[updated: July 2019]
Bogota is Colombia’s capitol city. It’s mostly safe and great to visit. There are many things to do in Bogota from parks and cafes to museums and bike tours.
Several people warned me: Be prepared for Bogota. It’s big. It’s crowded. It’s noisy. It’s dangerous.
I loved it.
It’s funny, how your experiences are colored by little things – where you stay, who you meet, and the connections you make.
So many had told me I would love Medellin and while I did see some nice things there, I did not love it. I felt it was crowded, noisy, and slightly dangerous. Sound familiar? But that is because the area I stayed in (albeit a great hotel) was in the heart of the city – a city swelling with people. But really, it’s simply because I didn’t make any great connections there.
So it turns out I liked Bogota more.
Colombia’s capital city sits at about 8500 feet (2600 meters) high giving it a crisp feel underneath the Andean peaks that surround it. Some of Bogota’s progressiveness may surprise you. Three hundred kilometers (186 miles) of bike lanes criss-cross the city and, even more unique than that is what’s called Ciclovia. Every Sunday 122km (76 miles) of roads around the city are closed to cars to allow cyclists and pedestrians free reign.
La Candelaria is the lovely cobblestoned old town in the center of the city. It features colonial-era landmarks like Teatro Colón and the 17th-century Iglesia de San Francisco.
In Bogota, I stayed with my friend Jeff in the cute and quiet neighborhood of Chapinero. On my first day there, I set out to the northern neighborhoods of Zona Rosa and Parque 93, which I’d heard were nice. I figured it would be a good way to ease into the city. And I found nothing of what I was warned. What I saw: big green parks, cute residential hoods, strollers, hip eateries, business people in suits, a lot of bike lanes and medians with trees.
Things to Do In Bogota
There’s a lot of things to do in Bogota. I’ve turned to the experts, my fellow travel bloggers, who’ve spent a lot of time (or lived!) there to give you the low down.
Stroll Around La Candelaria
La Candelaria is Bogota’s heart and a crown jewel of Spanish colonial architecture. It’s the ‘old city’ of Bogota and packed with narrow, cobblestone streets and colorful buildings. It will definitely be the subject of many an Instagram photo!
La Candelaria is also the home to many of Bogota’s premier museums and attractions, many of which are listed below. You also be treated to wonderfully vibrant murals and street art. You can take a guided tour of Candelaria to hear more about its history plus get a chocolate and coffee workshop!
The plaza is home to thousands of pigeons and various street vendors that sell exotic fruits and products originating from different regions of Colombia. It can get very crowded here, so try to arrive before 8 am to see the open space. It’s home to the congress on one side and the palace of justice on the other.
And of course, don’t miss the beautiful church with the statue of Simon Bolivar right in the middle. From here you can easily walk north towards Seventh Street which is a pedestrian road filled with crafted goods, artists and even street performers.
Recommended by Daniel James of LayerCulture.com.
The majority of visitors stay in La Candelaria when visiting Bogota. This is a real shame because there is another cool neighbourhood, which offers a variety of shopping, dining and socializing experiences in the capital!
Chapinero will surprise you. The red-bricked houses resemble Northern cities in England and the lush green neighbourhood actually feels slightly rural.
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Hungry? For relaxed food, check out the collection of food trucks at Calle 73. The entertainment area of Zona G is located close to Chapinero. Within walking (or stumbling!) distance, you can dine, drink and listen to music.
Walk off the calories at Parque 93 on Calle 93 then grab a brew at Bogota Beer Company. Visitors can still experience local cuisine such as Caldo de Costilla for breakfast in this hip area.
Recommended by Gemma Armit of Two Scots Abroad.
Bogota Murals and Street Art
Bogota might not have the best reputation among travelers in Colombia – some feel that the city isn’t as picturesque as colorful Cartagena or not as hip and modern as nearby Medellin. However, there are many great reasons why Bogota should be on your Colombia backpacking itinerary. And one of them is its amazing street art, which you can find all around town and especially in “La Candelaria” – the city center of Bogota.
Street Art has a long and interesting history in Bogota. The government tried to make graffiti illegal in Bogota and an artist even got killed by the police a few years ago. But a huge outcry happened when ironically Justin Bieber was allowed to paint graffiti on the walls of Bogota in 2013 and was even protected by a police escort. The result was the “graffiti protest” with lots of new street art paintings created within 24 hours, while Justin’s work was removed immediately by the artists.
As you can see, there’s a complex and interesting history behind street art in Bogota and every painting has its own symbol and meaning. I highly recommend one of the Street Art Walking Tours (which happen every day, based on tips) to learn more about the street art scene of Bogota, as it’s certainly one of the highlights of the city.
Recommended by Patrick Muntzinger of Germanbackpacker.com.
Check out the various tours of Bogota — from walks to bike rides to food tours — and find one that matches your interests!
An absolute must do in Bogotá is ascending the hill of Monserrate. One of the hills that dominate the Bogotá skyline, a church was built atop it in 1640, and it has long been a place of pilgrimage.
Atop the hill, you can follow a path showing the 14 Stations of the Cross to reach the church itself and see its beautiful interior. In addition to the church, there are some artisan and souvenir shops as well as a restaurant. The gardens around the paths are also gorgeous and you can spot a number of different species of birds.
However, the real wonder is the spectacular view you get of the city below. It really gives you an appreciation of both the size of Bogotá and its location nestled among the mountains. You can also see the statue of the Virgin of Guadalupe on the hill next door.
There are three ways to get up the hill. If you’re up to it, you can walk up the steep and winding path. You can also go up by the funicular train car that operates in the morning hours from 5:30 to 11:45 am or the cable cars that operate in the afternoon from 11:45 am to midnight. You will of course get the most scenic view heading up in the cable cars.
Monserrate is open 365 days a year. Price as of July 2019 are as follows:
Monday to Saturday: 21,000 pesos round trip
Sunday: 12,000 pesos round trip
Recommended by Adam McConnaughhay. He’s lived in Colombia since 2011 and writes about Cartagena and other destinations in Colombia at cartagenaexplorer.com.
Check out my other Colombia posts!
Is it Safe to Visit Colombia?
The Gold Museum
The Gold Museum (Museo del Oro) in Bogota is one of Colombia’s most popular tourist attractions – and for good reason. Housing the world’s largest collection of gold artifacts, it tells the story of the indigenous Muisca through a series of world-class exhibits and interactive displays.
Master metal smiths and craftspeople, the Muisca ruled the area around modern-day Bogota between the years 600 and 1600AD. Their pioneering work in metallurgy is remembered at the Gold Museum, where no less than 6,000 individual handcrafted objects and tools are displayed. These range from ceremonial jewelry, to coins, burial objects and shamanic totems, all cast in gold and other alloys. The detail and craftsmanship is nothing short of breathtaking. The Gold Museum also explores the El Dorado legend, which has its origins in an ancient Muisca ritual.
The Gold Museum is located in Bogota’s atmospheric La Candelaria district and open every day except Monday. While you’re there, pay a visit to the museum gift shop and cafe, which serves some of the best coffee in the city.
Recommended by Emily Lush of wander-lush.org.
Step inside to the bizarre, tiny room that’s almost impossible to take more than a handful of steps in. Antonio may be upstairs, and as you might guess has an opinion on the subject. Feel free to discuss if your Spanish is up to the challenge, or acknowledge his presence and carry on.
It’s one of those places that really doesn’t fit in the surrounding Teusaquillo neighborhood, and might be correctly be described as an ‘eyesore’ by its neighbors. That’s perhaps part of its appeal — and its point. A little bit of shock therapy might just be what you need to get into a habit of reducing, reusing, and recycling.
Get step-by-step directions in this 3 day Bogota itinerary.
Sunday Flea Market
For over 30 years, the San Alejo Mercado de Pulgas has attracted shoppers every Sunday with the allure of finding a diamond in the rough. Whether you’re searching for an antique chandelier, silver tableware, or a smaller token to remind you of your Colombia travels, this flea market has over 350 vendors in a small parking lot near Colpatria Tower.
But antiques aren’t the only thing you’ll find for sale. There’s also some new items like clothes and handcrafted soaps, as well as prepared foods, coffee, and fresh juices.
The best time to arrive is Sunday morning when the market is fresh and vendors are eager. If you walk down 7th Avenue to arrive at the market, you may feel you’ve reached it sooner than Google Maps dictates. That’s because 7th Avenue is closed to traffic on Sundays and the whole street is filled with vendors selling their goods. It’s a lively scene and a great atmosphere but I recommend saving your shopping for the flea market where you never know what treasures you will find that week.
Recommended by Julien of Cultures Traveled.
La Chorrera Waterfall
Sadly off the radar to many tourists, just outside of Bogotá stands the little known La Chorrera, Colombia’s tallest waterfall. At a height of 590m, this truly is a beauty to behold.
To get there, hop on a minubus towards Choachí from the Transoriente terminal in central Bogotá. These are colectivos and they therefore have no timetable; they just leave whenever full. Tell the bus driver to drop you at the beginning of the La Chorrera trail, less than an hour from the bustling city of Bogotá. From there, you can either walk the hilly route past small farmers’ houses in the valley, or take a taxi to the natural park entrance.
If you want to make it easy on yourself just take a day trip tour of the waterfall which includes round trip transportation and guide.
Entry to the park costs 12,000 COP. The hike within the park needs roughly 3 hours as a round trip, and takes you via forests, cow fields and caves to La Chorrera, as well as past a smaller waterfall down which you can abseil. The hike is not particularly difficult, though does involve a fair amount of uphill walking. Make sure you bring lots of water, and that you visit during a time when the weather has been wet to ensure that La Chorrera is flowing nicely! If you have time on your hands, a visit to the nearby town of Choachí is a wonderful insight into authentic Colombian life.
Recommended by Lauren Squire of cuppatocopatravels.com.
Juliana’s Animal Sanctuary
The very first animal sanctuary in South America and the ONLY one currently in Colombia, Juliana’s Animal Sanctuary currently has abut 70 animals from cats and dogs to cows and pigs. Located just 30 minutes north of Bogota, the sanctuary offers tours and offers strong educational programs including vegan cooking workshops, vegan food relief and strong social media activism. Juliana and her team are working hard to change the way people view animals of all kinds.
Salt Cathedral in Zipaquira
Underneath the surface of the colonial town of Zipaquira, there are thousands of tunnels running in many different directions. Many years ago, these tunnels were used for salt mining. Today, there is an underground Roman Catholic built within the tunnels of the salt mines.
You can take a guided tour of the salt tunnels and literally walk in these tunnels and lick the side of the tunnel whenever you want some salt.
The salt cathedral of Zipaquira exists 180m underground and has the biggest underground cross in the world today. You can visit Zipaquira and the salt cathedral as a day trip from Bogota. But keep in mind that the tunnels of the salt cathedral are extensive and there is a lot to see.
You can easily spend 3 hours in the salt cathedral getting lost in all the tunnels, checking out the architecture, the lights show, the water mirror, and the 3D movie. The entrance cost to the salt cathedral is $57,000 pesos but every peso is well worth it!
Recommended by Sean Lau of Livingoutlau.com.
Where to Stay in Bogota