Bogotá, Colombia travel guide in 2020
This Bogotá travel guide covers everything you need to know when visiting Colombia’s capital. This includes what to see and do, how to get there, where to stay, and what to eat in Bogotá, Colombia.
This city will take your breath away. Not only because Bogotá has so many stunning sights and attractions, but because it’s a high-altitude capital situated at almost 9,000 feet elevation. It will take your breath away in more than one way.
There are countless reasons to visit the gritty and beautiful city of Bogotá, and I’ll do my best to touch on all of them in this travel guide.
Before delving into my Bogotá, Colombia travel guide, here are my first impressions of the city.
Arriving in Bogotá, Colombia
Lightning strikes in the distance. It’s late at night, so it’s hard to tell if the silhouette outside my window is a mountain range or clouds. Turns out it’s the Andes Mountains; something I heard so much about in my geography classes growing up. It’s surreal to finally be here.
We begin making our initial descent towards a sprawling capital city tucked between these mountains. The skyline appears to be endless, even from so high in the air. It’s striking that 8 million people call this city their home. It’s nearly the size of New York City, but you wouldn’t know it unless you’re looking down from a plane or the surrounding mountains.
Moments later, our graceful descent turns into a nosedive, as if we’d graze a mountain otherwise. After what seems like an eternity of turbulence, we gently roll onto the runway. Welcome to Bogotá, Colombia.
A city and country healing from a turbulent past
This turbulence-turned-calm reminded me of the stories my Colombian friends had told me about their country and its tumultuous past. For over five decades, Colombia was engulfed in a brutal civil war between government forces and rebel groups. Though most of the guerrilla warfare occurred in the countryside, cities like Bogotá were not off-limits. People living here had to always be on guard and even avoid certain places altogether. Thankfully, a ceasefire was signed in 2016, which has all but ended the conflict. What hasn’t ended, however, are outdated perceptions of Colombia being a dangerous place to visit.
In 2020, Bogotá is safe for tourism. There are good parts and not so good parts, just like every other city in the world. Therefore, it’s wise to exercise caution as you would in a big city like LA or NYC. Later in this Bogotá travel guide, I’ll provide some helpful tips to help you stay vigilant to ensure a safe stay!
The city and country are undergoing a current-day renaissance. People here are proud of their society’s cultural achievements, past and present, that make Colombia so unique and diverse. Bogotá is a success story in urban transformation; a place where innovation is steadily on the rise while its colonial heritage is remarkably well preserved.
Why you should visit Bogotá, Colombia in 2020
Bogotá is a cultural, commercial, and historic hub, and a great place to begin your adventure in Colombia. Here are some reasons you should visit. Vamos!
Bogotá offers an interesting mix of historic and modern attractions, including more than 50 museums. In the Museo de Oro (Gold Museum), you’ll find some interesting artifacts dating back to pre-Colombian times. Just around the corner in the La Candelaria district, you’ll see much of the city’s Spanish colonial architecture. As you walk down cobbled streets, brushing up against marvelous 18th-century churches, you’ll catch a glimpse of Bogotá’s urban sophistication with skyscrapers looming above.
In addition to the city’s blend of old and new, there are other contrasts at play in Bogotá. Vibrant, graffiti-lined streets crisscross centuries-old squares. Crumbling façades and shops straddle the city’s (and perhaps Latin America’s) most affluent neighborhoods. And beyond the concrete jungle of Bogotá, there’s also a montage of mountains towering overhead.
Colombians are super friendly. Sure, that’s a generalization, but I’ve found truth in it based on my interactions with Colombians here and abroad. Kind, passionate, and open-minded are a few adjectives I’d use to describe the people I met in Bogotá. They are keen to meet international visitors who take a genuine interest in learning about their country and customs.
As the capital and multicultural mecca of the country, Bogotá is a place foodies won’t want to miss. Colombia’s diverse climates lend themselves to an eclectic mix of fruits and vegetables. Whether you’re into street food or fine dining, you’ll find plenty of local delicacies in Bogotá. Towards the end of this Bogotá travel guide, I’ll dive more into the specific foods and drinks you need to try.
For all the cool experiences that Bogotá has to offer, I was pleasantly surprised by the low price tags associated with them. Hotels, meals, transportation, and attractions can all be done on the cheap, which is great news for budget backpackers and luxury travelers looking to save a buck (or peso). I’ll get more into the travel costs of Bogotá, Colombia later in this guide.
Bogotá is not that touristy (really!)
Bogotá has 8 million people, so it’s not fair to say there aren’t any crowds. However, for a bustling city with so many people, I was surprised to see few tourists here.
In fact, when I visited the Santuario Nuestra Señora del Carmen—one of the top sights and most iconic churches in the city— there were some moments when there wasn’t another soul in the building.
Even in the Plaza de Bolívar, Bogotá’s main square, there was plenty of breathing and elbow room. Well, except for all the pigeons that congregated there.
Getting to Bogotá
The best way to get to Bogotá, both internationally and domestically, is by plane. From the U.S., there are several airlines with non-stop service flights to Bogotá, including American Airlines, Delta, JetBlue, Spirit, and United Airlines. Some Latin American airlines with service to Bogotá include Avianca, Copa, and LATAM.
Both international and domestic flights will land at El Dorado International Airport (BOG), which is just 9 miles (15 km) from the city center. From there, you’ll have several options to get into the city, including an airport shuttle, public bus, taxi, private car, or rental car. If you’re pressed for time, I recommend doing a taxi, as it’s fairly cheap and will get you into the city the fastest. However, an airport shuttle is the most cost-effective way to travel to Bogotá from the airport. The free airport shuttle leaves every 20 minutes from 5am-11pm. This will take you to the El Dorado Station, where you can take a public bus to get into the city. A one-way fare on the TransMilenio bus only costs COP 1,800 (or about $0.56).
I’ll delve more into the different transportation options in the “Getting around Bogotá” section below.
(For more info on how to discover good flight deals to Bogotá, check out these travel hacks for flying.)
Getting around Bogotá
There are several ways to get around Bogotá. Here are the most reliable ways to do so.
Bogotá by bus
With a population of 8 million people, you’d expect Bogotá to have a subway system. Surprisingly, it does not (though it’s projected to be built by 2024).
However, the bus system is so extensive that it fills the void with 2,000 buses, 12 lines, and 71 miles (114 km) of routes. It’s very economical and brings you pretty much everywhere in the city. Refer to the official TransMilenio website for the most up-to-date routes and fares.
Bogotá by taxi
Taxis are a very reliable and cheap way to get around Bogotá. In order to not get ripped off, always look at the sticker on the taxi which shows the day/nighttime fares. Also, you should ask the driver to switch on the meters if they haven’t already done so. Bottom line: taxis will seamlessly bring you where you need to be, without breaking the bank.
Uber (don’t do it)
When I arrived in Bogotá, I instinctively turned on my Uber app to find a ride into town. The app works perfectly and the rates are cheaper than taxis, but it turns out that Uber is actually illegal in Colombia. I read online forums where people got interrogated by police for taking them, so it’s not worth the risk to save just a couple of dollars.
Renting a car
I love driving places on my own, but I wouldn’t recommend renting a car in Bogotá. With so many people commuting here, the roads are very congested and the traffic will probably drive you crazy. Plus, parking can be a major issue downtown. I would stick to public transportation and taxis to get around the city.
Bogotá by bike
Bogotá has many bike paths covering the city (186 miles/300km, to be exact). If you’re staying in the northern part of the city, which is more suburban and less congested, renting bikes is a great idea. If you’re staying downtown, or somewhere in the historic center of the city, then you’ll find that there’s a lot of traffic and it’s probably not worth renting bikes. Bogota Bike Tours has the best reputation for bike rentals and tours.
Bogotá by foot
Once you’re in La Candelaria, the best way to see and experience the city is by walking.
I’m going to let you in on a little secret to help you never get lost in Bogotá… No matter where you are in the city, you can use the mountains just east of the skyline as a reference point. The Andes Mountains, particularly Monserrate, absolutely tower over the city. They’re a great way to find your bearings in Bogotá, without having to use Google Maps or other travels. (Check out my favorite travel apps here.)
Top things to see and do in Bogotá, Colombia
Now that we’ve covered the reasons you should visit Bogotá, let’s jump to the cool things to see and do. This city is quickly becoming one of the most interesting and culturally diverse places in South America. Here are what I believe are the 8 top things to do in Bogotá, Colombia.
1. Explore Bogotá on a free walking tour
Free walking tours are my favorite way to get acquainted with a new city. I’ve done many of these tours across Europe and found them to a reliable, budget-friendly way to familiarize myself with a new place. Similarly, my free walking tour in Bogotá did not disappoint!
Of course, nothing in life is actually “free”, so you’re encouraged to give a tip between $7-10 (22,000-32,000 Colombian Pesos). Typically, the guides are university students and young adults who rely on these tips to help pay for school or rent.
When I was doing my research of free walking tours, I saw there were several organizations posing as the original “Free Walking Tour Bogotá.” As such, be sure to do the 3-hour tour led by Beyond Colombia. They meet in front of the Museo de Oro everyday at 10am and 2pm. During this tour, you’ll learn a lot about Bogotá’s culture, including the history, architecture, top sights, and food scene.
This walking tour covered much of La Candelaria, the historic heart of the city. Afterwards, I felt very comfortable getting around Bogotá and well-versed in many of the local spots. Highly recommend!
2. Dig for gold inside the Museo del Oro (Gold Museum)
Well, you can’t actually dig for gold here…but you can surely look at the gold and “dig it”!
Located in the heart of Bogotá, the Gold Museum contains 30,000 gold artifacts dating back to pre-Colombian times. There are also thousands of other metal alloys and materials from pre-Hispanic culture, including ceramics, textiles, and pottery.
The Gold Museum has the biggest collection of gold artifacts in the world. It’s also one of the top tourist attractions in all of Colombia, so you definitely need to check it out! An hour is only enough to see the highlights, so I recommend giving yourself about 2 hours to see most of the exhibits.
3. Discover Bogotá’s historic center (La Candelaria)
While the Gold Museum has a lot of artifacts from pre-Colombian times, the historic center of town, La Candelaria, is an open-air museum that brings you back to the colonial era.
This historic neighborhood is home to some of the city’s most remarkable architecture. You’ll find beautiful churches, restaurants, shops, and museums dotted around a massive, Spanish-style square called the Plaza Bolívar. A colossal cathedral, called the Primatial Cathedral of Bogotá, proudly watches over the square.
Another highlight of La Candelaria are its colorful, graffiti-lined streets. In recent years, this area has become a popular place for street artists, as well as museum and theatre-goers. The vibrant murals match well with the cobbled, colonial-era paths.
La Candelaria is a go-to for backpackers and those wishing to stay in the center of all the action. This area can become sketchy at night, so be sure to always stay on your guard and beware of pickpocketers.
4. Soak in the old world charm of the Plaza de Bolívar
While you’re exploring La Candelaria, you’ll definitely want to soak in the old world charm of the Plaza de Bolívar.
This enchanting square is named after Simón Bolívar, the revolutionary leader who led Colombia’s secession from the Spanish Empire in the early 1800s. Known as El Libertador (the liberator), Simón Bolívar was also an instrumental leader in the independence movements for Bolivia, Ecuador, Peru, Venezuela, and Panama.
Built between 1807-1823, the Catedral Primada de Bogotá (Primatial Cathedral of Bogotá) dominates the square. While this enormous, neoclassical-style cathedral steals most of the limelight, the Palacio de Justicia (Palace of Justice) that sits nearby is also spectacular.
What really captured my attention was a phrase inscribed on the Palace of Justice by Simón Bolívar’s right-hand man, General Francisco de Paula Santander:
“Colombianos las armas os han dado la independencia, las leyes os darán la libertad.”“Colombians, guns have given you independence, laws will give you freedom.”
This quote really moved me, shedding light on the strife that consumed this country for so long. It harkens back to the days of civil war and hardship endured by millions of Colombians.
The Plaza de Bolívar is also the site of the Capitolio Nacional, a neoclassical building that houses Colombia’s Congress. On the other side of the plaza is another neoclassical façade, the Palacio Liévano, where the mayor sits.
Whether you’re into history, culture, or architecture, the Plaza de Bolívar is a must-see on this Bogotá, Colombia travel guide.
5. Relax in the Parque Metropolitano Simón Bolívar (Simón Bolívar Park)
While we’re on the topic of Simón Bolívar, be sure to check out the park that’s named after him.
Simón Bolívar Park is the Central Park of Bogotá. Though it’s more than 100 acres larger than its counterpart in NYC.
This urban park is filled with lakes and greenspaces, bike and walking paths, and a host of recreational facilities. There’s even an amusement park and water park inside. Simón Bolívar Park is also a popular place for picnics, live entertainment, and sports. As you can imagine, it can be pretty crowded on the weekends. Nevertheless, it’s a scenic escape from the city where you’ll want to stop by and hang out for a bit.
6. Take a funicular to the top of Monserrate
Cerro Monserrate is a hilltop sanctuary with panoramic views of Bogotá. This was my favorite sight in the city, and I’d consider it a must-see sight for all travelers. You can take a funicular, cable car, or hike to the top. I took the funicular and recommend that you do the same!
At the top, you’ll find a Catholic shrine and sanctuary built in the mid-1600s. The chapel was dedicated to the Virgen of Montserrat, named after the clifftop monastery just outside of Barcelona. (Check out my 3-day Barcelona travel guide)
There’s also a few restaurants and a mini bazaar at the top. You can purchase handmade goods and local foods, such as Colombian hot chocolate (a sweet chocolate treat mixed with cheese) and empanadas. Note: the best Colombian coffee is exported, so you won’t find great coffee here if you’re used to drinking imported Colombian coffee.
As you gaze over the hill’s western ledge, you’ll have spectacular views of Bogotá’s seemingly endless skyline. On the other side, forest and nature galore. When you’re standing at the top of Monserrate (elevation: 10,341 ft / 3,152 m), you’ll know why this is a sacred pilgrimage site for many.
Tips: You’ll want to get up here in the morning to avoid the crowds. The entire ordeal to and from downtown Bogotá will take about half a day. It can get chilly up there, so be sure to bring a jacket.
A return fare on the funicular and cable car costs 20,000 Colombian Pesos (~$6.31). I recommend checking the official Monserrate website for the most up-to-date rates and hours.
7. Spark your imagination in the Museo de Botero (Botero Museum)
The Museo Botero (Botero Museum) is another must-see in the heart of Bogotá.
Fernando Botero is a Colombian artist known for his “voluminous” artwork, where he changes the proportions of people and objects. As such, you’ll find many peculiar paintings and sculptures in the museum. Inside, you’ll also spot a small collection of Picasso, Monet, and Renoir.
This free museum is open Wednesday through Monday from 9am to 7pm. On Sundays, it closes at 5pm. Refer to the museum’s official website for the most up-to-date hours. I also recommend getting an audio guide to understand the context behind each of Botero’s works of art.
8. Take a day trip to a nearby village or nature spot
If you’re planning to spend more than a few days in Bogotá, I recommend doing some cool day trips. Here are some of the best day trip ideas you should know about.
The Salt Cathedral
Just an hour outside of Bogotá, the Salt Cathedral in Zipaquirá is an underground church in a salt mine. It’s located 600 feet (200 m) beneath the Earth’s surface, and is a popular tourist and pilgrimage site.
If you’re looking for a quiet nature retreat from the hustle and bustle of the city, look no further than Lake Guatavita. It’s about 40 miles (60 km) north of Bogotá, and is acclaimed as the legendary birthplace of the “lost city of gold,” El Dorado. This lake is also a sacred site for the indigenous people of the region.
La Chorrera Waterfall
Another day trip worth mentioning is La Chorrera, Colombia’s highest waterfall. This multi-step waterfall measures more than 1,900 feet high (590 meters), and is accessible by hiking through stunning forest scenery. It’s a 2-hour drive from Bogotá, so be sure to give yourself plenty of time to get to and from.
Other sights to check out in Bogotá if you have time
If time permits, you should stop by these other interesting sights in Bogotá.
The National Shrine of Our Lady of Carmen
This Gothic church is a must-see in the heart of La Candelaria. Built in 1938, the National Shrine of Our Lady of Carmen is an eccentric church. It almost looks like a giant candy cane.
National Museum of Colombia
This prison-turned-museum holds a massive collection of modern art and ancient artifacts from Colombia. You’ll find pictures, paintings, sculptures, and other relics that shed light on the country’s fascinating history.
Plaza de Mercado de Paloquemao
This South American-style market is brimming with character and ambiance. There are lots of unique flowers, fruits, and local produce sold here.
Bogotá Botanical Garden
The Jardin Botanico de Bogotá is Colombia’s largest botanical garden. It’s a great place for a stroll, where you can see more than 5,000 endemic orchids and other flora from other parts of the country.
Where to stay in Bogotá, Colombia
Though Bogotá has all but eliminated its reputation for being a dangerous city, there are still some areas you’ll want to avoid.
In this travel guide, I’ve included many of the best places to stay in Bogotá. As a rule of thumb, budget backpackers will want to stay in La Candelaria, partygoers in Zona Rosa and Chapinero, and families and “typical” tourists in El Chicó.
As mentioned earlier, La Candelaria is the historic center of town with most of the tourist sites. Though it’s centrally located and safe during the day, this area can be sketchy at night. As such, you’ll want to get an accommodation somewhere on a main road (avoid the side streets).
Zona Rosa and Chapinero
The Zona Rosa and Chapinero districts are close to many of the city’s best bars and nightclubs. They are popular nightlife spots for locals and tourists alike. Zona Rosa is known for its wild nightlife scene, while Chapinero has a reputation for being a modern and trendy neighborhood where the “cool people” hang out.
El Chicó is the most upscale and luxurious neighborhood in Bogotá. It’s one of the safest places in the city, so I’d recommend this for families and “cautious” first-time Colombia travelers. I stayed in a small hotel called Selina Parque 93 Bogotá, which was only $55 a night for a double room. It was modern, clean, safe, and in my opinion, a bargain compared to other hotels in the vicinity. The only downside, which goes for all accommodations in the El Chicó part of town, was the long-ish commute to the center of the city. However, taxis and public transportation were very cheap, so it wasn’t much of a hindrance. As long as you plan ahead for a day of exploring, you won’t need to waste precious time going back and forth.
What to eat and drink in Bogotá, Colombia
This diverse city is home to some amazing food and drinks.
There’s much more to Colombia than its famous coffee; which, by the way, does not taste as good in Colombia as it does abroad. They export all their best beans – so I wouldn’t buy any coffee here to bring home as a souvenir. Instead, here’s what you need to try when you visit Bogotá, Colombia.
Chicha is a popular fermented drink in South America. Also known as “indigenous beer,” this alcoholic and non-alcoholic beverage traces its roots back to pre-Colombian times. It’s made from various fruits and grains. I would consider it an acquired taste, yet something you should try when visiting Bogotá.
Chocolate completo (Colombian hot chocolate)
If you’re a chocolate lover like myself, you must try Colombia’s very own version of hot chocolate. It’s a tasteful combination of chocolate and cheese. As the chocolate is melted in a pot, a hunk of soft cheese is added to it, giving the drink a sweet and savory flavor.
Bogotá can get pretty chilly at night, so the Colombian hot chocolate will certainly warm you up!
If chocolate isn’t your thing and you still want to warm up, try the aromática. This herbal tea is made from fresh-infused fruits, mint leaves, and sugar cane. In this concoction, you’ll likely taste everything from strawberry and blackberries to pineapple and guava. So delicious!
This is the most traditional dish you can find in Bogotá. Ajiaco is a delicious soup packed with chicken and potatoes. It’s also mixed with herbs, avocado, rice, and corn.
Arepas are just about as Colombian as you can get. This popular dish is sort of like the Colombian version of a tortilla, made from wheat flour, corn, cheese, and butter. You can also add meat toppings, such as barbecued beef, and vegetables to it.
This is a popular dish throughout Latin America, but Colombian empanadas have their own special twist to it. Here, they are deep-fried and stuffed with rice, meat, hard-boiled eggs, onions, and tomatoes. Yum!
Places to eat in Bogotá, Colombia
This sprawling capital city is home to many incredible restaurants, cafés, and mercados (markets). Given that Bogotá is so spread out, and you’ll probably not want to organize your day around restaurants, I recommend doing some research on TripAdvisor depending on the area you’re in. If you have the liberty of trying just one place, check out La Puerta Falsa.
La Puerta Falsa has been a top restaurant in Bogotá for over two centuries. It was established in 1816, and is one of the most authentic places to try local cuisine, including ajiaco and chocolate completo. This traditional restaurant sits just a block away from the Plaza de Bolívar.
Preparing for Bogotá, the high-altitude capital
Looking for some of the top tips when visiting Bogotá? Prepare for the elevation. This city is colder than you’d expect for a place so close to the equator. Throughout the year, the average temperature here is relatively constant, typically around 65° F (18° C). As such, you’ll want to bring at least a light jacket with you pretty much any time of the year.
It’s perched at 8,660 feet (2,640 meters) elevation, making it one of the highest-altitude capitals in the world. This means there’s less oxygen to go around. So, when I first arrived, I found myself out of breath while lugging light-ish suitcase through the terminal.
If you’re concerned about getting altitude sickness in Bogotá, Colombia, I recommend arriving at night. That way, you can go to sleep right away and let your body adjust to the altitude overnight.
Staying safe in Bogotá, Colombia
As mentioned at the beginning of this Bogotá travel guide, Colombia is experiencing a resurgence of international tourism. However, for a lot of folks, safety remains a big deterrent from visiting Colombia. It’s not the dangerous country it once was, but you still shouldn’t let your guard down.
For the most part, Bogotá is perfectly safe, but there are other areas of the country where you’ll want to stay away from. Be sure to monitor your country’s official government websites for up-to-date guidance on tourism and safety in Colombia. If you’re from the United States, it’s always a good idea to check the State Department website. This isn’t just a valuable resource for visiting Colombia; I always check their website for peace of mind before visiting any foreign country.
Petty crime (i.e. pick-pocketing) is common in some neighborhoods of Bogotá. This is also a common issue in many other cities around the world, including one of my favorite places, Barcelona. Regardless, I recommend taking a little extra care here and not making yourself a target by flashing expensive belongings. This is one of my top tips when visiting Bogotá.
My comprehensive Bogotá, Colombia travel guide
I hope you found my travel guide of Bogotá, Colombia to be an interesting and helpful resource! This was my first visit to South America, and Bogotá served as a great launchpad for exploring this new frontier.
Muchas gracias for reading this article and following my journey! I hope your trip to Bogotá, Colombia, like mine, will be an eye-opening experience!
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