Bogota, the raw metropolis and capital of Colombia. This city high in the mountains is often perceived as unsafe, and many tourists visiting Colombia skip Bogota. In our opinion, Bogota is the perfect city to spend a few nights after arriving in Colombia. This way, you'll immediately get to experience real South American life. In this article, we'll discuss what there is to do in Bogota, how safe it is, which neighborhoods are the most enjoyable to stay in, and how transportation is organized.
By bus, you can reach Bogota from cities like Armenia/Pereira (if you're coming from Salento or Filandia) and Medellín. However, these are all bus journeys of at least 7 to 10 hours.
There is plenty to do in Bogota. Most people only stay one or two nights in Bogota before moving on to their next destination. We recommend staying for three nights in Bogota, as this will allow you to see the most enjoyable attractions. Trying to check off all the sights in this article is likely not feasible in just two days. Therefore, feel free to choose the things from this article that you find most appealing. We'll start with the tips that we recommend doing at least.
The old town of Bogota is located in the La Candelaria neighborhood. This is also where most tourists stay. The neighborhood primarily consists of colonial buildings, and you can find a lot of street art there. It's enjoyable to wander through the neighborhood and explore its narrow streets.
The most famous place in the old town is Plaza Bolivar. This is the central square, featuring the large cathedral and the Palacio de Justicia. This building is particularly known because in 1985, Pablo Escobar ordered the armed guerrilla group M-19 to invade the palace. Judges and employees were taken hostage, and the army responded by sending tanks. What followed was a bloody battle in the city's central square. More about this event is told during our bike tour, one of our upcoming tips. During our bike tour, while telling this story, it suddenly started pouring rain, so we had to quickly find shelter and continue the tour wearing ponchos. That can also happen in Bogota.
When you're in Bogota, you shouldn't miss Monserrate. This mountain rises above the city and is located at an impressive 3,152 meters/10,341 ft above sea level. From the mountain, you can enjoy a beautiful view of Bogota and the Andes mountains surrounding the city. It's important to mention that the mountain is often shrouded in clouds, which means you may have limited visibility of the magnificent view. So, before you go, check if the summit is visible.
You can reach the top in various ways. If you're up for a challenging climb, you can hike up using the hiker's trail, which takes about an hour. You can start the trail to the top until 1:00 PM. If you want to walk down as well, you can do so until 4:00 PM.
If you prefer a more relaxed ascent, there's a cable car and a funicular. The cost is approximately $6 for a round trip and $4 for a one-way ticket. On Sundays, there's a discount, and you pay the price of a one-way ticket for a round trip. On Sundays, a one-way ticket costs only $2. Keep in mind that on Sundays, many Colombians visit the mountain, so it can get quite crowded.
Opening hours for the cable car
Monday to Saturday: 12:00 PM – 11:30 PM
Sunday: 10:00 AM – 4:30 PM
Opening hours for the mountain train
Monday to Saturday: 6:30 AM – 11:45 PM
Sunday: 5:30 AM – 5:30 PM
Taking a bike tour is in our opinion the best way to see and learn a lot about Bogota. Especially if you only have one or two days in the city, this is a great way to explore a lot in a short amount of time. We did this bike tour and can definitely recommend it.
During the bike tour, you make frequent stops, and the guide shares many interesting insights into the history of Bogota and Colombia. You'll get to learn about the tumultuous past, including drug violence and political assassinations. You'll also visit a local fruit market where you can taste various types of fruit. Furthermore, you'll cycle through a less affluent neighborhood where you'll visit a local coffee shop that roasts its own coffee. This is a great experience since it's a neighborhood you might not explore on your own.
Afterward, you'll cross a bridge over the major road that connects the airport to La Candelaria, and you'll see the stark contrast between the rich and poor in Bogota. Just moments ago, you were in a poorer neighborhood with lots of trash on the streets, and on the other side of the road, there's a wealthier area with green spaces and beautiful brick houses.
The tour ends with a game of tejo, the national sport of Colombia. The goal of the game is to throw a metal disc onto an explosive target. It's a fun activity but can be quite challenging. Colombians enjoy a few beers while playing, so it's certainly a lively and social experience.
Graffiti and street art are a unique aspect of Bogota. You can find creative murals all over the city, many of which carry a political message. There is an excellent free graffiti tour where you'll hear the stories behind the artworks and learn more about the history of Colombia. The free tour starts every day at 10:00 AM and 2:00 PM. You do need to sign up in advance through the website.
The Museo del Oro, which translates to the "Gold Museum," is one of the most important museums in Colombia. Located in the historic La Candelaria neighborhood, the museum provides insights into the rich history and culture of Colombia. It primarily focuses on the indigenous civilizations of the pre-colonial period, before the arrival of the Spaniards in Colombia.
As with many museums in Colombia, admission is free on Sundays, which means it can get very crowded with locals visiting the museum. On other days, the entrance fee is approximately $1, and it's definitely worth it for a quieter visit. The museum is closed on Mondays.
Tuesday to Saturday: 9:00 AM to 6:00 PM
Sunday: 10:00 AM to 4:00 PM
Feel like going out for a night in Bogota? In the Chapinero neighborhood, you'll find the nightclub Theatron. This is one of the largest nightclubs we've ever been to, with numerous rooms and levels. You can easily get lost and have a great night with various music genres like reggaeton, house, trance, salsa, pop, and rock.
Located in the heart of Bogota's gay scene, Theatron is known as the largest gay club in Latin America. However, it's not exclusive to the LGBTQ+ community, and everyone is welcome. You'll see a diverse mix of locals and tourists here. We went to Theatron on the first day we arrived in Bogota, and it was a truly unique experience. We recommend it if you love to party, although it may not be everyone's cup of tea. It can feel a bit overwhelming, and you'll see some extravagant things.
Theatron is open from Wednesday to Saturday, from 7:30 PM to 5:00 AM. The admission fee is a little over 10 dollars, and if you enter between 10:00 PM and 2:00 AM, you'll get a free drink. There is often a long line at Theatron, wrapping around the corner. Don't let this discourage you, as the line moves relatively quickly. It took us about 20 minutes to get inside.
How to get there?
From the La Candelaria neighborhood, it's about a 15 to 20-minute taxi or Uber ride to Theatron. If you plan to stay until 5:00 AM, it can be challenging to book an Uber as soon as you leave. Locals usually do this in advance. Our advice is to leave just before 5:00 and book an Uber while you're still inside the club. We couldn't book an Uber a little after five and had to walk to the main road to flag down a taxi. It didn't feel entirely safe in the middle of the night on our first day in Colombia.
To take a break from the bustling city, it's enjoyable to visit the Usaquén neighborhood in the north of Bogota. Usaquén was formerly an independent village until it was annexed by the developing city of Bogota in the 19th century. Nowadays, Usaquén is known for its well-preserved colonial architecture and cobbled streets, making it a charming district to explore.
The central point of Usaquén is the park, which is more like a square. It's always lively and bustling with street musicians or events being held. If you happen to be in Bogota on a Sunday, there is a lovely Sunday market in Usaquén.
How to get there? By taxi or Uber, it's approximately 20 to 30 minutes from La Candelaria to Usaquén. The travel time may vary depending on when you go, as the roads in Bogota are often congested during rush hours.
You can also travel to Usaquén using the TransMilenio (Bogota's bus network) in about half an hour.
The Torre Colpatria is one of the tallest buildings in Bogota. You can take the elevator to the 48th floor and enjoy the stunning view of the city. Unlike from Monserrate, you can see all directions of the city from here. Our tip is to go there just before sunset for the most beautiful view. From most places in La Candelaria, you can walk there in 15 to 20 minutes.
This is perhaps one of the most remarkable cathedrals you can visit. The cathedral is carved into the salt rocks of a former salt mine, making it the world's first underground cathedral.
How to get there?
The cathedral is located in Zipaquirá, about 50 km/30 mile north of the center of Bogota. From Portal Norte in Bogota, there are small vans that go to 'Zipa.' These vans take approximately an hour. You can easily reach Portal Norte via the TransMilenio.
This museum is, not very surprisingly, dedicated to Fernando Botero. The museum is located in the heart of the La Candelaria neighborhood and is always free to visit. Fernando Botero is perhaps the most famous artist from Colombia. Botero is known for his unique style of 'Boterismo,' in which he creates exaggeratedly plump figures and objects. His artworks are infused with humor and satire, making his work very recognizable and beloved. Everything you see in the Museo Botero has been donated to the museum by Fernando himself. His most famous work is in Medellín. There, you can find his sculptures of plump people and animals scattered throughout the city center.
Monday, Wednesday to Saturday: 9:00 AM to 7:00 PM
Tuesday: closed Sunday: 10:00 AM to 5:00 PM
Spending more time in Bogota and craving some green surroundings? The Botanical Garden of Bogota, known as 'Jardín Botánico de Bogotá' in Spanish, houses over 19,000 plant species, many of which are native to Colombia. There is a rose garden, an orchid garden, a medicinal plant garden, and you'll find greenhouses with exotic and tropical plants.
How to get there?
It's approximately a 15-20 minute journey from La Candelaria to the Botanical Garden of Bogota.
Bogota is not exactly known as a safe city. However, as a tourist, it is quite feasible to visit this city today. In recent years, Bogota has made significant strides in terms of safety, and you can stay comfortably in the tourist neighborhoods like La Candelaria and Zona Rosa. Nevertheless, it remains an extremely large city, so it's important to be extra cautious.
Avoid walking alone in the streets at night, and opt for using Uber. It's not advisable to flag down taxis on the street because it can be challenging to differentiate official taxis from unofficial ones. Refrain from wearing flashy jewelry and don't walk with your phone in your hand in public. If you need to check Google Maps for directions, step into a store or shop briefly.
In La Candelaria, you can explore and visit all the tourist attractions during the daytime without much trouble. However, in the evening, the area becomes much quieter. It's not a neighborhood with cozy cafes or nightclubs, and many streets can be deserted. Therefore, it's important not to walk alone in the area, even in streets that are busy and safe during the day. Don't take unnecessary risks and use a taxi or Uber to pick you up and drop you off whenever you need to go somewhere.
We did not feel unsafe in Bogota, and with a bit of vigilance, you can certainly enjoy all the beauty that the capital of Colombia has to offer.
The neighborhood where most tourists stay is La Candelaria. This can be considered the heart of Bogota, and it's also where most of the attractions are located. However, if you're looking for nightlife, La Candelaria may not be the best choice.
Nightlife in Bogota primarily takes place in the northern part of the city, where the more upscale neighborhoods are and where wealthier Colombians (and expats) reside. The most enjoyable neighborhood in the north of Bogota is Zona Rosa. Here, you can find luxurious hotels, restaurants, and numerous nightclubs. Other neighborhoods in the northern part of Bogota include Chapinero, the center of the gay scene in Bogota, and Usaquén, a former village with a charming historic center that has been absorbed by Bogota.
If you're staying in Bogota for just a few days, we recommend staying in La Candelaria. You can take a taxi to Zona Rosa or Chapinero for nightlife, which is more convenient than traveling from the northern neighborhoods to La Candelaria for all the tourist attractions.
Bogota has an extensive bus network, the Transmilenio. These buses operate on dedicated bus lanes, which is often referred to as BRT (Bus Rapid Transit). Bogota boasts the world's largest BRT network. You can reach all the tourist spots in the city using the Transmilenio, and you can easily purchase tickets at the stations.
If you're traveling at night or prefer more comfort, you can book an Uber anywhere throughout the city. Officially, Uber is no longer permitted in Colombia, but it is widely used. Colombians also use two other apps, Cabify and DiDi Rider, which often offer slightly lower prices.
At the airport, you may need to walk a bit farther to catch an Uber because Ubers are not allowed at the airport. Therefore, we recommend taking an official taxi to the city from the airport. Be sure to join the official taxi queue and not be convinced by unofficial taxi drivers who approach you. You can recognize the official taxi stand by the sign in the photo below.
For such a large city, Bogota is quite affordable. One of the most significant advantages is the ability to eat locally at a low cost. In Colombia, you'll find many small eateries called "fondas." For just a few dollars, you can try some of the tastiest local dishes. This allows you to eat inexpensively and get to know the culture.
Regarding accommodation, there are plenty of affordable and nice hostels and hotels in La Candelaria. If you prefer to stay in the northern part of the city, such as Zona Rosa or Chapinero, you'll generally pay a bit more for your accommodation.