From the old preserved and protected neighbourhood of La Candalaria to the thriving flash and fashion-driven district of Chapinero, the centre of Bogotá gives its visitor a unique experience of contrasts in what is often referred to as South America’s Athens.
The name comes from the high number of universities in the city and the level of education of the Bogotanos or Rolos, as the people of Bogotá are known. Colombians are rightfully also very proud of the city’s layout with large public parks available and easily accessible to all its citizens while the city’s cultural attractions can match most, if not any other city on the continent. Huge events such as the yearly Jazz Festival, a yearly Salsa Festival and the bi-yearly Ibero-American Theatre Festival, the largest of its kind in the world, put Bogotá on the cultural world stage on a regular basis. These events take place in the parks and plazas of the city, and in the case of the the Ibero-American Festival, the arrangements are brought into the streets and create a full 17 days of colourful parades and shows throughout the city. It may not be the wild party of Rio Carnival, but certainly a very impressive collection of performing arts from 5 different continents with daily evening concerts of salsa, cumbia and more led by very charismatic, musical and talented locals.
Bogotá is said to be the inventor of the cyclovia – that is the idea of closing major roads throughout a city on a regular basis to open them up to bicycles, pedestrians, roller-bladers etc without cars driving alongside them. Whether the Bogotanos really did come up with the idea is hard to prove, but they were certainly the first to implement the concept that has been running since the 1970s every Sunday. Rent a bike anywhere along the route and cruise through the city’s more than 120 km of car-free roads between 7am and 2pm on any Sunday or public holiday throughout the year, a great way to see this huge 8 million people city.
Although there are some great bike city tours around the Candalaria area, should you be visiting the city during the week, you may not wish to hit the traffic filled street on a bike once you have seen how the average Latino taxi driver can often treat the streets like a race-course diving through the narrow residential streets to avoid the peak-hour trancones (traffic jams). This is your chance to try the TransMilenio, a public bus system with its own lanes throughout the city to avoid getting stuck in more jams, allowing you to get around the city very effectively, and without causing much pollution. The TransMilenio is currently being converted to all electric buses and thousands have already been put into circulation. The next stage of the project is the government’s plan to replace the city’s taxis with all electric cars. Bogotá is already leading the way in South America when it comes to minimal pollution for public transport, with more electric taxis and buses than any other city, but the commitment to a greener city continues to grow.
Like any metropolis of its size and versatility, Bogotá has plenty of museums, art galleries and cultural centres dedicated to the country’s rich history and heritage, artists, authors and architecture. Of the 50 plus museums the city hosts, the most impressive of all is without a doubt the Gold Museum, a true must-visit on any visitor’s list. The museum holds more than 30,000 pieces of gold and more than 20,000 pieces of other precious stones, decoratives, jewellery, masks etc.In the year 2000, most renowned Colombian artist and sculptor, Fernando Botero, made a donation of over 200 works to the Bank of the Republic who in return opened the Botero Museum in a beautiful colonial building in the old Candalaria district. The collection consists of more than 120 works by Botero, but also many pieces by international artists including Pablo Picasso and Claude Monet. Entrance to the museum is free and definitely worth the visit.
The city is the home of many churches, plazas and parks. You cannot miss a few sites in the old town, one of which is Plaza Bolivar, home to the Congress of Colombia, the Lievano Palace (now the city hall), the Palace of Justice and Supreme court, and not least, the Cathedral of Bogota – one of the largest of South America.
The Presidential Palace (Casa de Nariño) and the National Museum of Bogota are other spots to visit in the area and if it’s around lunch time, find yourself a little place on Calle 11 just off the Plaza Bolivar which serves Ajiaco, a real traditional Colombian favourite. It is basically a very filling soup consisting of chicken, potatoes and sweetcorn on the cob with a side of arepa, rice, avocado and fresh cream to pour over as you eat. It’s absolutely delicious!
La Candalaria, even Bogotá in general, is also well known and appreciated for its street art and graffiti tours are available for those with a deeper interest in the artists, subjects, themes and history of the art style.
Cerro de Monserrate is Bogotá’s iconic mountain towering above the city skyline and getting yourself to the top will give a fantastic view of the capital, well worth the effort of the trip. For many decades the sculpture of the “fallen Christ” in the church at the summit has been a destination for pilgrims and in the 1950s a cable car system was erected which is now one of two ways to get to the top, the other being by funicular rail tracks.
If shopping is your thing, Bogotá has it all from giant malls to markets and outlets. However, make sure you don’t max out your credit card before you have a cold beer from Bogotá Beer Company, one of the largest independent breweries in South America. You can find their own brew pubs in various locations throughout the city.
If you have the budget, a dinner at Andres Carne de Res is not to be missed. Not only the food is spectacular (steak themed), but the giant restaurant of multiple floors turns into a bar and then into a club for various degrees of wild partying as the night continues. I am yet to meet a tourist who was not blown away. Young or old, the place is simply astounding!
Bogotá has a population similar to that of greater London or New York City and to recommend one single area to go out is like saying Little Italy is the only place worth your time in Manhatten. However, as a general rule, if you want to keep it local and mingle with artists, hipsters and students, try the night-life of La Candalaria. If you want something a little more up scale, some sophistication and a price tag that might follow, head to Parque 93 where you will find a range of bars with live music, good cocktails and even a spot of salsa. If clubbing and late nights (early mornings) is more up your street, try the trendy area of Zona T/Zona Rosa.
If you want to explore Bogotá check out our great tours through Colombia!