogotá
La Candelaria is also where you’ll find 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.
One of the top things to do in Bogota is to Monserrate to enjoy the incredible views granted from this sky-high vantage point.
Monserrate is a 3,152 metre high mountain in the centre of the city with a church, restaurants, 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’s also a small market with 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.
To reach the top, most people take 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’s also a funicular, 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! Click here to book
It is also possible to walk up or down the mountain for those who are up to the challenge. In the past it was considered dangerous due to thefts, but police have since been stationed along the trail.
Zona Rosa de Bogota
This district is cosmopolitan cool, with 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.
La Calera Bogota
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 of 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 horseback riding stables, so trail riding is an option.
Due to the city’s huge footprint and frequent traffic jams, it’s not always easy to get around. Book one of these organized tours to experience some of the top Bogota attractions without having to worry about the logistics:
A great way to get off the beaten path and see more of what life is really like in Bogota is booking this tour of El Paraiso, a colourful, picturesque neighbourhood that’s in the midst of a rejuvenation from slums to art hub, thanks to a massive undertaking by community members. Or, fill up on a traditional Colombian breakfast then go on a hike in the East Hills to enjoy spectacular city views. Click here to book
There are also some cool, quirky day trips from Bogota, including a cloud forest, an underground cathedral carved out of salt, and a theme park that has a life-sized replica of the Taj Mahal:
Where to stay in Bogota
- La Colina Hotel Cottage: This artsy boutique hotel is tucked away in northwest Bogota in the Hills of Suba, surrounded by cute country houses. Rooms have views of the gardens and Andes, making this a serene escape from the hectic city. Click here to book
- Grand Hyatt Bogota: This sleek, modern property is just a 10 minute drive from airport and historic centre, which makes it a great base for sightseeing. There are multiple restaurants on site along with a spa, and the rooms are high-end. Click here to book
- Hotel El Dorado Bogota: This cozy, colourful spot has large, comfortable bedrooms, a great breakfast spread, and guests rave about the exceptional service. Click here to book
Tips for Bogota sightseeing
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.
Currency: Colombia uses the peso, and unlike many other countries in South America US dollars are not usually accepted.
Safety tip: Keep a close eye on your valuables as Bogota is full of pickpockets, especially in La Candelaria. Check out these tips to avoid getting robbed while travelling.
YOU MIGHT ALSO ENJOY:
- The Salt Cathedral of Zipaquira: Colombia’s underground church
- Jaime Duque Park: A day trip to Colombia’s Taj Mahal
- The best things to do in Cartagena, Colombia
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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.
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!
The city I want to return to the most in South America. Awesome guide, great tips for the city!
Thank you so much! I’m glad you enjoyed the article– and had fun in the city! What was your favourite spot in Bogota?
Candaleria, enjoyed some amazing chocolate completo and tamales just off of the main plaza.
Hello, loved the article, just one thing, is “La Calera” not “La Carrera” 😉
Hi Adriana, thank you very much for noticing my typo! It has since been fixed. Thanks for reading!
I know the article was written sometime ago and completely has me completely enthralled to visit Bogota Colombia, ASAP! I am looking to go around April because my fiancé is from here and he is excited for me to visit his homeland. Great article thank you for your time and insight!
Thanks Shay, hope you get there soon!