Bogotá, Colombia. The city doesn’t exactly evoke the excitement of other South American capitals, such as Buenos Aires, Sao Paulo or Santiago. In contrast, and unfortunately, most people associate Bogotá with the drug trade that plagued Colombia for years and imagine the city to be terribly dangerous. I visited Bogotá in February 2016 and I can tell you without hesitation that Bogotá is no longer an “unvisitable” city. In fact, quite the opposite. I had a great time in Bogotá and found it safer than other large South American cities that I have visited, including Buenos Aires, Lima and Rio. PUT IT ON YOUR TRAVEL LIST! Plus, visiting Bogotá can be an easy add-on to a South American itinerary, as it has many direct connections to the U.S. and throughout South America.
What is Bogotá?
Bogotá is Colombia’s capital city, set in the Colombia Andes mountains 8,661 feet above sea level. This means that you could have issues with altitude sickness (I did not but Dan did)… Bogotá was colonized by the Spanish and eventually gained its independence in 1810. Not surprisingly, Spanish is the predominant language (read: no English) and the Spaniards left a lasting impact on the local culture.
Bogota is a long city that is bordered on the right by the Andes mountains, including the famous Monserrate, and on the left by the airport and city sprawl. North of Bogotá is the somewhat famous town of Chia (home of the infamous Andres Carne des Res restaurant). For tourist purposes, the northern most part of the city is Usaquén, a hipster neighborhood that hosts the recommended Sunday flea market. In a line south, Usaquén is loosely followed by the upscale and safe areas of Parque 93 and the Zona T and Zona Rosa neighborhoods. At the southernmost tip of Bogotá (well, southernmost for tourist purposes…the city does extend further south) is the historic neighborhood of La Candelaria.
Although Bogotá has somewhat of a bad rap, I really enjoyed my time in Bogotá, especially that just walking around the city. Bogotá is a very alive and very livable city. It reminded me a lot of New York, and I actually felt like I could live there if the opportunity presented itself! I think most people will be surprised as to how much they enjoy it!
Where I Stayed
I stayed in the upscale area of Parque 93 at the Atton Bogotá 93. Contrary to the horror stories you will read online when googling “is bogota safe?” I found the Parque 93 area to be very, very safe, even late at night, with lots of young couples out and about with children and dogs. You can restaurant/bar hop in this area, and further south in Zona T, with little concern.
The Atton Bogotá 93 was a great find in my opinion. The hotel was modern, had free (good) wifi, came with a free welcome drink and served the BEST complimentary breakfast every morning. Here is a picture of the room and the view from my window!
If you’re style is more backpackish, many of the cities hostels, and some hotels, are located in La Candelaria. I visited this are during the day and did not find it scary. However, some people voice concerns in the evening, as most businesses in La Candelaria close early.
Wherever you decide to stay, keep in mind that Bogotá is a huge city and getting from top to bottom in rush hour can take 60 minutes easily. Plan accordingly.
How I Got Around
On that note, Bogotá is a sprawling out city with most people getting around by car. This means that traffic is horrendous, especially during rush hour. There is no subway system. There is a public bus system in place – the Transmilenio – but if you are only in town for a short time, I recommend using Uber . The bus system seemed confusing.
Download the Uber app and set up your account before you leave home. Once in Colombia, just pull up Uber via wifi (or through the internet if you have TMobile!) to call an Uber Black car, which is a white taxi. White taxis are taxis associated with hotels and, in my opinion, were very safe. We used Uber very frequently, it was very inexpensive (we took at 30 minute Uber ride that cost $7.00 US) and we had no issues. Uber also designates cars with drivers who speaks English, but those cars are more expensive and few and far between. A bonus to using Uber is that you can enter your destination information into the app, so you don’thave to worry about any language barrier.
An alternative to Uber is the Colombian app, Tapsi. We did not use it, but it is apparently quite popular, and Colombian invented!
What To Do
Bogotá is short on major bucket list sites. It does have a few “must sees,” but I found that I enjoyed myself the most just hanging out in Bogotá. In terms of sites, la Candaleria is probably the most important “site.” Rather than a site, it is the colonial center of town. There is a really pretty church (below) and lots of pigeons (and homeless people).
While in La Candeleria, be sure to check out the Gold Museum (about $3) and the Botero museum (free!). Both museums were very high quality. I LOVED the Botero museum and would certainly re-visit the Gold Museum. I would allow an hour for the Gold museum and 30 minutes for the Botero museum.
Aside from la Candelaria, Monserrate is probably Bogotá’s best site. As mentioned, Monserrate is the large mountain overlooking Bogotá. A (STEEP) funicular train runs up and down the mountain in the morning and a cable car goes up and down in the afternoon. There is a church and a small, tourist-oriented shopping village on top of Monesrrate. While touristy, this is a good place to try the famous coca tea as many of the vendors sell it. There are also two restaurants with great reputations on the mountain. I did not visit either, but they came highly recommended. Monserrate is pretty close to La Candelaria, so I recommend seeing them together.
On Sundays, the trendy neighborhood of Usaquén hosts a flea market every Sunday from about 11:00 a.m. to 6:00 p.m. This was possibly my favorite thing that we did in Bogotá! The flea market was so fun and so laid back, and I got some great shopping and eating in! I recommend spending an afternoon here if you are in Bogotá on a Sunday. Some people compare it to Buenos Aires’ San Telmo Sunday market, but I think the Usaquén market is far superior. More manageable, better quality goods, and safer!
Outside of the city, towards Chia, are two other attractions that are associated with Bogotá. The first is the Salt Cathedral, which is a cathedral built deep underground in a salt mine. It is pretty impressive, but I would not call it a “must do” if you are short on time. The Salt Cathedral is located in Zipaquirá.
In addition to the Salt Cathedral, Chia is home to the famous party restaurant – Andres Carne des Res. You do not need a reservation before you go, but you will need to hire a car to drive you out. Taxis were available on the way back. We went on a Sunday night and it was not nearly as crazy as expected. However, the food is delicious. The Salt Cathedral and Andres Carne des Res are not too far away from each other, just north of the city. I recommend combining the two into a day trip out of Bogotá.
What To Eat
Bogotá has some excellent places to eat and quite the up-and-coming culinary scene. While its most famous restaurant is probably the above-referenced Andres Carne des Res, there are a lot of delicious restaurants in Bogotá. One of my favorites was La Tabula, a family-style restaurant visited by Anthony Bourdain. La Tabula had a lovely interior and delicious food!
Another restaurant that i LOVED was Matiz in Parque 93. We did their tasting menu and it was AMAZING. My favorite dish was the dessert that was “truffle hunt” themed and flavored. They had me at truffle hunt themed. While this restaurant is more expensive than most restaurants in Bogotá, it was a great value compared to a similar restaurant in New York or Miami. Below is a picture of my truffle hunt dessert!!
If you are looking to eat like the locals, try the Bogotá Food Safari. We took this tour one morning and went all over the Paloquemao Market (Bogotá’s largest market), which would be very difficult for a tourist and nearly impossible for a non-Spanish-speaking tourist.
If you are looking for traditional Colombian, check out the famous Puerta Falsa in La Candelaria. Anthony Bourdain also went here! The restaurant is tiny and super casual, and located just before the main square in La Candelaria. Its also something like 200 years old. The food was good and super cheap – our meal of tamales and the famous hot chocolate and cheese beverage cost a whopping $7.00 between the two of us!
How Long To Stay
I spent 5 days in Bogotá, including a day trip to Villa de Levya and a half-day to Chia. Five days was very relaxing and I really got to see the city and enjoy myself, but you can do Bogotá in two full days and one night if pressed for time. How long you want to spend depends on your own style, and how much vacation you have! Seasoned travelers will likely appreciate Bogotá more than inexperienced travelers due to the lack of “bucket list sites” and the difficulties presented by the language barrier.
In sum, I LOVED Bogotá and would recommend at least a quick stop to anyone traveling to Colombia! It’s hard to image someone “seeing” Colombia without at least a brief stop in its capital city. I found Bogotá very safe and more modern and successful than I expected. Of course keep your wits as you would in any large city, but Bogotá is not any more dangerous than other large South American cities, or North American cities for that matter.
STEAL OUR TRIP
Atton Bogotá 93 – Cl. 93 #1241, Bogotá, Colombia. Make reservations online. Reasonable and safe hotel located one block off Parque 93, includes 24 hour front desk, wifi, welcome drink and delicious complimentary breakfast. Note that Atton is a chain and there are multiple locations throughout Colombia (and South America).
Gold Museum – Cl. 16 #588, Bogotá, Colombia. Closed Monday. 9:00 – 6:00 Tuesday – Saturday. 10:00 – 4:00 on Sunday. $3,000 COP per person. Not necessary to make reservations.
Botero Museum – Calle 11 No. 4-41, Bogota, Colombia. Closed Tuesday. Open 10:00 – 5:00 on Sunday, 9:00 – 7:00 other days (except Tuesday when its closed). No reservations.
Monserrate – No website. Finicular: Monday – Friday 7:00 – 11:45. Saturday 7:00 – 4:00. Sunday 5:30 – 5:00. Cable car: Monday – Friday 12:00 – 12:00. Sunday 9:00 – 5:00.
Usaquén Market – Sundays from approximately 11:00 – 6:00. Any cab driver will know where you are going. It also comes up on the Uber app.
Salt Cathedral – Cra 6 Calle 1, Zipaquirá, Cundinamarca, Colombia. Everyday from 9:00 – 5:30. Allow at least a half day if coming from Bogotá. Prior reservations not necessary.
La Tabula – Cll 29 bis # 5 – 90. Email to make a recommended eservation.
Matiz – Calle 95 No. 11 a – 17. Just off Parque 93. Monday – Saturday 12:00 – 3:30 & 7:00 – 11:30. Reservations essential and can easily be made online.
Bogota Food Safari – Email to make a reservation. Tours typically run daily except Sunday at 9:00 and 1:00 and last about 3 hours. Tours do fill up, so I recommend emailing early.
Andres Carne des Res – Calle 3 N°11ª-56 , Chia, Colombia. Reservations not necessary. There is also a location in Bogotá, but the Chia location is much better and not very far away.
La Puerto Falsa – No website. Calle 11 No 6-50, Bogota, Colombia. No reservations. Open daily 7:00 a.m. – 10:00 p.m. Very limited menu and seating.