Not that long ago, Bogota was largely considered one of the most dangerous destinations in the world, with few considering the metropolis for anything more than a quick stopover to anywhere else. But now decreased drug production, increased safety, and a growing culture of boutiques, chic hotels and top-notch restaurants are quickly making Bogota one of the trendiest capital cities in South America. Navigating the city of 8 million inhabitants at 2,640 metres high can be overwhelming, but use this guide as your base and you’ll be rewarded with what you find hidden in this gem.
Where to stay
B.O.G. Hotel was Bogota’s first boutique design hotel, effectively showing that Bogota is much more than a destination for business travellers alone. It’s centrally located in the chic Zona Rosa, with easy access to all of the city’s top attractions and restaurants. The trendy design and panoramic city views are worth checking out in their own right. Its address in Chapinero, next to some of the city’s best gay bars, is a bonus.
Hotel Morrison 114 is a luxurious hotel located in a safe and cosmopolitan area of the city. Large beds, excellent service and a noteworthy breakfast buffet are a few of the details that keep travellers coming back to the Hotel Morrison time and time again.
If enjoying a heated rooftop pool while gazing out at spectacular city views sounds like your idea of a good time, then don’t miss Exe Bacata 95. Sophisticated design inspired by Kogi indigenous, easy access to fantastic nightlife (Exe Bacata 95 is also located in Chapinero), an amazing breakfast and top-notch staff explain why this hotel boasts such avid fans.
Street art | Photo: Dan Moore
La Candelaria is perhaps Bogota’s most popular neighbourhood, a historic centre overflowing with charming streets, colourful buildings and colonial architecture. You’ll also find plenty of libraries and museums within the winding streets to keep you plenty entertained. Once you’ve checked out the Old City, head a bit farther north to the equally magical La Macarena. In this up-and-coming artistic neighbourhood you’ll find excellent art galleries and innovative restaurants and cafes. This area is becoming more popular, but it’s not overrun by tourists quite yet.
If the hustle and bustle of Bogota proves too much, then Usaquen, just outside the city centre, promises the perfect escape. The residential neighbourhood is known for its central plaza, lovely architecture, exquisite culinary scene and weekly Mercado de las Pulgas (flea market.)
Things to see and do
Walk around Bogota for any length of time and you’ll likely notice the graffiti. To truly appreciate these works of art, sign up for the Bogota Graffiti Walking Tour. Not only will you learn about the street art, but you’ll also get an inside-look at Bogota’s history, conflict and culture.
For sweeping views of Bogota, take the funicular up to Monserrate, the striking mountain and symbol of Bogota that dominates the city. There’s also a lovely restaurant at the top, Casa Santa Clara, which is ideal for relaxing over lunch or coffee while enjoying the extraordinary vista.
You won’t want to miss the hauntingly beautiful Zipaquira Salt Cathedral; a fully-functional Catholic Cathedral carved out of the salt deposits of an abandoned mine. 250 thousand tonnes of rock salt was extracted to form the underground cathedral, resulting in a magnificent work of art. Zipaquira is an easy day’s trip from Bogota’s city centre. Additionally, just a few hours outside of Bogota are mouth-watering coffee farms that make both energising and educational day trips. Most include a tour of the coffee making process, coffee sampling and (sometimes) lunch. Colomba Coffee Farm in Fusagasuga comes highly recommended.
Zipaquira Salt Cathedral | Photo: Dan Moore
Eat, drink and be merry
For a unique cafe/museum hybrid, grab a bit at Cafe Rec. This unusual restaurant located in the La Candelaria district displays a variety of historical tape recorders, the personal collection of founder Jorge Moreno. You’ll also find an extensive coffee list and, on the weekends, often live music.
Undeniably kitsch yet admittedly entertaining, Andres Carne de Res is the place to go for animated entertainment alongside Argentinian cuisine. The party doesn’t get going until late in the evening, but when it does, you never know what silly costumed-staff might dance past your table. In stark contrast to Andres Carne de Res is perhaps Bogota’s finest dining experience: Matiz. An extensive wine list, Michelin-quality menu, and contemporary atmosphere make this a romantic—and delicious—option. For the ultimate experience, indulge in the 7-course tasting menu with wine pairing.
No matter where you are in Colombia, there’s almost certainly a party going on any night of the week. And in Bogota, you’ll find everything from exclusive nightclubs to rowdy salsa bars. Color House Cafe Bar is considered to be one of the top gay bars in the city, with excellent cocktails and a relaxed ambience. Alternatively, Armando Records is a chic club with rooftop bar in the centre of Zona Rosa.
Of course, you can’t visit Colombia without trying salsa—or at the very least watching in awe as the locals sway with finesse. Galeria Cafe Libro is a popular salsa bar for both locals and tourists. And of course, a little aguardiente on the side will have you salsa dancing like a pro in no time.
Photo: Dan Moore
Where to shop
Like any big city, Bogota is overflowing with shopping centres and malls. Amble along the Candelaria or La Macarena neighbourhoods and you’ll certainly stumble upon one-of-a-kind boutiques. But for a historical shopping experience, try Hacienda de Santa Barbara. This 19th-century barn house has been converted into a labyrinth of sorts, with plenty of small shops and coffee shops. Just leave plenty of time in case you get lost in the maze of the mall.
And of course, you won’t want to miss visiting, at least, one or two of Bogota’s fantastic art galleries while you’re in the city. Galeria Baobab supports both well-established artists as well as up-and-coming names, making it the perfect spot to discover a new favourite artist. For an extraordinary experience, visit La Peluqueria. Part hair salon, part gallery, part shop, part bar, it has a little something for everyone.
For a lively food market with optimal chances to try local Colombian cuisine, visit the Plaza de Mercado de Paloquemao. The colours, flavours and smells can be overwhelming if you aren’t accustomed to markets in South America, but it’s a must-visit for an authentic glimpse into traditional Colombian culture.
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Bolivar Square | Photo: Dan Moore
Arepa and hot chocolate | Photo: Dan Moore
Photo: Dan Moore
Andres Carne de Res | Photo: Dan Moore
Independence Park | Photo: Dan Moore