Bogotá Travel Guide

Bogotá Travel Guide

Nestled among verdant Andean peaks almost 9,000 feet above sea level is the misbehaving metropolis of Bogotá, Colombia’s capital city. Despite boasting well-preserved colonial heritage, Bogotá’s sordid past of drugs and violence has meant that the city has often been avoided in favour of safer haunts. But now, thanks to decreased drug production, increased safety, and a growing culture of boutiques, chic hotels and top-notch restaurants, Bogotá is quickly becoming one of South America’s trendiest capitals. Parallel to this, Colombia’s gay scene is booming, and gay Bogotá is leading the movement, alongside equally hedonistic Medellín, with all-night parties centred in Chapinero. While care should still be taken in less-developed areas, queer life in Bogotá is out and proud, underlined by a colourful social tapestry on full display during the carnivalesque Pride parade in July. Just as colourful is Bogotá’s culinary scene, which brings hearty regional classics such as cheesy arepas, wrapped tamales and empanadas to the deserved attention of the world. Confused about where to go and what to do in Bogotá? Look no further than Mr Hudson’s definitive Bogotá gay city guide.

The best hotels in Bogotá

Starting our Bogotá travel guide is a roundup of the best places to stay in Bogotá and what better way to begin than with B.O.G. Hotel, Bogotá’s premier boutique design hotel, signalling the city’s transition into more than just a business destination. This upscale offering in the Cabrera neighbourhood features seductive interiors, a sleek rooftop bar and a pool with 360° degree views over Bogotá and its mountains. For familial feels with 5-star facilities, travellers can’t go wrong with Casa Legado. A small, family-owned bed and breakfast in the Quinta Camacho neighbourhood, Casa Legado offers its few lucky guests bright interiors, communal breakfasts, free bikes and a sunny courtyard space for relaxing, as well as a fireplace and in-bed hot water bottles for those chilly mountain nights.

Your taste for outrageous luxury can finally be sated by the Four Seasons Hotel Casa Medina Bogota, bringing the brand’s expected service and ultra-stylish facilities to Colombia, with its marble bathrooms, custom furniture and beautiful views all within an historic complex. This leafy suburban mansion, in the heart of gourmet district Zona G, blends its 1940s colonial architecture with contemporary design, providing guests with proximity to all the best Bogotá points of interest minus the hustle and bustle.

Making a noise on Bogotá’s accommodation hotlist is Click Clack Hotel, a playful yet design-focused gem in the well-heeled El Chicó district. Standing out with its glass-box exteriors, Click Clack has a few more surprises inside, with features including a courtyard vertical garden, quirky animal-themed doorknobs and vintage curiosities among a bunch of original artwork, including on the restaurant menu. But the cherry on the top of this fine hotel is its 1950s Americana-inspired rooftop burger bar Apache, which grants guests some of the best views in the city alongside sublime cocktails, juicy buns and a live DJ from Wednesday to Saturday. Last up is Casa Lelyte, a newcomer to Bogotá’s LGBT-friendly, hipster neighbourhood, Chapinero Alto. This young boutique is dressed in tasteful design, with American style breakfasts, terrace and lounge areas and a first-floor restaurant known around town for its vegetarian options. Outside, just steps away, guests have the endless choice of independent eateries and nightlife offerings.

Casa Legado

Casa Legado

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Walk around Bogotá for any length of time and you’ll likely notice the graffiti

Things to do in Bogotá

Walk around Bogotá 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 street art, but you’ll also get an inside-look at Bogota’s history, conflict and culture.

For sweeping views of Bogotá, take the funicular up to Monserrate, the striking mountain and symbol of Bogotá 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 is one of the most impressive of Bogotá tourist attractions. 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 Bogotá’s city centre. Additionally, just a few hours outside of Bogotá 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.

Cerro De Monserrate

Cerro De Monserrate

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What to see in Bogotá

La Candelaria is almost impossible to overlook on your visit to Bogotá, and neither should it be. As Bogotá’s most popular and arguably most important neighbourhood, this historic heart of the city holds heritage by the bucket load and some pretty cool stories. The site of Simon Bolivar’s famed escape as well as revolutionary heroine La Pola’s execution, La Candelaria is the place where revolution was sparked. While the majority of its streets overflow with spectacular colonial architecture, authentic local markets and bustling museums, make an extra effort to pass by the best Bogotá sightseeing spots: the Plaza de Bolivar and the Palacio de Nariño. Of the area’s best religious sites, the Santuario Nuestra Señora del Carmen takes the glory. Dedicated to the Virgin Mary, this Catholic church built in the 1930s flaunts gothic Florentine architecture, elaborately painted with red and white stripes.

Colombian national treasure and artist Fernando Botero is honoured throughout Bogotá, but his most notable platform is found in La Candelaria at the Botero Museum, where visitors can get a look at some of his best works. Exaggerated depictions of people and animals unlike anything you’ve seen before, Botero’s playful works sit beside the likes of Dalí, Degas and Picasso in a beautiful Spanish colonial build close to the Bogotá Museum. If you’re lucky enough to be around on Sunday, spend some time at nearby San Alejo flea market, where you’ll be able to buy all manner of unusual handicrafts and antiques. Even if you’re not a flea market fanatic, there’s something here for everyone, including street performance and vendors of traditional foods such as empanada, pudding rice and arepas.

Iglesia Nuestra Señora Del Carmen

Iglesia Nuestra Señora Del Carmen

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, innovative restaurants and cafés. This area is becoming more popular, but it’s not overrun by tourists quite yet. If the hustle and bustle of Bogotá proves too much, then Usaquen, just outside the city centre, promises the perfect escape. This residential neighbourhood is known for its central plaza, lovely architecture, exquisite culinary scene and weekly flea market which gives La Candelaria a run for its money; the Mercado de las Pulgas.

Another retreat away from the city centre is the lush green space of Bogotá’s botanical gardens, known as Jardín Botánico José Celestino Mutis. The biggest and most diverse botanical gardens in Colombia, Bogotá’s Jardín Botánico displays flora from all around the globe, specifically orchids and delicate flowers, alongside the nation’s 130,000 endemic plant species. From leaves to legends, our next trip is to the site of the legend of El Dorado, a story of utmost significance in Colombian history. To learn more we must visit Laguna de Guatavita, a lagoon easily accessible by car or via organized tour. This heighty circular lake has an intriguing history as the sacred site of the Muisca people, who often used the lake for rituals and gold offerings (most of which have now been excavated and put on display in the Gold Museum).

Photo: Gustavo

Photo: Gustavo

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Of course, you can’t visit Colombia without trying salsa

Where to eat in Bogotá

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 Bogotá’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.

Photo: Dan Moore

Photo: Dan Moore

No matter where you are in Colombia, there’s almost certainly a party going on any night of the week. And in Bogotá, 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.

Arepa and hot chocolate

Arepa and hot chocolate | Photo: Dan Moore

Shopping in Bogotá

Like any big city, Bogotá 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 Bogotá’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.

Photo: Ricardo Gomez Angel

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Fortunately for this Bogotá gay nightlife guide, the city’s gay scene is just as exciting, with gay bars dotted across the city

Bogotá nightlife

We all know that Latin Americans love to party and high-flying Bogotá leads the regional procession with its happening nightlife scene, where partygoers can enjoy a full calendar of events and new club openings on the regular. Fortunately for this Bogotá gay nightlife guide, the city’s gay scene is just as exciting, with gay bars dotted across the city – the majority of which are concentrated in Chapinero, the gay epicentre, around Carrera 9 street. El Recreo de Adan is one popular gay bar located here, with an additional location in the Zona Rosa. A relaxed and welcoming spot for hanging out, with bean bag seating and table games, El Recreo puts on regular promotions offering cheap cocktails and bar snacks, making it the perfect way to warm up for your night out.

In addition to the fabulous aforementioned rooftop bars atop the Click Clack Hotel & B.O.G. Hotel, another skyline-gazing beauty is Chelsea at Bioxury Hotel, a swanky bar with a sensational view in vibrant Chapinero. Inspired by New York’s Chelsea district and dripping with Americana charm, this 11th-floor offering comes complete with both indoor and outdoor drinking spaces, the latter enclosed in glass with comfy sofas and heaters the take the chill off during low season. Come for the view and their classic cocktails but stay for the good vibes as well as their specialty Tea Tonics, made from tea-infused gin.

Turning the volume up is El Coq on 84th street, a haven for discerning electro lovers which also happens to serve deliciously fresh cocktails. The décor here may not be what you anticipate, with the design seemingly a cross between a Spanish villa and a French country house, decked out with wood beams, aged wallpaper and plush couches. While you may be sceptical, on arrival you’ll find a comfy space with a great ambience for dancing and socialising. For relaxed intimacy, La Estación Café in Chapinero is a popular spot for early evening gossip before heading to the clubs. While there is a small cover charge, the cocktail menu and laid-back atmosphere make it more than worth it.

Just a hop and a skip away is Bogotá gay scene’s major vocal point. Known as the Theatron, this former theatre turned gay nightclub houses 13 live music rooms with capacity for 8,000 people. As well as providing a diversity of music genres, Theatron also boasts as many as seven rooftop terraces and an open bar until 2 am (as covered by the $15 entry fee). Said to be one of the best LGBT clubbing experiences in Latin America, Theatron is the perfect set up for an all-out Friday or Saturday night. If small is more your scene however, Disco Jaguar is a cute gay nightclub presenting electronic music in one room and traditional Latino and gay anthems in the other. Small yet never understated, Disco Jaguar is a kitsch, disco-happy affair complete with its own sex toy shop for end of the night perusal.

Photo: Altagamba Altagamba

Photo: Altagamba Altagamba

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