Bogotá is a city I’m visiting on a yearly base and I’m always happy to spend time there! Bogotá is the cosmopolitan 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 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. Bogota has a lot to offer and it’s worth spending a couple of days. In this article I will be sharing the best places to visit and things to do in Bogota Colombia and its surroundings. To get the most out of your stay in this bustling capital!
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.
What to do in Bogota Colombia | 10 tips
Go out with a local and discover the city’s hotspots
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. It’s one of the best things to do in Bogota Colombia, if you want to dive into the local life and understand more about the culture and history of the city.
A view not to miss, Monseratte | famous things to do in Bogota
One of the top things to do in Bogota Colombia is to visit the viewpoint of the Monseratte mountain. A cable car will take you to the top of the mountain, at an altitude of 3152 meters, within 10 minutes. Here you will find a beautifully designed park with fountains and statues, a restaurant and a small church. Monseratte offers incredible city views, as 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.
Dine and shop in the cosmopolitan north of Bogota
There are many different restaurants and shops in the city center. But if you want to see a different side of the city, then I certainly recommend to visit the north. 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.
One of my favorite things to do in Bogota is to stroll through the bohemian neighbourhood “La Candelaria”
The colonial center, is listed in the world heritage list of UNESCO and a nice startingpoint to explore the area of La Candelaria. Plaza de Bolívar, where the cathedral and the Supreme Court are located, is the center and landmark of the city. From here, different narrow streets run up the mountain. In these streets you will find beautiful houses, small squares and many shops, coffeeshops and restaurants.
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. Strolling thorugh this area is one of my favorite things to do in Bogota Colombia!
Have a drink at Café Pasaje
On the Plazoleta Rosario you will find Café Pasaje, founded in 1930. It is one of the places to visit in Bogota, where you go back into the past, because of its special historic atmosphere. Café Pasaje is a cafe that has always been visited by important politicians, artists, writers and journalists. The walls are decorated with historical pictures and objects. Drink a tea or coffee and feel like a real Bogotano!
Things to do in Bogota Colombia in terms of art
Get inspired by Modern Art in Mambo
One of the best places to visit in Bogota to see modern art, 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 and information. 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 in Mambo Bogota.
Enjoy amazing street-art
Bogotá is known for its fantastic street-art. The best area to spot 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.
Visit the Fernando Botero museum
This museum is free and one of the best things to do in Bogota Colombia if you are interested in art. 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!
Colombia has a lot of great artists, including painters and writers. I’m always curious and love to get inspired by art around the world. It’s a great way to understand a country and its culture. Interested to learn more about art in Colombia? Check out the article about the most famous artists from Colombia, where I’m listing some of the most remarkable artists, including the best places to visit their work in Bogota and the rest of the country.
Admire gold pieces in the Museo de Oro
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, 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 this gold for years. Are you interested in visiting the lake? Keep on reading. Below you will find more information.
What to do in Bogota surroundings | 2x places to visit for a day-trip
Do you want to go on a day trip and explore the surroundings of Bogotá? One of the best places to visit in Bogota surroundings for a day trip, is the underground salt cathedral of Zipaquirá and the Guatavita 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.
Visit 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. But when the Spaniards arrived, they were able to win the salt on a large scale. Because these miners spend many hours working in the mines, they began to create their own 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 over the years. 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.
Looking for a nice weekend away from the busy capital of Bogotá, follow the Bogotanos and visit beautiful Villa de Leyva. This mountain village is located in the province of Boyacá, only a few hours away. In this article I’m telling you more about what to do in Villa de Leyva.
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 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 and keep the following recommendations in mind:
- be well informed before you take off (ask your hotel, airbnb, friends, collagues where to go or not)
- do not walk in 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
More about Colombia
Intererested in reading more about Colombia? This is an article with the most beautiful places to visit in Colombia, including the best time to visit. Or check out the Colombia blog page with city guides and things to do in Medellín and Santa Marta. Tips for lovely towns such as Salento, Mompox and Villa de Leyva. But also the Tatacoa desert and Valle de Cocora. Interested in archaeology? Read more about the mysterious San Agustín statues.