Colombia’s capital is located 2,600 meters above sea level and has around 9 million inhabitants. This vibrant city was my very first encounter with South America and it was a really positive experience. Admittedly, tourism focuses mainly on the old neighborhood, La Candeleria, so you only get to see a small part of the city. The mountains and a few tall buildings make it easy to orientate yourself in the city and find your way back. Here are my tips for an unforgettable time in Bogotá!
The best and most fun way to explore Bogotá is to go on a graffiti tour. It’s a really cool tour that takes you past the masterpieces of many national and international street artists. Bogotá is completely decorated with street art. The tour is run by one of the artists themselves or anthropology students. You can join this tour every day at 10:00 and 14:00 o’clock and make a donation at the end. But the donation tour by Beyond Colombia is also more than worth it. This tour also takes place twice a day at 10:00 and 14:00 o’clock. The Beyond Colombia tour focuses on the history of Colombia and Colombian culture. The country’s rich history is referenced in many areas: the battle over natural gold and emerald resources, the birth of the guerilla movement: FARC, Pablo Escobar and a lot of other very interesting political and cultural history. But you’ll also get great tips on places to eat and typical Colombian dishes. A combination of both donation tours is the perfect way to get a good impression of the city!
Eat your way through the city
Bogotá is full of really nice, cozy restaurants, street food stalls and bars. You can find delicious local and international cuisine on every street corner. At bargain prices! Aijaco soup is a typical dish from Bogotá. It’s a chicken and potato soup you can find in other parts of Colombia too, but (apparently) no place makes it better than they do in Bogotá. For Ajiaco and other typical Colombian dishes, restaurant La Puerta is a must. Obleas are the perfect dessert or snack. You’ll see street stalls selling these delicious waffle ‘sandwiches’ everywhere. You can choose all sorts of flavors and sprinkles to cover the waffle with. If you’re going for the Colombian flavor combination of choice then caramel with blueberries is the way to go.
If you’re eating your way through the city, don’t forget the matching drinks. Coffee lovers eat your heart out! Colombia is one of the largest coffee producers in the world so you can have your fill. Arte Y Pasion is the perfect spot to grab a cup of coffee just the way you like it. If, like me, coffee isn’t your thing, that’s not a problem. Chocolate con queso is another typical beverage that you should try. Columbian cheeses are a lot milder than our Dutch cheeses. This means it isn’t even all that bad in combination with chocolate. You’re meant to break the piece of cheese into small chunks and drop them into the hot chocolate. You then leave this to soften, scoop the cheese out with a spoon and drink the chocolate milk.
Of course Colombia has its own traditional alcoholic beverage: Chicha! There’s even a street in Bogotá, Calle jon del Embudo, that completely revolves around this drink. Chicha is a maize drink that’s fermented by adding a combination of water and sugar. The alcohol percentage varies depending on the duration of fermentation. Indigenous people used to produce the Chicha beverage. In the late forties Colombia wanted to rid itself of its indigenous heritage. There were all kinds of political reasons for this. Anyway, chicha, a beverage with indigenous roots, was therefore prohibited in Colombia for four years. You can now mainly find it in and around Calle jon del Embudo. Thursdays to Saturdays it’s mostly students who come together and form a long line in front of the stand belonging to the man in the picture below. He has the strongest chicha you can find in the city: fermented for two months. Cheers!
Socializing in one of the many cafes and bars
Bogotá’s nightlife is exciting. The city is brimming with bars and cafes. Especially on weekends, they’re filled with locals, expats and tourists. The guidebooks, as well as my hostel, didn’t recommend walking the streets (alone) after 22:00 o’clock in the evening. This doesn’t mean you can’t get a taste of the nightlife vibe. Nice bars such as Cafe del Hula (Magola Buendia) are perfect for grabbing a few beers late in the afternoon after a day of sightseeing. My favorite lunch café, which is also the perfect place to socialize, is De Una Travel Bar. It has super friendly staff, swinging Colombian music, a good Internet connection, cheap and tasty food and nice cold drinks. So does this mean you can’t have a late night? Not at all, just take a taxi to your favorite nightclub or lounge bar in the evening. Bogotá has plenty of these too!
Gold and emeralds
Because of the minerals in the soil, Colombia is the country with the largest production of emeralds. This beautiful natural product has caused the country a lot of suffering. Bogotá has an emerald district where you can buy emeralds illegally on the square. You don’t know what you’re buying, because you don’t get a certificate. So it’s not a good idea. If you want to buy emeralds, then the emerald trade center is the place to be. In addition, Colombia has many goldmines with a history of their own that has shaped the country. Bogotá is home to the most visited museum in Colombia: the museo del oro del Banco de la Republica (gold museum). Entry to the museum is 4,000 COP (less than €1,50) and entry is free on Sundays. The museum gives you an impression of the gold mining history and exhibits all kinds of gold objects and statues.
The best view of Bogotá: de Monserat
It’s not until you take the cable car or the small train to an altitude of 3,200 meters that you realize how large Bogotá actually is. Bogotá is situated at the foot of the Monserat and you get a spectacular view of the city from the top.
Follow the road from the square in the historical center towards the Monserat and you’ll automatically come across the building where you can buy your tickets. The walk takes approximately 20 minutes. A round-trip ticket for the cable car costs 11,000 COP. You’ll get a better view going up/down in the cable car than when you take the train. The wait for the cable car is therefore often longer. Once you reach the top, the views are spectacular and you’ll also find the church that has a regular Sunday service that you can join. There are many food stands and souvenir shops behind the church and if you walk in the opposite direction you can take a nice walk in the park. Do take the altitude into account, because you’ll certainly notice the 3,200 meters! So take it easy or drink a cup of the famous coca tea to help combat altitude sickness.
Spending the night in Bogotá: tips for accommodation
Are you going to Colombia and looking for tips on spending the night in Bogotá? Of course, your choice of accommodation depends on your budget and preferences, but we can recommend these two accommodations based on our own experience:
Annemarie stayed in a beautiful, relatively new guesthouse in the old center of Bogotá: Arche Noah Guesthouse. You’ll find gorgeous private rooms here, as well as a very nice dorm with 5 single beds and a private balcony. The colonial house has been beautifully renovated and has a few lovely patios, a large kitchen, television room and even a sauna! And even the location is perfect. A definite must! Because Arche Noah was fully booked I spent the night in Hostal Yepeto. A more basic hostel, but it’s very clean and the staff is super friendly. You can also book private rooms here and the location is great at a really low price!