Bogota is a modern Latin American metropolis that offers many museums and a thriving night-life. My first impression of the city was very positive. The road from the airport to our hotel on Calle 93 was well maintained and the neighbourhoods we drove through modern. As a tourist one is likely to stay in the areas towards the north of the city and they feel very safe, clean and up-market.
The centre of town is colonial and well preserved with many interesting buildings and museums. I’m sure there must be some worse and poor areas, but as a tourist you don’t really see them compared to other Latin American cities. Driving around in a car, Bogota seems quite a wealthy and prosperous city.
Bogota sightseeing in 1 day
Bogota is a big city but the tourist sights are concentrated in a small area and it is actually possible to see most of the things in one (very long) day.
We started with a very early (8am) breakfast at La Puerta Falsa on Calle 11, just off Bolivar square. They serve typical Bogota breakfast, which basically is a chicken tamal and a hot chocolate. The chocolate also comes with an almojavana (cheese bun), some bread with butter, and cheese to dip into the chocolate. Very good and nutritious breakfast to give you energy for an intense day of sightseeing. Make sure you come early. As we were leaving (around 9am) there was a queue forming outside already.
La Puerat Falsa is very well placed to start your sightseeing. We walked through the old town, called La Candelaria. Plaza Bolívar is some sort of the centre of the city (and the country) surrounded with many important buildings and the Bogota cathedral. We walked around the square and then into the streets going off it to the south. Both Carrera 7 and 8 have restricted access due to the proximity of the presidential palace and the parliament, so they are very peaceful. The grounds of those buildings and gardens are also very nice to have a look at.
After that we continued walking up Calle 10 and 11 passing the Teatro Colón. On Calle 11 there is the Bank of Colombia museum complex, crowned by the Museo Botero, with an impressive selection of Botero paintings, and it’s all for free!
Climbing up the streets to Carrera 2 will lead you to its intersection with Calle 12b, where there is the Callejón de Embudo. All of the streets in this area are really nice to wander around.
The circle around Candelaria is then complete by descending to Calle 13, Parque Santander and exploring Carrera 7, which is the main shopping artery of the city. My recommendation is to wonder around the streets and see where it interests you. Complete the morning with a visit to the Museo de Oro ($4,000) – a must in Bogota. It features amazing gold objects found in the Colombian territory, including from the El Dorado legend – the Guatavita lake where the local indigenous used to throw gold objects into.
Buying emeralds. Colombia is famous for emeralds and there are many shops in the centre selling these green gems. It is hard to know which ones are real and which ones are fake, unless you’re an expert. We were told that the Emerald Trade Centre, on the corner of Calle 13 and Carrera 5, is the best place. There are many emerald shops there, for all levels of budget and they all say they’re regulated by the government and give you a certificate.
After lunch we continued exploring the city centre along Carrera 7. Another intereresting museum in the area is the National Museum of Colombia, hosted in this beautiful colonial building.
Later in the afternoon we headed up the Monserrate – a church on top of a hill overlooking Bogota. It offers beautiful views over the city below and is particularly nice around the sun-set. To climb up there we took the cable-car ($9,500 one way), but even the cable car station is a 15 min walk from the centre. Guide books say it can be dangerous even to walk to the cable car station, but there were many policemen and private security along the way. So we didn’t find it particularly dangerous, but it is true that you have to pass some ugly streets.
Other parts of Bogota
There are not many tourist attractions in other parts of Bogota outside of the city centre. However, we found it was very nice to explore other neighbourhoods as well. Most of the areas to the north of the city are full of restaurants and bars, and on a weekend they turn to the party area full with places to dance. Some of the nicest areas are:
Zona T (Calle 82 and Carrera 13) is the quintessential party area. There are many restaurants and bars, and on Saturday night music is blasting from all the clubs and the streets are full of people. A really great area for anything social in Bogota, or just strolling around and people watching in the park there. Here you can also find the Bogota branch of Andrés Carne de Res, called Andres DC.
Zona G (Calle 69a and Carrera 5), where the G stands for Gourmet. As the name suggests, this is the area with the upmarket restaurants. The streets look like in any other posh neighbourhood in a large western metropolis. Some of the main places are the Four Seasons Hotel and Criterion restaurant.
Parque de la 93 (Calle 93 and Carrera 13). The main focus here is the lovely park 93 surrounded with many restaurants and bars, e.g. El Salto del Angel has big windows overlooking the park and a lively atmosphere. Additionally, there are also many restaurants, bars and discos in the streets surrounding the park. This areas is less noisy than Zona T, so I recommend finding a hotel around here.
Other restaurant and bar areas also include Chapinero (slightly towards the south) and Usaquén (towards the north).
Food in Bogota
Colombia is not very famous for the food, but the restaurant scene in Bogota is thriving. The typical dish in Bogota is the ajiaco, a thick chicken soup with vegetables. However, there are plenty of modern restaurants that will offer a good culinary experience. We went to some really nice places:
Leo Cocina y Cava: Very fancy restaurant just next door to the National Museum. It features slick and modern decor and an elaborated menu. I found it perfect for a weekend lunch. The service was impeccable and the food delicious. We particularly liked the fish dishes, also the babilla (alligator dumpling) was delicious. Highly recommended!
Harry Sasson: Very trendy place close to zona T, with a nice and modern decor. The food was delicious, especially the smoked mero fish.
We stayed at the Four Points by Sheraton on Calle 93b. The hotel provides a very good Four Points experience for a good price. It looks new and well maintained, rooms are nice and the staff very friendly. It is well located, just a couple of blocks away from Parque de la 93. A really great stay, and they were very nice to give us an early check-in after an overnight flight.
Day trip to Zapaquira
The Catedral de Sal (Slat Cathedral) is on of the main attractions in the surroundings of Bogota. It is in a town called Zapaquirá, about an hour drive north from Bogota. The traffic can be quite bad and the highway is in a horrible state so it took us about 2 hours on a Sunday morning.
Although I’m not catholic, it is well worth to visit the Catedral de Sal ($50,000 for foreigners). They used salt mine to dig passageways, halls and a cathedral chamber underground. The mine is a still functioning, but they extract the salt only at night to allow for tourist visits during the day.
There is an obligatory tour that leaves every 15 min and takes about 1.5h (the English ones leave less frequently). They take you along several nooks with crosses and at the end you get to the main cathedral hall with the big cross, that’s actually hollow. The guide explains all the stations along the way and at the end takes you to the commercial part, where they sell emeralds and other souvenirs. There is also a light show and a movie showing the history of the mine.
The whole complex is huge and it takes at least 15 minutes for you to walk back alone after the end of the tour. While you are inside the mine you can really feel the high concentration of salt in the air. They say it’s very good for your lungs, so we all tried to breathe deeply. I have to say I really enjoyed the visit to the mine, it is something quite unique.
Andrés Carne de Res, Chia
On the way back to Bogota we stopped for lunch at Andrés Carne de Res in Chia. It is a very famous place and definitely worth a visit. The restaurant is completely crazy (in a good way). The decor is very eclectic and very confusing. It looks like there is a complete mess but I’m sure they must have some sort of order there. The service is very nice and helpful, but there are many people constantly running around your table, including random artists doing sketches or playing instruments.
The menu is a tome with many colours and pictures, so it’s quite a challenge to get your head around it. They do have something for every taste. However, based on the name of the restaurant, I figured beef would be their speciality. For starters we ordered a small potion of yuca (cassava) and a cooked plantain with guava jelly and cheese, which was really delicious. For main we shared a large steak. The steak was very delicious and the sauces were nice. The only thing I didn’t like was that they brought it on a sizzling plate, so it continued to cook at the table.
The fruit juices came in large bowls, which were quite funny to drink from. For dessert we had a passion fruit mousse, which was delicious, and if we weren’t so full we would have ordered another one. It was really a great and a unique experience and the bill comes in this cute little chest. After lunch we walked around the restaurant and noticed it was huge, they also have a large summer terrace in the back and little shop selling all sorts of souvenirs.
A collection of my pics from Bogota in a vlog on YouTube:
Part of a week in Colombia
This was the first stop on a week long trip around Colombia.
We spent two nights in each: Bogota, Medellin, Santa Marta and Cartagena. It was a rushed but well planned trip, and I think we really got a great feel for the country. However, there are many other things to see in Colombia. On future occasions I’d like to go back and see Zona Cafetera, Parque Tayrona (which was closed on our visit), and the Amazon region.
My map of Colombia
I prepared a map with all the places we visited: