On arrival in Bogota, especially if coming from the airport dazed and jet-lagged, it can appear loud, unorganised and grid-locked. However, spend just a little time exploring and you’ll quickly discover how special it is.
The capital city is full of colonial buildings which lend a helping hand in telling Bogota’s history. There are a number of excellent museums to keep any culture vulture happy. Away from the main roads, the cobbled lanes hide boutique shops, outstanding restaurants and craft beer pubs. Here is our guide on how to spend a day in Bogota. And a quick tip from the locals. Even if the sun is shining when you leave your hotel in the morning, take a jacket or an umbrella. The weather can quickly turn.
In the morning
A great way to introduce yourself to Bogota, both the geography and its history, is to spend the morning on a walking tour. Beyond Colombia’s tour is free apart from the suggested tip for the knowledgeable and friendly guides. For two and a half hours, the guides take you to the fascinating and diverse areas of the central city. They enlighten you to the origins of Colombia and Bogota’s recent history, which is still echoing throughout the country today.
Starting in front of Museo del Oro, the tour crosses over to Santander Park and the statue dedicated to Francisco de Paula Santander, who helped with South America’s fight for independence from the Spanish back in the 1800s. The tour crosses over to the point where Jorge Eliécer Gaitán was assassinated in April 1948. The political leader of the Liberal party was predicated to become the next president. The assassination lead to riots which went on for 10 hours and left much of downtown Bogota destroyed. Today the champion of the Colombian people is remembered with a wall of tributes outside his office.
From here the tour continues to La Candelaria, the cultural heart of Bogota. La Candelaria is a cluster of colourful colonial buildings, some dating back 300 years, museums, theatres and libraries. It’s also where you’ll find much of the city’s street art.
Walking through La Candelaria, stopping to take photos of the truly superb murals, you’ll arrive in Plaza de Bolivar. The square is centred around a statue of Simon Bolivia and lined with important government buildings. Although, the majority of the square is dominated by the grand, gothic neoclassical Catedral Primada, Bogota’s biggest church.
The tour ends in the Gabriel Garcia Marquez Cultural Centre, a quick walk up from the square. This centre is dedicated to Colombia’s most celebrated writer, known for pushing the Latin American narrative to the forefront of mainstream publishing. In the extensive book store you can buy a number of his novels translated into many different languages.
Once you’ve purchased your copy of ‘Love in the Time of Cholera’, head out along Carrera 4. Walk for ten minutes and you’ll come across Parque de Los Periodistas, where just round the corner is Sant Just. The doorway of this small restaurant is opposite the wall covered in cartoon cats and serves French food made with the freshest Colombian ingredients.
The menu, written every day on a chalkboard, is a small selection yet the portions are hearty. It regularly changes depending on what ingredients are available to the chefs. Previous dishes include salmon served with beetroot quinoa and roasted vegetables, goats cheese salad and their much celebrated crème brûlée. It’s open from 11am to 4pm, staying open till 8pm only on Thursday and Friday. This is a great option for a substantial lunch to keep you going whilst you traverse the city.
In the afternoon
Suitably satisfied from your delicious lunch, it’s time to take yourself out of the streets and see Bogota from above. It’s likely you noticed the church perched high on top of Monserrate hill during your morning exploring. A proud symbol of the city, this was previously a pilgrimage point. Worshippers walked up to the church and its 400-year-old shrine dedicated to “El Señor Caído”, meaning The Fallen Lord.
There are three ways to get to the top – train, cable car or walk. For those who are feeling particularity active and acclimatised to the altitude, the walk will take about two hours. The two miles covers 1,000 steps and a 512 metre rise in elevation up to 3,152 metres.
We recommend the cable car for an enjoyable four minute journey soaring 1,000 feet up to the top of Bogota. It’s undeniable the views from here are magnificent, the best the city has to offer. You can see 60% of the Bogota from here, the urban metropolis sprawling out in front of you.
A return ticket on the cable car costs 14,000 pesos ($5 USD) with it open till midnight. Perfect for those who want to watch the sunset over Bogota. The train service ends at 6pm and costs the same. If you visit on Sunday be prepared to be one of many. You’ll be joining pilgrims as they make their way up to Bogota’s holiest spot.
In the evening
The night scene in Bogota is as diverse as the rest of the city’s offerings. Whether you want to dance till the early hours or just enjoy a casual craft beer whilst discussing your day. For those of you who want to experience authentic Colombian nightlife, head to Gaira Café Cumbia House. This restaurant and bar serves coastal Colombian food and plays live music till the early hours. Owned by the popular Colombian singer Carlos Vives who occasionally makes an appearance, this venue attracts visitors and locals with their delicious food, rum drinks and 11-piece band.
If you have an extra day
If Bogota’s street art has captured your heart and your imagination like many before you, book onto a graffiti tour. Bogota’s street art scene is amongst the world’s most unique and creative, with famous artists travelling from all over to add their contribution. New paintings are created every day and if you do the same tour a year later, you’ll see completely different murals.
You’ll walk through La Candelaria and down Callejón del Embudo, the oldest street, before heading to Downtown area. Here the artwork becomes more political and represents the struggles experienced by members of Bogota’s community. It takes two and a half hours and is free, bar the guide’s tip. For those who prefer a smaller group dynamic, its advised to join the tour on Friday or Saturday morning.
However you choose to spend a day in Bogota, experience it on one of our Colombia group tours.