As a good Colombian, I am completely in love with my country and I am very proud of it. Each time I meet a foreigner -abroad or online-, the first thing I say proudly is: “I’m Colombian you should come visit!”. Most of the time I get the “Pablo Escobar?” or the “isn’t it very dangerous?”. But nonetheless, I’m determined to change those paradigms in my own little way, and now that you’re interested in visiting my city, firstly I’m going to give you some first hand tips and then a list of all the places you must visit and the food you should try.
VERY USEFUL TIPS
- Don’t limit your trip to Bogota. As much as I love my city, I have to be honest with you, throughout Colombia there are many places that deserve much more of your time than Bogotá. So if you’re visiting Bogota for the sake of knowing and visiting ,you should limit your staying to 3 days max, that’s more than enough time. Once you’re done, go ahead and enjoy the other many amazing places that Colombia has for you.
- Bogotá has no tropical weather. One mistake many foreigners make a lot, is to believe that Colombiaas a whole, has a very hot weather. That is a big mistake!. Colombia has very different weathers in every part of the country. Bogotá is placed in the Andean region, and, therefore, the weather is mostly cold and rainy. Be prepared for it, don’t bring only summer clothes and be sure to pack or buy an umbrella.
- Layer your clothes.Although Bogota’s weather is mainly cold, the weather predictions are not very precise. In that sense, what I usually do is to be prepared for both weathers. I try to wear a light shirt and layer it up with warmer clothes.
- Be cautious but not afraid. Forget everything you have watched in movies about Colombia, especially Mr. & Mrs. Smith. What you need to know is that you won’t find yourself in a war zone once you are here. However there are some precautions you have to take into account:
- Try not to be too flashy. You can definitely get robbed, that’s a reality, so try not to keep your phone on your hands or anything of value.
- Don’t leave your bags unattended. One very common way to get robbed is by pickpocketing. In that way, what I recommend is to always have your bag in front of you, especially in crowds.
- Don’t get your taxi on the streets at night. Try to use Uber or get your taxi through the existing apps (tappsi or EasyTaxi).
WHAT TO VISIT?
Now that you have my 101 basic tips, let’s get into business. Here are the “you most not miss” places to visit while visiting Bogotá: The places to visit are divided in two: the center of the city and the north part. So I’m going to split it in these two zones.
1) Monserrate: I recommend to start your tour with this, cause is the most fatiguing thing to do and I consider it the best way to start your day. You can get there by cableway, funicular or by foot. If you are considering going up by foot, keep in mind that the mountain top rises to 3,152 meters (10,341 ft) above the sea level.
Once on top, you’ll have the best view of the city, the freshest air and the most beautiful landscapes. After you have admired the top and it’s views here is what I recommend you to do:
- Walk the via crusis (Christ walk through the Way of Sorrows), even if you’re not religious, is something you don’t wanna miss.
- Enter the chapel, I’m not a religious person but I find “The Fallen Lord” sculpture very powerful.
- Trow a coin into the wishing well. You may not get your wish granted, but is a fun thing to do.
- Go through the market place, see all the crafting stuff they sell, and go through the typical food passage. At the very end of this passage, you’ll find a great view of the mountains and the landscape.
- Pass through (or enter if you want) to the restaurants: San Isidro House and Santa Clara House. Both of them are very pretty , a little pricey, but at least enjoyable to the eye.
2) Quinta de Bolivar Museum: Is very close to Monserrate: about two or three blocks away. I love this place cause the entrance ticket is very cheap and it was one of the residences of Simon Bolivar. It has many original pieces from the time and some of them actually belonged to him. I highly recommend going there cause it shows you the simplicity of rural houses back in the XIX century.
3) Universidad del Rosario: This happens to be my Alma Mater, and I proudly recommend you to visit it . Is not open to the public, but if you happen to know someone that studies or studied there you should ask them to give you little tour. The University has more than 400 years of history and once during the independence years it was a jail. If you cannot enter, you can visit the square in front of it, which is a place of meeting for people of many ages. Around it, there are some restaurants and coffee shops. The most important one is called “Café Pasaje”, which happens to exist since the 40’s and where many illustrious persons used to gather.
4) Museo del Oro (Golden Museum): Is very close to the Universidad del Rosario and is pretty amazing. You can find there all the gold crafting from the indigenous tribes that lived in Colombia. It was recently remodeled and I went back recently, after years of not entering, and I absolutely loved it
5) Iglesia San Francisco (San Francisco Church): Is one of the oldest churches and for architecture sake is really worth visiting. This church is located just in front of the Central Bank and crossing the small square in front of the golden museum.
6) Jorge Eliecer Gaintán’s assassination site: This is a place of historical relevance for the country. Just walking through the 7ma street you’ll find the place where Jorge Eliecer Gaitán was murdered in 1948. He was a very important politician with liberal thoughts who wanted social equity. He was running for president the year he was murdered and his death provoked the “Bogotazo” and the so called “violence” era, which eventually lead to the creation of the guerrillas we know nowadays.
7) Museo de la independencia – Casa del Florero (Independence Museum): This is the house where the independence scream took place in 1810. It is located right next to the Bolivar Square, which back then belonged to a powerful family. In here you can find the vase by which the fight started and you can find many personal items from Simón Bolivar. In the back there’s a little backyard where you can rest in a hammock.
8) Catedral Primada: This is the first church ever built in Bogotá, but that little chapel firstly built was replaced by a more substantial building. Unlike many Bogotá churches, the spacious interiors have relatively little ornamentation.
9) Plaza de Bolivar (Bolivar Square): Just in front of the cathedral you can find the principal square of the city. You can sit on the steps of the Cathedral and drink a canelazo while watching the people pass by. In this square all the important organs of the country are located: Palace of Justice, the national capitol (Congress of Colombia),the Liévano Palace (Bogotá’s city hall) and the Cathedral.
10) Palacio de Justicia: It was destroyed in 1948 during the “Bogotazo” and build again. In 1985 it was taken by the guerrilla group M-19 and was taken back by the military forces violently, leaving 111 death people and many missing people (who to this day are still missing and their cases under investigation). It was built again and open to the public in 1998. This building has witnessed the most traumatic moments of our history and at the entrance there’s a phrase, that I love, by General Francisco de Paula Santander: “Colombians, arms have given you independence, the laws will give you freedom.”
11) La puerta falsa: Is the oldest restaurant in Bogotá and it was visited by many important people from it’s era, like Policarpa and Manuelita Saenz. It has the best food for a typical Colombian “onces” , which means not a proper meal but the one you get between breakfast and lunch or between lunch and diner. Recently, they added to the menu the Ajiaco, so you can have lunch there. The place is very small, so you have to be patient; but while you are waiting in line and thinking “why am I waiting?”, here’s the story of this place, which is quite interesting. Back in 1816, there was a woman who during the religious festivities of that year wasn’t assigned with anything to do. So she decided to help by inviting some people from the community to eat. The Parrish priest heard about this and was really mad about not being told and the fact that not everyone was invited. The woman was offended and, as a rebellious act, decided to open the restaurant right next to the cathedral for the Priest to see, and since then it has been open and managed by the same family.
12) Plazoleta Rufino José Cuervo (Rufino José Cuervo square): This is one of my favorite places, as it is very nice and peaceful. It is located between the human rights house (casa de los derechos del hombre) and Manuelita Saenz’s house (the faithful friend and mistress of Simon Bolivar) where you can find the museum of traditional clothing.
13) Balcony of the San Carlos Palace: This was the first presidential palace, where Manuelita Saez saved Simón Bolivar from the conspirators who wanted to kill him. He escaped through the balcony with the inscription. The thing that is very curious about this place is that once you stand next to the balcony you’ll find that it is not very high. Well, keep in mind that Bolivar was actually really short and that the streets have changed a bit.
14) Chorro de Quevedo: I highly recommend you to keep walking through the streets and visiting as many museums as you wish, there are many round there. Don’t get too far or to places that doesn’t seem safe. Try to be in places where you can see a lot of people, avoid lonely places that you don’t now.
Once you have enjoyed the Candelaria streets, I like to end the day by going to el Chorro de Quevedo. It is said that this is where Bogotá started: the first place ever built. So it has a great historical value and the architecture is very colonial, and you can appreciate it in the buildings and streets.
This is a place where many university students go for a drink. You can find street performers and, in general, is a very bohemian place. There are many hostels there, so if you’re into a “hippie” experience you can stay there.On the contrary, if you are not too into the marihuana smell, then avoid staying there and just enjoy a one time visit.
Here you can find a very traditional indigenous drink called “chicha”, which is made from fermented corn. Be careful with it cause it can be strong for your stomach. Finally, I like to go to a place called “Gato Gris” and eat something and drink a canelazo.
1) Usaquén: This was an independent town from Bogotá, but due to the expansion of the city, it is now a neighborhood of the city. Here is a little tour to know it better:
- Railway station (Estación del Ferrocarril de Usaquén): Is very pretty and I like it because is a little piece from the past in the middle of modernity and that contrast is very nice. If you have the time I highly recommend you to take the train and go to the Salt Cathedral in Zipaquirá, which is an amazing experience (here the link: http://www.turistren.com.co/en/). This will take you a whole day, so take that into consideration.
- Hacienda Santa Bárbara: This used to be the private house of a rich businessman known as Pepe Sierra. Nowadays is a mall center and it’s structure keeps the original parts from the old hacienda. If you are a shopper you can buy some stuff. If not, just enter and walk through the halls. I highly advise you to have a coffee around the fountain of the original house.
- Mercado de las pulgas (flea market): Usaquén is mostly known as being the place where you can find all kind of crafts. The flea market right next to the Hacienda is the best place where you can find all the colombian crafts. If you’re thinking about buying gifts for your loved ones back home, this is the place to find them. It is a little pricey compared to other places, so if you’re planning on buying a mochila and you’re travelling to the coast, I advise you to wait and buy it there. Nonetheless, is very convenient and you’ll have to use your negotiation skills. Note: It only works on Sundays or holidays.
- Plaza Fundacional de Usaquén (Usaquén Square): Is a place where you can sit and watch people pass by or wait for a friend if you’re planning to have a meal in the restaurants nearby. Sometimes there are street performers and during Christmas time it is very prettily illuminated.
- Iglesia de Santa Bárbara de Usaquén: Is a very nice church specially for it’s interior decoration which is from around 1665. It has maintained everything in it’s original ways, and in the inside you can find paintings from the XVIII century.
2) ZONA ROSA: This is where the nights come to life. This is, by excellence, the place for parties and where all the most renown brands are gathered. You can also find restaurants, bars,coffee shops and hotels. This is actually the best zone to stay and the one I mostly recommend.
- Parque de la 93: Is not a highly special place. Is actually a small park but is surrounded by restaurants, coffee shops and some bars. Is very well known in Colombia as a place where people meet and therefore is also considered a place to visit. In Christmas time the park is decorated and that is worth watching.
- Jardín Botánico (botanic garden): This is not in my must do list cause is a little far from the two main areas that I normally recommend. However if you have the time, this actually should be a must. The place is amazing, the entrance ticket is really cheap and it’s the biggest garden in Colombia. It has more than 20.000 plants and is divided by ecosystems.
WHAT TO EAT?
Now that you have the guide of where to go, I’m going to list you the food you must try:
1) Pandebono: This is my all time favorite bread, is made mainly of corn and cheese. Is between sweet and salty. I like it better if it has bocadillo in it and you can find it almost in any Panadería. When doing your center tour, try to buy one of those!.
2) Aguadepanela con queso: This is the colombian hot drink everyone grew up with. Is a sweet hot drink made with water and panela (that is unrefined whole cane sugar) and you can accompany it with cheese, which gives it a little balance. However, we also drink it with lemon when we have the flu.
3) Empanadas: This may not be a dish invented by us, there are many versions in America. Nonetheless, I love the empanadas made in Bogotá. I specially love the ones made with corn (the yellow ones). Normally they are filled with potato and meat, but you can also find it with chicken and cheese. To live the experience properly you must eat them with ají or/and lemon.
4) Ajiaco: This is the traditional dish from Bogotá. Is a soup made from different types of potatoes, chicken, and a plant called guasca. You eat it with rice, avocado and a little milk cream on the top. Is a little heavy due to the amount of potato, but is delicious!
5) Almojábana: Is a bread very similar to the pandebono, made of corn and cheese, but this one is much more cheesy and has a flat shape. Is also very delicious.
6) Chocolate santafereño: Is a chocolate drink that is made with a lot of milk so is a little sweet, but not too sweet. We have it in breakfast or as “onces”. To balance it’s sweetness, you eat it with cheese and almojábana or bread.
The list could go on and on, but these are the ones I personally love. You’ll find more breads, a lot of cheese and many other soups. I invite you to try them and enjoy your visit to Bogotá. If you have any questions feel free to ask!