Bogotá is a city I’m visiting on a yearly base. It’s the capital of Colombia and for most travelers a first introduction to the country. The city is located at an altitude of 2600 meters, in a valley of the Andes mountains. Like many South American capitals, Bogotá is a crowded and busy city with more than 8 million inhabitants. The city has different sides: A nice colonial center, rich and hip neighborhoods in the north, poor slums in the south, a large business center, many universities and a vibrant art and cultural scene. The city has a lot to offer for sure and it’s worth spending a couple of days here. Read my tips in this article to get the most out of your stay in this bustling Cosmopolitan capital of Colombia and the surroundings.
Tips for Bogotá
Background & historical facts
Bogotá was founded by the Spaniards as the capital of the colony, in 1538. The location, at the foot of the Monserrate and Guadeloupe mountains, was ideal to protect the city against the strong Andes winds. The city has always been the center of political and cultural life and on top of modernization. Halfway through the 20th century, the city started to grow explosively and turned into a bustling metropole! But Bogotá experienced many tragic times in the past, such as the murder of politician Jorge Eliécer Gaitán, “the Bogotázo” with days of demonstrations and ravages in the city and the hostage at the Sumpreme Court by guerilla organisation M19 (in 1985). These are historical events that you will be learning about for sure when visiting this city.
1. Go out with a local and discover the city’s hotspots | 10 tips for Bogotá
If you are interested in good food, architecture, photography, salsa dancing or drinking a high-end cocktail, head out with one of the locals of 5 Bogotá. They are all experts in their fields and show you the best places in the city. From the most beautiful corners for photography, outstanding architecture to the best dance locations, markets and best cocktail bars. I once set off with bartender Maurizio, who showed me the city hotspots and Diana, who told me everything about daily life and the history of Bogotá. It’s the best way to really dive into the culture and history of the city.
2. A view not to miss, Monseratte | 10 tips for Bogotá
A cable car will take you to the top of the Monserrate mountain, at an altitude of 3152 meters, within 10 minutes. At the top you will find a beautifully designed park with fountains and statues, a restaurant and a small church. Monseratte offers one of the best city views. You can watch over entire Bogotá! It makes you realize how huge this city is. So many people are living here, each with its own stories and lifes. You can also hike your way up. However, I would not recommend doing this during your first days of visiting, as your body needs to get used to Bogota’s altitude.
3. Get inspired by Modern Art in Mambo | 10 tips for Bogotá
The best modern art museum in Bogotá is called Mambo, Museo de Arte Moderno de Bogotá. I always like to get inspired by exhibitions and artists I don’t know. During my last visit, Mambo had an interesting exhibition about the Venezuelan refugee crisis, portrayed by Teresa Margolles. A true eye-opener because we only get half of this situation. Colombia was experiencing one of the largest refugee crises (in 2019).
There was also an exhibition highlighting cartoonist Vladdo, famous for its controversial work and portraits of Colombian presidents. The museum is always presenting new exhibitions, so it’s best to check out the website and see whats going on.
Interested to learn more about art in Colombia? Check out the article about the most famous artists from Colombia.
4. Shop and dine in the Cosmopolitan north | 10 tips voor Bogotá
There are many different restaurants and shops in the city center. But do you have more time? And do you want to see a different side of Bogotá? Then I certainly recommend to visit the north of the city. Here you will find neighborhoods such as Zona G (where the G stands for gourmet / fine dining) & Quinta Camacho, Zona Rosa and Chapinero. These neighborhoods have many nice art galleries, boutique stores, bars and fantastic restaurants. New hotspots open regularly. Try to book a table at Versión Original, El Chato, El Botánico, La Despensa, Criterion or Bistronomy by Rausch.
5. Visit the Fernando Botero museum | 10 tips for Bogotá
This museum is free and an absolute must-visit, even if you’ve never heard of Fernando Botero. Fernando Botero was born in Medellín and is one of Colombia’s most famous artists. His work is known for the voluptuous and bizarre shapes of the people he portrays and can be seen all over the world. In Bogotá and Medellín you can visit his most important works. His paintings always make me smile!
6. Admire gold pieces in the Museo de Oro | 10 tips for Bogotá
The Museo de Oro is for sure one of the most beautiful Pre-Columbian art museums in Latin America. The museum has the largest collection of gold. Different exhibition rooms, will take you on a journey through the cultures of Colombia and Latin America, such as the Cauca, Zenú, the Muisca and Tayrona. One of the highlights is the golden “Balsa de El Dorado”. This explains the story of the Muisca Indians, organising ceremonies with the golden man, on the Laguna de Guatavita (Lake of Guatavita). During these ceremonies, a lot of gold ended up in the water That’s how the legend of El Dorado was born. People and companies have been looking for the gold for years. Are you interested in visiting the lake? Keep on reading. Below you will find more information.
7. Discover the bohemian neighbourhood “La Candelaria” | 10 tips for Bogotá
The colonial center, is listed in the world heritage list of UNESCO and it’s a nice area to walk around. Plaza de Bolívar, where the cathedral and the Supreme Court are located, is a landmark and an easy start for exploring the area. From here, narrow streets, including beautiful houses, small squares, shops, coffeeshops and restaurants, run up the mountain. The city was founded on the Chorro de Quevedo, in 1538 and the fountain reminds of the river that fled here. Nowadays it’s a popular place for young people to gather and listen to poetry and music. In the streets around the square you will find many artists who sell jewelry and other art.
8. Enjoy amazing street-art | 10 tips for Bogotá
Bogotá is known for its fantastic street-art. The best area to observe these works are the streets around Chorro de Quevedo and Parque de los Periodistas. It also can be interesting to join one of the many graffiti tours. Artists take you along different walls and explain the story behind their work. The cool thing is that many pieces express situations about the country’s problems and history, so you will learn a lot. Not interested in taking a tour, just stroll around and observe the pieces yourself.
9. Café Pasaje | 10 tips for Bogotá
On the Plazoleta Rosario you will find Café Pasaje, founded in 1930. This is the place where you go back into the Bogotá from the past, because of its special historic atmosphere. Café Pasaje is a place that has always been visited by important politicians, artists, writers and journalists. The walls are decorated with different pictures and pieces of history. Drink a tea or coffee and feel like a real Bogotano.
Day trips from Bogotá | 10 tips for Bogotá
Do you want to go on a day trip and explore the surroundings of Bogotá? Then it’s a nice option to visit the underground salt cathedral of Zipaquirá or go for a hike around the Guatavitá Lake. If you are on a road trip in Colombia, I would recommend to make a stop at these place when traveling from Bogotá to Villa de Leyva, the northern provinces, or the other way around. This way you will be efficient with your time and get the most out of your stay.
The underground salt cathedral in Zipaquirá
The town of Zipaquirá is known for its salt mines and large salt reserves. The highlight of Zipaquirá is the Catedral de Sal, an underground cathedral, build within the tunnels of a salt mine. Salt mines played already an important role, in the times of the Muisca Indians. When the Spaniards arrived, they were able to win the salt on a large scale. Because the miners spend many hours working in the mines, they began to create their places of prayer. Over the years, the mine became a popular place of pilgrimage. Due to the high amount of visitors, a second cathedral, created in a deeper layer of salt, was even opened. Nowadays the cathedral is open to the public.
In the the Road of the Cross, a long tunnel, you will pass caves and corridors, including angels that are beautifully illuminated. Have a look at the old and new cathedral, statues, chapels and learn all about the important role, this salt mine played back in the years. The way the salt mine is illuminated together with the different colors and music used, make your visit a nice experience.
Discover the myth of El Dorado at Guatavita Lake
The lake of Guatavita is a special lake, due to its historical significance! This is the place where the Muisca Indians held their ceremonies in honor of the golden man, their future leader. The golden man, was covered with resin and golden powder. As soon as he jumped in the lake and washed himself, he became officially the new leader. These rituals took place for years, meaning that the lake should have contained kilos of gold. Many people and companies have been trying to find the gold. The lake was even emptied several times. However, nothing was ever found.
The lake is peaceful and the surroundings are beautiful. You can go for a nice walk, passing different viewpoints along the trail. Unfortunately it is no longer allowed to walk alone. There are guides at the entrance and this service is included in your ticket fee, so you don’t have to make a reservation. Try to break free if you happen to be part of a big group or pay a bit more and ask for a private guide. Take it easy, since Lake Guatavita is located at an altitude of 3000 m.
Safety in Bogotá + tips
Due to the years of political problems, guerrilla war and big social differences within the city, Bogotá is a city where you have to be careful. Even though there an agreement between the guerilla’s and authorities, the problems are not over yet and nobody knows how Colombia will develop the next coming years! In any case, it is important to be alert in Bogotá. Make sure to be aware of the following recommendations.
- be well informed before you take off (ask your hotel, airbnb, friends, collagues where to go or not)
- do not walk through suburbs by yourself
- avoid crowded places
- take little or no belongings, when you go out
- leave all valuables in the safe of your hotel or lock it in your bag/suitcase
Are you looking for a nice weekend getaway from Bogotá? Villa de Leyva is a place I would definitely recommend visiting.
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