I love my city! Bogotá is BIG…and diverse. You get all seasons in one day. It’s a city on a mountain surrounded by beautiful hills. People from the rest of the country call it “la nevera” translated into English as “the refrigerator” because it’s one of the cooler cities in the country. But don’t get too scared. Those who call it “la nevera” are the ones who live in the warmest parts of the country. Overall, Bogotá’s temperatures are between the 50s and 70s. That’s just the perfect weather IMO.
I don’t go to Bogotá for tourism, so this series was a little challenging for me. My husband and I have so much family and friends there that we could spend two months busy everyday we visit. Between his and my relatives we have over 150 people. We go from eating arepas at grandma’s to having hot chocolate with fresh bread at some aunt’s place.We try to squeeze everything we would do in a year with them in a few weeks. It’s crazy! which leads me to: what I’ll feature here it’s just SOME of what you can do in Bogotá. However I’ll add some tips that only someone local can tell you.
1. About Bogota:
Visit more than Bogotá
If I were to visit Colombia for the first time I wouldn’t just go to Bogotá. Colombia when you look at the map is small, so visiting more than one city is not only doable but totally necessary. A flight from Bogotá to Medellin is 30 min, to Cartagena 1 hour 25 min and the farther you could go is San Andres which is our little, magical Island in the Caribbean. It’s just a little over 2 hours. Even if you’re going to stay in Bogotá mostly, there’s so many things to do just by driving 1-2 hours away from the city.
You get a lot for your money
Money wise? You’ll get A LOT for your US dollars in Colombia. An average taxi ride is US $6. You’ll be able to get the best food for just a few dollars. Average plate of food US $8 (good food) and an average FANCY plate of food if you go to the most expensive restaurants US $20.
Bogotá or anywhere in Colombia is not a place to wear your most expensive jewelry or designer bags. Simple and minimal jewelry and nothing that you can tell is from any luxury designer. There’s a lot of pickpocketing. Don’t get scared though, but if you’re walking around the city, especially the historic district be cautious. Some ways to keep hands off your bags and pockets are:
- Avoid wallets inside back pockets.
- Don’t walk around with you smart phone in hand or in an easy to get pocket.
- If you’re a backpack lover don’t wear it as a back pack, at least not when you’re walking around the city. I usually wear a crossbody bag, or tote (with zipper if possible) I have the habit of wearing my bags in a way the zipper is on the front where I can see it. Sometimes that means I wear it backwards.
- Transportation: Do not take taxis on the street. I feel sad about the honest cab drivers whose businesses may be affected but I’ve heard too many bad stories (including my brother-in-law’s) Your best bet is requesting a taxi through an app like TAPPSI (no need for credit card info as you pay in cash) It’s just a safe way to get a taxi.
- You can also Uber. I feel the safest in Uber and haven’t had any issue with them. Though be aware that Uber or other international cab service is not regulated in Colombia. Not in the way that it’s unsafe but in the way that the driver may ask of one of your party to seat in the copilot seat to avoid issues with yellow taxi drivers or transit police. However, in my opinion it’s a good and safe service. We have relatives who get some side money driving Uber.
- I don’t really take public transportation. I think you must know your way around and be cautious. As someone who hasn’t lived there in 8 years I feel like I forgot. Besides taxis are cheap when you think in dollars.
I don’t mean to scare you. These are just safety precautions that will make your trip more peaceful.
I don’t have any experience with AIRBNB so I can’t really recommend. But I will tell you the best areas to stay and please avoid the historic district. Yes it’s beautiful and a lot of the things you’ll want to do in Bogotá are there, however it’s not the safest place to stay, especially with family.
- Usaquen: This is a little town in the north of the city. You get a lot of the historic district vibe but in a safer area with lots of good restaurants.
- Chico: It’s probably one of the safest neighborhoods in Bogotá. You get a lot of good restaurants and nice parks. Parque el Virrey and Parque 93. If I had to choose I would stay in this area.
- Zona Rosa: It’s the neighbor area to Chico. There’s good shopping centers like “Centro Andino”, “El Retiro” and “Atlantis”. There’s also a lot of restaurants, bars and nightclubs.
- Salitre: You get a nice area that’s central to most places in the city. It’s close to the airport and is not more than 20 minutes away from the district center. I lived there and my parents still do. That’s where I stay when I go. The area is mostly residential with one side that has turned very corporate and has hotels like the Sheraton, Marriott and Radisson. There’s at least 4 shopping centers close by.
3. Must Do
These are things to do right at the historic center of Bogotá, La Candelaria. It’s the heart of the city with most of the touristic attractions, especially museums. Streets full of the typical Spanish architecture. Old and colorful streets, churches and cathedrals. I’ve never been to Spain but I know there will be a lot of similarities.
Bogotá has amazing museums and I wish I could have gone to more. But if you can only go to one museum, don’t miss Museo del Oro (Gold Museum) Thousands of gold pieces will submerge you in the Colombia before the Spanish Conquest. It’s the largest collection of gold in the world. It’s magical.
I took my 4-year-old to teach him a little bit about our country through gold pieces. He enjoyed it a lot and keeps talking about how the indigenous people would wear giant gold nose rings and penis sheaths. He also calls them “artists”, which they are, for everything they created in gold and the few sculptures we saw during our visit.
Don’t miss: The “Offering” room on the third floor. It’s right behind a wall so don’t miss it. But don’t worry someone will stop you before you leave and let you know the most special part of the museum is right there. You’ll go inside a dark room where music, light and hundreds of gold pieces will make you live the experience of a shamanic religious ceremony that the indigenous people would do by the Guatavita Lake. It was amazing!! By the way, if you have time follow-up this topic by going to Laguna de Guatavita. It’s all about the “El Dorado Legend” It’s not too far from Bogotá and you can choose between a half day or full day tour.
To know: Museum is closed on Mondays. The entrance is free for children under 12 and adults over 60. Entrance fee: $4.000 COP which is around $2 US. Sundays are free. The museum is totally bilingual, so the exhibition texts are in both English and Spanish. You can also purchase the audio guide which is not more than $3 US. Although there’s an even better option: Guided tour in English from 11:00 a.m to 4:00 P.M It’s just more fun having someone who knows all about a topic telling you all the stories behind everything.
Cerro Monserrate (Monserrate hill)
Cerro means hill or mountain. Monserrate is a mountain you can see from pretty much everywhere in Bogotá and from which you can see the most gorgeous view of the city. Monserrate is also home to one of the most famous churches and pilgrimage places in Bogotá. The church is right on top.
It’s not far from La candelaria, I went straight from the museum and it was a 5-minute-drive. You could walk if you’re enjoying all the historic district. It’s also across from Quinta de Bolivar, which is a museum in a house Simon Bolivar lived after the Independence war. You should go there too! Now to actually get UP there, there’s three ways:
- Stairs: Some people do it as penance in a religious way while others do it as a workout. It’s a very large staircase made of rocks. Some areas are flatter and have wide steps but others are very steep, so definitely be ready for a full lower body workout. Sunday mornings are definitely busy so try to avoid it if you’re not going to mass. Stairway is CLOSED on Tuesdays for cleaning and maintenance.
- Funicular: That’s the way we went up. It’s only $7 US roundtrip. Recommended for families with little ones as you get better space. We had our own little wagon. It’s a 5 min ride with spectacular views. It’s organized, clean and very enjoyable. Did you see my baby’s face in the pictures above? oh and that was my mom with him.
- Telesferico (cable car) It was closed the day we went, but it’s a car with capacity for 40 people.
– If you’re Christian you’ll enjoy the path (Via crucis) that leads to the church that’s right on top. My son really enjoyed this. I’m not Christian Catholic, however I’m a believer and try to teach my kids about Jesus. The path was beautiful and he stopped at every sculpture to ask what it was about.
– If possible try going at a time close to sunset. The city lights up and the view is just breathtaking.
– It can get cold when you’re over 3,000 meters above sea level, so it’s the perfect time to try some “aguapanela” , Colombia’s signature beverage made with panela (hardened sugar cane) believe me it’s the only time I don’t care about sugar haha. However there’s something better! If you’re up for a little bit of liquor don’t miss a delicious “Canelazo” it’s a hot beverage with aguapanela, cinnamon and aguardiente: Colombia’s liquor which translates to “fire water”. You can find that at Cafe Santa Clara. They also have some Colombian dishes if you’re hungry
If you know art you probably know about Botero. Colombian artist famous for painting and sculpting people and animals in exaggerated proportions. I feel so proud when I visit Columbus Circle here in NY and see a big Botero sculpture.
Grafitti is a big part of my city. They start when you’re on your way to the historic district all the way through El Dorado Avenue. The drive is very enjoyable because of it and then the rest are in La Candelaria. I’m killing myself for not going and taking pics there.
4. Eat: Bogotá is an irresistible dining destination
Bogotá was recently featured in Vogue as an irresistible dining destination, which IT.IS. I get there and I want to eat EVERYTHING. One of the main reasons it’s the variety of fresh fruits and ingredients you can get there, which leads to delicious exotic dishes. I won’t repeat that list and honestly I wish I had seen it before I came back because I would have tried the ones I don’t know. However I’ll give you more choices.
Wait….I should mention this first: if you go to Bogotá and don’t eat “Ajiaco” it’d be like you never went.
But first…Colombian coffee: Juan Valdez Cafe
When in Colombia you’re going to find yourself with lots of good coffee and different vendors competing to offer you the best, even Starbucks. But please skip the Starbucks, instead head to Juan Valdez which you’ll find everywhere. I love Juan Valdez because first I support Colombian, second it was formed by the National Federation of Colombian Coffee Growers. All in order to improve the earnings of small coffee farmers in the country. 18.000 farmers are direct shareholders. And third because it’s so freaking delicious.
As mentioned before you’ll see them all around the city. However one of the best location to visit is Juan Valdez Origenes, located in one of the best areas to eat in the city: Zona G. It’s the first experiential store they opened and it’s all about experiencing the coffee from all the coffee regions of the country. They one I’m at it’s just a small bar that is close to where my parents live.
One of the oldest restaurants in the city, but one of the most important gastronomic places. It goes back to the 1800s and is all about history and tradition. It’s located in La Candelaria which by now you know is the heart of Bogota.
You’ll find the best tamales of the city, as a matter of fact that’s what they are most famous for. However the deliciousness doesn’t stop there. Don’t miss a delicious Colombian style chocolate and dare to try it with melted cheese at the bottom. If you follow me on Instagram (@theunbosom) you may know I make it every Sunday for my family. In Bogota we usually have chocolate for breakfast but also for “onces” which would be like an afternoon snack.
Other things not to miss are the Ajiaco, most important dish in Bogota and all the traditional desserts. In conclusion don’t leave La Puerta Falsa without trying every. single. thing.
Usaquen: Bogotá’s little town in the city with great food
Ok Usaquen is not a restaurant per se, it’s a neighborhood but it’s one we mention often when we want good food in a beautiful area.
Located in the north of the city is also an area similar to La Candelaria however much, much safer. There’s a gorgeous unconventional mall, Hacienda Santa Barbara, and also street market every Sunday. You can spend a day in the area eating and shopping. There’s a lot of restaurants and cuisines to choose from. We went to an amazing Peruvian called “La Mar Cevicheria” for our anniversary and loved every bit of it. By the way it was family friendly too. Then I went for a GNO with my sisters and cousins and it was all about artisan burgers and sodas. Natural Tamarindo Soda? So. freaking. good. It’s name is “El Taller”.
There’s also a restaurant called “Casa Vieja” for some Colombian traditional food and a Bogotá Beer Company where you can get yes! a beer and some empanadas.
Paloquemao: Better than any farmer’s market
First watch this video. I’ll be here.
You see what I’m talking about? Variety of fruits and veggies and delicious local food. My parents shop here all the time. It’s also the place where most restaurants get their ingredients. The area is not the best so don’t bring anything fancy. Just go ready to fill your tummy and speak to hard working Colombians.
Andres Carne de Res
A picturesque, fun and like no other restaurant. You’ll find a LOT of traditional Colombian food and if you ask me, the best thing to do is ordering all the appetizers you can and small soups. Don’t miss: arepa de choclo, patacones, chicharron, empanadas. There’s also Argentinian steaks or some Peruvian dishes.
Ok, so this is one of the best party spots in the city, however anytime before 10 pm is totally family friendly. Did you see the “Zona de Niños” sign? They have all kinds of stuff for kids. We spent there about 5 hours eating and letting the kids play. You’ll also get the most gorgeous and cheapest “face painting”
Must know: The flagship is about an hour drive outside of Bogotá in a suburb town called, Chia. The restaurant will be one of the biggest you’ve ever been to. However if for some reason you can’t go, you can go to Andres DC. which is right in the city in Zona Rosa. That’s the one we went with our cousins just for convenience because we both have infants and the drive back home would have been really late.
My two favorite chain restaurants
Yes, they are chain restaurants and you’ll find them spread through all the city and country, BUT they are amazing and I must go every time I go back. And to be honest chain restaurants in Colombia tend to be of better quality and fancier than what I’ve found here. Even Mc Donald’s franchises are fancier in Colombia.
Best burger patties. They are one of the things I eat right when I get there and one of the last things I eat right at the airport before flying back. The meat is of the best quality and since they are grilled the flavor is like no other chain burger restaurant. If you want it more upscale head to El Corral Gourmet. All the gourmet burgers you’ve ever think of.
You can get them at any food court at a mall, but I always prefer to go to their own restaurants which are in malls, or on the best food areas of the city.
Crepes & Waffles
Do you know how many times I’ve said: how I wish I could find something similar in the US? So. many. times. Crepes, waffles, bread bowls dishes. Savory and sweet. All under one roof. Families love it and is one of the preferred spot for lunch on a daily basis. That’s my family in the pic above. My mom (woman smiling on the left) two of my sisters, brother in law and nieces.
They use the freshest ingredients and have the best quality for very low price compared to others.They are very social responsible and have been for a long time. They mostly hire women, single, and give them the best medical insurance and education.
Everything is delicious and the place per se is enjoyable. There’s not a visit I don’t go there and you bet I go more than once, or twice, or more. My family goes at least once a week. I’ve never tried a plate I don’t like. Extremely family friendly and the deserts and ice creams are to die for. And yet I didn’t get a picture there, I can’t believe it. I actually texted my dad and asked: are you at Crepes? Can you take a pic and send it to me? He was there! and asked me to remember he is not a photographer and that those pics were the best he could do.
Brunch anyone? Al agua patos. A very pleasing surprise
Right in the Chico neighborhood you’ll see that young Colombian chefs are doing great and unexpected things. “Al agua patos” it’s one of them. I went there to have brunch with my high-school girl friends and we were there for 3 hours or more. Delicious food, great ambiance and friendly service. Very family friendly with an area for the kids to play. Saw a lot of moms!
The main focus is “french toast” but I bet you haven’t tried one like this. All kinds of toppings, savory and sweet, on the bread and size of your choice. If you want to avoid the bread there’s a quinoa option.
I had the “pato campesino” and I devoured it! Some of my favorite Colombian flavors on one toast, my friend had the “pato carbonara” which she loved too, and at the end we shared a sweet one for dessert.
You are very likely to find good food everywhere. Even on the streets. What I featured where the places I’ve known for a long time or the newer ones I was able to go to during my visit. There’s so much more so just eat!
I hope I didn’t overwhelm you, but it’s really hard to narrow down a city that was my home for 21 years of my life. Besides I feel extreme pressure to present my city and country in the best way. We hope you like it!!!
I just uploaded a bunch of stories to my Instagram (@theunbosom) with our trip to Monserrate. It was so fun! So come and get a bigger picture of what I mentioned here. Thank you for reading! Stay tuned for my Colombia packing list and an easy day trip you can do while in Bogotá soon!