I remember the first time I visited Bogotá. This was a city I always heard of and even knew a couple of Colombian traditions, but I still did not know what to expect from it. I knew it was a big city, with almost eight million inhabitants and crowded traffic, way different from the city I was born in. I soon discovered that Bogotá was so much more than what I expected, in every positive way.
If you haven’t been to Colombia, you need to make sure to stop in Bogotá. This is the capital and the largest city of Colombia, known because of the beautiful green hills that surround it, and its cultural inheritance. Bogotá is a place where the tall modern buildings coexist with authentic colonial landscapes. It is truly a fusion of the modern and historic, and also a melting pot, where you find people from all over the country, and even from other countries (like me!). The Colombian capital is in one of the six regions of the country, known as the Andean Region, which is in the center of Colombia.
If I haven’t convinced you yet to visit Bogotá, let’s go straight to the beef of my chitchat, and let’s talk about five things that you NEED to DO in Bogotá.
The 5 best things to do in Bogota, Colombia
I told you already that Bogota is a place with the old and the new coexist, and downtown is truly living proof of this statement. Downtown Bogotá is one of the places you sure cannot miss since it is where you can get a glimpse of what Colombia has to offer and learn more about their beautiful culture and interesting history.
A piece of advice on your itinerary: when planning a trip to downtown Bogotá, make sure you book a whole day to spend here. You might even need two days, depending on your pace and how many activities you want to do. Also, there are different ways to start your visit downtown, it mostly depends on what activity you want to start first. You will also have to consider the museum and guided tour schedules (I will tell you more about it later).
Go to Monserrate Hill
Wherever you are in Bogotá, and especially once you get to downtown, Monserrate Hill is the mountain that stands high, guarding the city of Bogotá. It is a mountain that has become a symbol of the city, where national and international visitors go to overwatch the whole city. On top of the hill, we find the Sanctuary of Monserrate, a place that is very spiritual andfull of legends. Up there you also find a market where you can buy some souvenirs or try some traditional treats and dishes.
You can hike up to where the sanctuary is, and go back down in the cable car, or go up and down both times in the cable car. Either option is a great one!
One of the must-do things to do in Monserrate, besides looking up all the city and take incredible pictures, is to eat lunch or breakfast in one of the restaurants that oversee the city and offer Colombian food. You can choose to go to Santa Clara restaurant or San Isidro restaurant. Both are excellent choices for a breathtaking meal.
Once you get down from the cable car, you should start walking through the beautiful old streets of La Candelaria neighborhood, where you could appreciate the contrast between Bogotá’s colonial past and modern present. Walking through these beautiful streets, you should get to the Chorro de Quevedo, where it all began. It is believed that Bogotá was founded in the Chorro de Quevedo Plaza on August 6th, 1538. It is an open square space, where there is a small chapel and you can enjoy watching different street performers.
Other places you must see downtown are Bolivar Square, where you can find the Cathedral of Colombia, built in 1539, and some houses of the Colombian government. The Casa de Nariño, house of the president, can also be found a couple of streets away from the Plaza de Bolivar. Right next to the Cathedral, somehow hidden and small, you can find La Puerta Falsa, a must-go little restaurant that is said to be at least 100 years old. There you can have delicious “onces,” something like a small meal in between breakfast and lunch, or lunch and dinner.
If you don’t have much time and want to visit at least one museum, you must visit The Gold Museum, an incredible place filled with pre-hispanic goldwork and history.
Take a Guided Tour
One of my favorites things to do anytime I go to a new place is to take a guided tour, and Bogotá was no exception. The city of Bogotá has many options for guided tours, and some of them are free!
My favorite tour is the Graffiti tour, from a company called Beyond Colombia. The Graffiti Tour is a walking tour, that goes around downtown, telling you some political and historical background of Colombia, combined with street art. According to their site: “We will talk about the history, techniques, sources of inspiration, and legislation surrounding local graffiti/street art, a good excuse to keep learning about Colombia and about one of the most visible – but yet shrouded – sides of this beautiful city.”
The same company also offers historic tours, and the Tourism Department of Bogota offers free historic walking tours around downtown, where history is related by experts.
Government Tours – http://www.bogotaturismo.gov.co/recorridos-tur-sticos-pit
Beyond Colombia – http://www.beyondcolombia.com/bogota?locale=en
Go to Guatavita Lake
Visiting Guatavita’s lake is a recommended day trip for all those who decide to visit Bogotá and learn more about its history. Guatavita is filled with pre-hispanic heritage, and it is known as the sacred Guatavita Lake, the site of the legend of El Dorado. This is the legend that attracted the Spanish conquistadors to the now Colombian land in the sixteenth century. It is said that this lake was used by the local indigenous people as a ceremonial site, where they worshipped Chie, the goddess of water, and did ceremonies where gold was thrown into the lake. I strongly recommend you visit The Gold Museum and then come to Guatavita Lake for another tour. Also, don’t forget to bring your camera! This a perfect place for outstanding pictures.
Usaquén was originally an old municipality away from Bogota, but when the city started growing, Usaquén became part of the city but staying true to its origins. Now, Usaquén is a nice neighborhood, with a stone main square, an old church, and its own mayor. Some describe it as a bohemian area, rich in gastronomy, boutiques, pubs, and even a mall. It is perfect for a quiet night out, or to spend a peaceful afternoon with your family. On Sundays, you can visit their famous flea market, and find some second-hand clothing, handmade jewelry, literature, food, toys, and all kinds of crafts.
You can also enjoy any kind of food you want, since Usaquen is home to all different types of restaurants, from French to Indian, Arab, or even typical Colombian.
Visit the Cathedral of Salt in Zipaquira
The Cathedral of Salt in the nearby town of Zipaquira is a must for any visitor that comes to Bogotá. This is an underground Roman Catholic church made into the tunnels of a salt mine, 600 feet underground, inside a mountain near the city of Zipaquira. This cathedral is considered an architectural wonder, with three naves representing the birth, life, and death of Christ.
I consider the Cathedral of Salt a great place, different from what you probably have seen, and definitely a must-see nearby Bogotá.
Official site of the Cathedral of Salt – https://www.catedraldesal.gov.co/Paginas/default.aspx
These are just some of the top things you have to do in Bogotá, so if you are planning on coming, I suggest you spend a couple of more days to truly enjoy all the attractions! Or, just like me, you might want to stay a little longer…
Until next time!