Bogotá, Colombia is a high-Andes gem.
When we first visited Bogotá, Colombia’s vibrant capital, in 2017, we felt we had barely scratched the surface. We made plans to go back and explore Bogotá in 2020, and then a little thing called Covid got in the way.
We were finally able to make the trip in August, and we were struck by how much the city has changed and improved since our 2017 visit. Granted, we were staying in a more upscale area this time – but we came away with an impression of Bogotá as a world-class, cosmopolitan city on the move.
Here are some Bogotá, Colombia factoids:
- Bogotá is a sprawling city of more than 10 million souls, making it the third largest in South America. At 2,600 meters/8,600 feet, it’s also the world’s fourth loftiest city.
- If Medellín is the “city of eternal spring,” Bogotá could be said to be the “city of eternal fall.” Year-round temps are much cooler and rain is abundant. Full-sun days are relatively rare (although we got lucky and had beautiful weather).
- Bogotá is an important South American education center, with 76 universities and a large student population giving the city a youthful, energetic feel.
- Colombia’s history runs deep in Bogotá. Prior to the arrival of Europeans, the Muisca indigenous culture built a vast civilization that included the large highland plateau upon which present-day Bogotá is situated. In 1528 the city was founded by Spanish conquistadores as the New Kingdom of Granada. In 1819 after Simón Bolívar’s decisive victory against the Spanish (the fabled Battle of Boyacá), Bogotá became the capital of the independent nation of Gran Colombia.
- Simón Bolívar’s footprints are all over Bogotá. So who was Bolívar, you ask? In short, he was El Libertador – The Liberator, who lead the military effort to free a large swath of South America from Spanish rule. He is South America’s George Washington, this continent’s biggest hero.
We really enjoyed our August visit to Bogotá. Here are our highlights and suggestions for experiencing this fantastic city.
As usual, some photos are in galleries – just click the first one to view each in sequence.
1. Explore by Bike
One of our favorite things to do when we arrive in a new city is to take a walking tour or bike tour – it’s a great way to get the lay of the land. Exploring by bike is especially easy in Bogotá, a city with many kilometers of dedicated cycling lanes – many of which run through the middle of major roads and through the city’s largest parks. On Sundays, just as in Medellín, the city of Bogotá stages a ciclovia by closing major thoroughfares to motor traffic, giving cyclists, skaters, runners, and walkers a fun day out.
On our first day in Bogotá, we joined a group with Bogotá Bike Tours. Our guide, Davíd, is not only knowledgeable and passionate about his city, but he’s also a talented street artist (@dirt_sucio). That meant his tour was well-seasoned with murals and information about Bogotá’s renowned art scene. Davíd also did not hold back about the city’s violent past and often-bloody political struggles, a history that all should know to truly appreciate today’s Colombia.
Over the six-hour tour, we covered more than 16km and learned far more than we could have, walking on our own. The tour included stops at a local market, a coffee roaster, and the studio of famous street artist Santiago (@visajegraffiti and @senilstencil), ending up with cold beers and a quick round of tejo, Colombia’s most traditional game.
TIP: Bogotá Bike Tours is located in La Candelaria district at Carrera 3 No. 12-42. The city tour costs $45,000 Colombian pesos per person (about $10) plus a tip for the guide, and includes a mountain bike and optional helmet. A bike mechanic and an additional staff member come along to help the group navigate traffic.
2. Experience the World-Class Street Art
Bogotá is world-renowned for its street art, and many Bogotano artists are internationally acclaimed. You don’t have to walk far, especially in La Candelaria district, to find fabulous murals communicating stories, myths, and political messages. In particular, the artists’ beautiful renderings of indigenous people reflect the soul of Colombia.
On our first visit to Bogota in 2017, we did a street art tour through Bogotá Graffiti Tours. We can’t recommend the tour enough and we’re pleased to see that the outfit is still around and thriving.
Here’s the post we did about that 2017 tour. On this trip, we were happy to see that many of the previous murals are still there, or painted over with equally beautiful work. An example:
Here are a few more murals that caught our eye this time:
3. Stroll La Candelaria and Plaza de Bolívar
La Candelaria is Bogotá’s vibrant historic district, and its beautifully preserved colonial buildings and cobblestoned streets evoke another era. La Candelaria is anchored by the Plaza de Bolívar, Bogotá’s main square and Colombia’s seat of government. Here you’ll find monumental buildings, including the National Capitol, Palace of Justice, and the Primate Cathedral of Bogotá. A block behind the National Capitol is Casa Nariño, the palace of the Colombian president.
4. Summit Monserrate
Looming over Bogotá at more than 3,000 meters or 10,000 feet is Monserrate – a mountain that was sacred to the Muisca indigenous people well before the Spanish Catholics showed up in the 17th century and made it a shrine. Perched atop Monserrate is the church of El Señor Caído (The Fallen Lord), built in the 1920s. Monserrate and its gleaming church can be spotted from virtually any vantage point in central Bogotá.
While Monserrate gets its share of religious pilgrims, the views are what draw hordes of tourists on a sunny day. The vistas are truly spectacular and really give a sense of Bogotá’s vastness. And if you’re really lucky and score a cloudless day, you might catch a glimpse of the snow-top volcanic mountains of the Andes in the distance.
Tips: There are three ways to summit Monserrate: by funicular, by cable car, or by walking the pilgrims’ way up on a steep, 2-mile trail. We chose the funicular, a rail car that is pulled up the mountainside by cables. The funicular runs from 6:30 am to 11:45 pm, but the cable car doesn’t start running until noon. We popped out of bed early on our first sunny morning and walked on to the funicular at 8:30 with no lines; by the time we came back down a couple of hours later, there was a long queue. It pays to go early on a weekday! There are cafes and restaurants at the top, but the church was closed the day we were there.
5. Visit Must-See Museums
Bogotá is a museum-lover’s dream, with more than 50 fantastic facilities to choose from. Here are our favorite Bogotá museums (so far):
Museo del Oro
Of all the world’s wealthiest countries, who knew that little old Colombia has the world’s largest collection of pre-Hispanic gold? If you don’t visit any other Bogotá museum, you must see the Museo del Oro. Billed as one of Colombia’s top tourist attractions, the Gold Museum receives over 500,000 visitors each year. It’s such a special place that it was ranked by National Geographic in 2018 as one of the world’s best museums. We first visited the Gold Museum in 2017, and it blew us away.
Here’s an interesting article about one of the most famous gold pieces in the Museo del Oro, a ceremonial raft made by the Muisca people.
Tips: The Gold Museum is open Tuesday-Saturday 9:00-7:00 and Sunday 10:00-5:00. (Note – many of Bogotá’s museums are closed on Monday or Tuesday.) Entrance fee is a whopping $4,000 COP (about .90 US) and is free on Sundays. Go early – it gets crowded – and give yourself plenty of time. We spent almost four hours there! More visitor information is here.
We stumbled on Colombia’s fantastic National Museum in 2017 while walking the closed streets of the Sunday ciclovia.
As Colombia’s oldest and largest museum, the Museo Nacional holds a vast collection of archeological artifacts, as well as modern art. The building itself is very interesting — it’s a former prison and many of the galleries are inside former prison cells.
Tips: The Museo Nacional is closed Mondays and open every other day from 9 to 5. Like the Gold Museum, the entrance fee is $4,000 COP and the museum is free on Sundays. More info here.
If you’re as big a fan of the art of Fernando Botero as we are, you’ll love the Museo Botero. One of Colombia’s most famous artists, Botero is known for his rotund characters and whimsical take on Colombian politics and society. Botero’s work is displayed all over the world, but the Bogotá museum is the only one featuring art from his private collection – including works by Dali, Monet, Picasso, and many others. The museum is housed in a former colonial mansion, itself a gorgeous building.
Tips: The Museo Botero is open every day Wednesday to Monday (closed Tuesday) from 9:00-7:00. FREE admission! Here’s more information.
Museo Quinta de Bolívar
Off and on from 1826 to about 1839, Simón Bolívar and his lover, Manuelita Saenz, occupied a placid country house on the edge of La Candelaria. Today, the Quinta de Bolívar is an interesting museum covering Bolívar’s life and times and surrounded by beautiful gardens, preserved in the colonial style.
Tips: The Quinta de Bolívar is open Tuesday-Sunday from 9 am to 5 pm, with entrance only $3,000 COP (free on Sunday). It’s an easy walk down from the Monserrate funicular entrance – you can visit Monserrate and the Quinta all before lunch and then spend the afternoon exploring La Candelaria and perhaps visiting Casa Nariño (as we did). Here’s more information about the Quinta de Bolívar.
6. Tour Casa Nariño
Casa Nariño, the White House of Colombia, is the president’s sprawling official residence – located in the block just west of the National Capitol and Parque del Bolivar. Visiting Casa Nariño takes a bit of effort, but it’s vale la pena (worth it). We lucked out and were assigned an English-speaking tour guide, a nice young military cadet who was excited to practice his English with us. The tour took about an hour; no phones were allowed until the end, when we got to pose with Bolívar’s most famous sword.
Tips: To visit Casa Nariño, you must register and make an appointment in advance on the Casa Nariño website at least three to four weeks before your intended visit. Of course security is very tight; we went through four checkpoints to get in. And make sure you read the fine print – no bags or backpacks are allowed inside and there are no lockers for storing them. That’s a detail we somehow missed, but the very kind policewoman at the entrance bent over backward to find a secure place for us to store our bags. Gotta love Colombians!
7. Visit La Catedral de Sal – A Cool Day Trip From Bogotá
Voted by Colombians as the “First Wonder of Colombia,” the fabulous Catedral de Sal (Salt Cathedral) in the town of Zipaquira is an easy 50-minute drive from Bogotá. Last year, as part of our month-long Colombian road trip, we spent a couple of nights there and toured the Catedral. Here’s our post about it.
Tips: Many different tour companies offer day trips from Bogotá to see the Catedral de Sal. Here’s one example. If you decide to spend the night, we recommend our lodging from last year – the Camino de la Sal. It’s a lovely hotel and within easy walking distance to the Catedral.
Other Tips for Bogotá Visitors
Getting There and Getting Around
Bogotá’s El Dorado international airport serves all of the world’s major airlines, including many direct flights from the United States. If you’re traveling in-country, we highly recommend flying with one of the many short-haul domestic airlines. They’re super-cheap and more reliable than traveling by bus.
Unlike Medellín, Bogotá is behind the eight ball on public transportation. There is no light rail system (although construction is underway for one), only the Transmilenio bus system. We relied on Uber to get around, and it was extremely reliable (we never had to wait more than 5 minutes for a car to show up). Be aware that traffic in Bogotá is brutal, especially during rush hour, so give yourself plenty of time to get from point A to point B. In fact, Uber charges higher rates from 4:30 – 7:30 and you might wait longer for a car.
We loved our 6-night stay at 93 Luxury Suites Hotel, just a block from Parque 93 in Bogotá’s trendy Chico barrio. For not much more than we would have paid for a simple hotel room in the neighborhood, we had a roomy one-bedroom apartment with full kitchen. The staff was incredibly helpful and kind, even going so far as to stage an impromptu “happy birthday” for Susan during a pre-scheduled cocktail gathering for owners and guests. We would stay here again in a minute!
Parque 93 is surrounded with great eateries, and we quickly settled on two favorites: KO Asian Kitchen and Bagatelle, a yummy bakery/breakfast spot. Another good Asian restaurant on the parque is Wok (a chain with locations all over Bogotá). Nearby Parque 93 is Storia d’Amore, a special-occasion Italian restaurant.
We had a fabulous birthday lunch at La Mar, a Peruvian seafood restaurant in the Usaquen neighborhood (Usaquen is worth a visit – a colonial town that was gradually swallowed up by Bogotá). And a block from Plaza de Bolívar in La Candelaria, we had fantastic pizza at Madre.
We hope you enjoyed this tour of Bogotá, Colombia. Coming soon: October in Brazil!!