Our Complete Guide to Bogota, Colombia
I’m not going to lie, even though we booked a week in Bogota, we didn’t expect much from it. Bogota is not a place that most people rush to when they visit Colombia. A lot of people only spend a day or two there and others don’t even bother visiting Bogota at all. It’s just another big city, right?
Of course, the capital of Colombia is a big city. After all, it has a population of over seven million people and all the problems that go with that, such as horrible peak hour traffic. But despite all of that, Bogota might just surprise you, just like it surprised us.
Bogota was the place in Colombia that we were the least excited about. But we decided to spend a week there, not because we thought there was much to do, but simply to catch up on our backlog of blog posts! Plus, we needed to stay put and relax for a few days before heading across into Peru.
As it turned out, we enjoyed the Colombian capital much more than we thought and could have happily spent a few extra days hanging around. We didn’t end up spending that much time working. Instead, we spent a lot more time “playing”!
So, make sure you give Bogota a chance when visiting Colombia. While there, here are 10 awesome things you can do that are guaranteed to make you love this city:
1- Take a street art tour
Bogota is rated one of the top ten cities in the world for street art. It’s not surprising why, because everywhere you look in the city, you’ll find street art.
The best thing to do in Bogota is to take a free street art tour with Bogota Graffiti Tour. Hopefully, like us, you’ll get Jay as your guide because he was awesome. He took us around parts of the new town and the Candelaria district and showed us some awesome pieces of street art. He gave us background information on the artists behind those pieces and the meaning behind the murals themselves.
We enjoyed learning about the background of each mural (some have strong political messages) and about the history of the street art scene in Bogota. There’s even a story involving Justin Bieber that forms a key part of that history but I won’t spoil it for you. Just sign up for the tour!
The Bogota Graffiti Tour departs twice daily from the Parque de Los Periodistas and is funded only by your donations. The money raised during the tour is reinvested into future community art projects, so it goes towards a great cause too!
Tip: Make sure you look for their logo as many imposters pretend to be them due to their huge success.
2- Take a free walking tour of the city
Bogota is not just about street art; the history of the city itself is very interesting too. Make sure you take the free walking tour with Beyond Colombia to learn more about the city’s history, the best place to visit and where to eat.
This tour is a great introduction to the city. We even learnt how Bogota’s city centre was destroyed by rioters in the 1940s following the assassination of a beloved politician. That was one part of Colombian history that even after 6 weeks in the country we had heard nothing about!
Note: Make sure to tip your guide.
3- Visit la Candelaria
La Candelaria is the historic part of Bogota, its “old town”. As always, older means more beautiful! La Candelaria is a mix of Spanish colonial, Baroque and Art Deco buildings. It is colourful, photogenic and its narrow cobblestone streets are a great place to wander around for at least a couple of hours.
La Candelaria is also packed with cafes and bars where you can try Chicha, an indigenous alcoholic drink made with corn and Chúcula, a warm drink made from a mix of spices, grains, cacao, and cinnamon.
The Candelaria is also home to some important sights and museums, such as the Botero Museum, the Gold Museum, Santuario Nuestra Señora del Carmen and Plaza Bolivar.
4- Hike up Monserrate
The hill of Monserrate dominates the town of Bogota. Once at the top of it, you will be at 3200 metres above sea level, giving you the best views of the city. But the mountain is not just a viewpoint. It has also been a pilgrimage destination since the 1600s on top of it is an active church and a shrine.
You can reach the top of Monserrate by funicular or cable car but we think it’s more fun to hike the pilgrimage trail!
If you have the time and energy, the hike involves climbing up 1800 steps. It took us an hour but you can do it at your own pace. It’s tough but it’s doable.
Note: The altitude may affect your ability to hike so you should first acclimatise yourself. If you are only in Bogota for a couple of days, don’t bother with the hike; just take the funicular or cable car.
Read more about the hike here.
5- Visit the Gold Museum
If you visit one museum in Bogota, this has to be the one, especially if you plan on visiting the Laguna de Guatavita as well (see below). Visiting the museum will compliment your trip to the lake.
The Gold Museum is the most visited sight in Bogota, attracting 500,000 tourists per year and it holds the largest collection of Pre-Hispanic gold work in the world. Admission is free on Sundays (so expect queues!) and costs 4,000 Pesos otherwise.
6- Visit the Botero Museum
I didn’t know anything about Fernando Botero before I visited Medellin but I have to say, I like the guy. All we’ve heard about him has been good things. Plus, his art is not bad either. It’s very “different” to what we’ve been used to.
One example of a good thing Botero did is that he donated hundreds of his artworks to the Banco de la República de Colombia. What did he want in return? He made them promise that his art would be displayed in a free museum for everyone to enjoy.
So, now you can marvel at Botero’s work for free! Not only that, but he also donated some of his personal art collection to the museum, with pieces from Monet, Picasso, and other world-famous artists. As I said, you can see them all for free. So make sure you go and check it out!
7- Check out Plaza Bolivar
Surrounded by the imposing Cathedral of Bogotá, the Palace of Justice, the mayor’s office and the Capitol Building, Plaza Bolivar is stunning. This plaza is one of Bogotá’s most iconic sites and is a favourite with locals (and therefore very busy on Sundays) and tourists alike. However, the pigeons are its most popular visitors!
8- Take a trip to the Laguna de Guatavita
If you need some time away from the big city, take a day trip to the Laguna de Guatavita. This lake is just over an hour outside of Bogotá, depending on the traffic and is a beautiful place to visit. The lake is a sacred indigenous site for the Muisca people and it is where the legend of El Dorado was born. According to the legend, tons of gold was thrown into this lake during indigenous ceremonies. Some of it was recovered and now sits on display in the Gold Museum.
Read more about our day trip here.
9- Go beer tasting!
I enjoy wine more than beer but there was one brand of beer in Colombia that I LOVED! That was BBC. It turns out that it stands for the Bogota Beer Company. While in Bogota, you can go beer tasting at their brewery. If you’re a beer drinker, make sure you visit and sample some of this local brew, especially my favourite, the BBC Cajicá Honey Ale.
10- Try some local food
Each Colombian city has its own special dish. In Medellin, it’s Bandeja Paisa. But in Bogota, it’s Ajiaco. What’s Ajiaco? It’s a soup made from chicken, two or three different types of potatoes, corn, capers, avocado, and sour cream. If you’re thinking of ordering it for a light dinner, think again; it’s certainly not light!
This dish is huge and it’s bound to leave you very full and satisfied! My advice, try it for lunch; you’ll save on dinner! The best places to try it are La Puerta Falsa and La Puerta de la Catedral.
Is Bogota safe to travel to?
Well, like the rest of South America, you have to be careful while in Bogota and be a bit more street smart than in other places you might visit. There is still a fair bit of petty crime in Bogota and also some risk of being mugged.
However, we didn’t feel unsafe at all in Bogota. We stayed clear of the dodgy parts of town and we were very careful with our new camera (if you remember, I had my previous camera stolen in Pasto on our first day in Colombia!). Neither did we wander around at night and we used Uber instead of taxis.
We had no issues at all. So, as long as you are careful and don’t put yourself in a position to attract trouble, you should be fine. If you do get mugged, don’t try to be a smart arse. Just hand over what you have; everything is replaceable except for you!
Where to stay in Bogota?
Because we had a week in Bogota, we decided to stay in an Airbnb with a kitchen, laundry and a gym. Airbnbs in Bogota are very good value, even in the more touristy parts of town. Our Airbnb was only a few minutes walk from the Gold Museum. However, if you prefer a hotel, here are some popular ones:
Best on booking.com
If non of these suit, try using using HotelsCombined to search across all the major accommodation websites. We use it all the time.
Where to eat in Bogota?
Try La Puerta Falsa and La Puerta de la Catedral for traditional food
Sant Just: A Colombian/French fusion with beautifully presented dishes. It’s always packed at lunchtime, so visit early.
Dos Gatos y Simone: The street art in this restaurant is going to intrigue you, especially if you are a cat lover. So walk in, sit down and indulge in great Mexican food!
Andres Carne de Res: This dining institution is HUGE! It has 11 dining areas, two dance floors, more than five kitchens, and a climbing wall. It’s all about the meat and the party! It’s a great place to hang out at for some entertainment with your steak.
How to get around Bogota?
Depending on where you’re staying, it’s easy enough and safe (during the day) to walk around. If you are staying in the La Candelaria area, you can walk around most of the above sights by foot.
We used Uber in Bogota because the lady from our Airbnb recommended them. She told us not to hail a cab in the street and to either call an official taxi or use Uber. We stuck to Uber.
To be honest, Uber was very easy to use in Bogota and we never had to wait a long time as we did in Medellin. The cars are not always the nicest but for a short ride that’s not a big deal and frankly, most taxis aren’t any better. So download the app, set up your account and use Uber!
The Transmilenio is the bus system of Bogota. It covers several routes along main roads and has dedicated lanes for its buses. It’s the fastest way to escape heavy traffic at peak hour.
How to get from and to the airport?
El Dorado International Airport is only twenty minutes from the city centre (but more at peak hour!). The easiest way to get into the city from the airport is by taxi. The taxis at the airport are regulated and safe, as long as you use the official ones.
You will find taxi booth next to the arrival terminal. State your destination and they will give you a voucher with the cost. You will only end up paying the amount on the voucher once you arrive at your destination.
If you already have a local SIM card, you can try using Uber, although we’ve found using Uber at airports to be more trouble than it’s worth.
By private transfer
If you are staying in a hotel or an Airbnb, you can ask them to organise a transfer for you. Some will, others won’t. We organised one through our Airbnb and it was the same cost as a taxi. It’s worth asking.
There’s a Transmilenio station at the airport. It is the cheapest option if you are on a budget. Just make sure there is also a station near your hotel and don’t choose this option at night.