Bogota has a bad rap within the backpacker circle. But for us? We loved our time in Colombia’s capital city.
Before arriving in Bogota our heads were filled with bad impressions of Bogota. Some cited it as unsafe, others said it was dull. Luckily for us we kept an open mind and thoroughly ended up loving our time in this street art capital of the world. Bogota is a little gritty in some places but there is a great student vibe to the city and freedom of speech expressed in ways not seen elsewhere in the world. Bogota really pulled our time in Colombia together and helped us made sense of the history we had learnt and things we had seen. Our time in Colombia would have been incomplete without Bogota!
However you arrive in Bogota, the amazing quantity and quality of street art will astound you. Bright murals and low key messages cover almost every inch of wall space. Street art (or graffiti depending on your opinion) is not a crime in Bogota and gives many people a voice that would otherwise be muted. In our opinion, the Bogota Graffiti Tour is the best place to get your bearings on Bogota. Even in the rain, Bogota Graffiti Tour was the second best street tour we took in our 6 month trip. The tour is guided by the artists themselves. If there’s one thing we recommend doing in Bogota this is it!
Climbing Cerro Monserrate on a clear day should also be high on of your list. Cerro Monserrate is an easy 20 minute walk from the La Candelaria suburb and is visible from almost anywhere in the city. The 1 hour, 20 minute walk climbs 508 metres, bringing you to 3152 metres above sea level. You’re very unlikely to get any lasting altitude sickness but your walk up the hill might be slower than your normal pace. If you’re not up for the walk, a cable car can bring you to the top (COP8,500 per person, one way). The amazing views from the top span across the whole basin city. A beautiful cobbled area with a church, gardens and an “eating alley” sits high above the city. We visited Cerro Monserrate in the weekend which is apparently the safest time to do so. In the weekend it has a great vibe with many families out enjoying their day. The walk is guarded by police from 7am everyday.
On the way back from Cerro Monserrate we stumbled upon an amazing restaurant – Sant Just (Calle 16A | Unit 2-73, Bogota, Colombia). Food here was well above our usual lunch budget but unforgettable! The meals are French-Colombian inspired with waiters speaking at least 2 languages. Including a tip, we paid COP 70,000 (between 2) for a delicious, well presented lunch of fresh juices, antipasto platter, a lamb main and a duck main. This cute little restaurant is small and fills up quick for a good reason!
Plaza de Bolivar is another highlight best experienced during the weekend. Cathedral Primada stands in the forefront of a large square filled with ballon salesman, street foot carts and llamas dressed up to ridiculous standards ready for photo opportunities – at a price, of course! You’re likely to run into men with a trolley selling Salpicon – a red juice made from watermelon, topped with chunks of fresh fruit. We wish we’d tried it sooner!
The streets around Plaza de Bolivar also offer some great sights to check out. The Presidential Palace (Casa de Nariño) runs off to one side. These heavily guarded buildings are impressive. Tours run to schedules as outlined here. It is best to see the palace in the afternoon to also tie in seeing the changing of the guard and lowering of the flag.
Museo de Oro (Gold Museum, ) lives up to its name, stocking an overwhelming amount of gold. It is a well presented and informative museum with displays in English explaining the cultural and historical significance of gold in Colombia. We couldn’t help thinking that there needed to be a little something else to take this museum to the next level. If you’ve got a bit of spare time, Iglesia de San Francisco is just beside the Gold Museum. These streets are closed to cars on Sunday with the odd street performer taking their place on a fine day. Museo de Oro is free on Sundays but be sure to get there right on opening as the place gets busy quickly!
Worried above safety? Sure the outer suburbs of Bogota are a little sketchy. We found sticking to La Candelaria suburb safe and enjoyable. In saying that, we did take public transport all around Bogota and found it fine to use however make sure you know where you’re going and stick to the more touristy areas. The city, like any other, becomes more unsafe at night. Take taxis ordered by your accommodation, leave your passport in your room and use your common sense – if it doesn’t look safe, just give it a miss.
La Candelaria really is the best suburb to base yourself. Its quaint, safe and within walking distance to all of the major attractions above.
Lima Limon (COP26,000 6 bed dorm, Carrera 1 no 12B-15, Bogota): This hostel is quirky in a good way. The 6 bed dorm was crowded but the vibe of the place somehow made up for that. Basic breakfast included, good computers to use. Nice chill out space, friendly staff and good kitchen.
Viva Colombia provides cheap flights that are similar, if not better, than the cost of buses. But you need to book in advance. At Bogota Airport there is a certified taxi stand which charges around COP27,000 to La Candelaria. Given our late flights, we could not use public transport, however it is possible. The airport website has good information on taking the bus to El Dorado International Airport. If there is two or more of you it is just as cheap to take a taxi.
Getting away to Leticia:
Again, we flew out of Bogota using LAN airlines to Leticia. See above for getting to and from the airport.
• Supermarket – The closest and reasonably stocked supermarket is Exito (Cra. 7 #11-30, Bogotá). This is down by Plaza Bolivar.
• Catching buses: We found buses in Bogota to be safe to use. They are busy at peak time so avoid this time if possible. Don’t carry a lot of cash and leave passports in the hotel. To use the buses you will need a transmillenio card (COP 2000) to buy tickets. These cards can be shared by multiple people, each trip costs COP1500 to anywhere on the main lines.