Oince considered one of the most dangerous countries in the world, Colombia seems to have turned a corner. Home to vibrant cities, sprawling jungle and an idyllic Caribbean coastline, its capital city, Bogota, is at the forefront of this shift from thrill magnet to must-see destination.
Located in Colombia’s deep interior, and built on a high plateau more than 8,000 feet above sea level, the city has a relatively cool climate that remains similar year-round (temperatures reach in average 15°C even in the hot season, something to bear careful when packing). Rich in history, Bogota is a melting pot of cultures, with Spanish, Mexican and British influences showing in its architecture, cuisine and even the way the locals behave.
Its northern neighborhoods – Chapinero, La Candelaria and Santa Fe – are buzzing with tourists. Chapinero is an ideal base for setting up camp: in addition to being renowned for its nightlife, its student population, its shopping centers and its LGBT+ population, it is well served by public transport, which makes it a good first stop popular for beginners.
What to do
Shop at Paloquemao Market
For an authentic Colombian dining and shopping experience, head to Paloquemao Market. With hundreds of stalls selling flowers, fruit, coffee, meat and fish, it’s the perfect place for a quick lunch while enjoying the sheer breadth of what Colombia produces. Spot the vendors tucked into its narrow passageways, serving up everything from native tropical fruits, such as maracuya, to hearty street snacks like arepas (corn flour tortillas filled with meat, vegetables or even chocolate). As in most markets around the world, never accept first prize – Paloquemao is a great place to develop your haggling skills. Start with half of what you would happily pay, and go up from there.
Visit its most beautiful neighborhoods
Bogota is a beautiful place steeped in history, with stories at every turn. It is worth setting aside time to walk around and explore. Wander the graffiti-adorned streets of La Candelaria, the city’s thriving, bohemian student and arts district. Stroll along the eucalyptus-lined avenues of the affluent Chico neighborhood. And visit Bolivar Square to learn more about the history of Bogota and Colombia at large. Rodrigo from ToursByLocals is a native of Bogota and a bastion of knowledge, who can also point out the best local cafes.
To drink coffee
Colombia is famous for its coffee, and with the city of Armenia – center of the country’s coffee scene – not too far away, Bogota has some of the best java on the planet. Head to Café de la Fonda on your way to Paloquemao Market for some of the best; Not only is the coffee delicious, but what looks like an unassuming family-run cafe is actually a fully functional “bean-to-cup” coffee factory. Ask nicely and they’ll let you “behind the scenes” to see the whole process.
Where to stay
In the heart of Chapinero, a stone’s throw from great bars and restaurants, the newly opened NH Collection Hotel strikes a good balance between affordability and luxury. Selling points include an impressive breakfast, comfortable king-size beds, cable TV, 24-hour reception, and security. Doubles from £70, B&B. nh-collection.com
Also ideally located in the favorite area of the new Chapinero, the charming and luxurious Casa Legado has spacious double bedrooms, a bar and a shared lounge, as well as a beautifully designed garden where you can eat, drink and relax. loosen. Also take advantage of the free bicycle rental service to get around easily. Double from £140, room only. casalegadobogota.com
Where to eat
Chef and owner of El Chato, Alvaro Clavijo, spent years working, learning and perfecting his craft across Europe before returning to his native country. He has created a restaurant that takes traditional Colombian cuisine and gives it a 21st century twist. The most popular are chicken hearts with potatoes, but meringue and lulo (a tomato-like fruit with a citrus taste) is one of the best in Bogota.
For a quick pick-me-up to help you refuel, look no further than Renata Tacos. A cheap and cheerful string of taquerias dotted around the popular Chapinero neighborhood, their chorizo and cheese tacos should be paired with a Corona beer for a winning combo.
Part restaurant, part nightclub, Andres Carne is an hour’s drive from Bogota, but well worth the detour. From the moment you enter, you are surrounded by an ambience, colorful decor and music designed to bring Colombian culture to life. Adorned with giant neon signs, brash artwork and quirky decor, it wouldn’t be out of place in the most “hipster” of neighborhoods; once inside, musicians, magicians and dancers provide entertainment around the table, moving from group to group as you eat. Go for the spicy sausages or pork chops with traditional Colombian breads and cheeses – though, as the “Carne” in its name suggests, vegetarian options are limited.
where to drink
If you’re looking for fine cocktails with a unique Colombian twist, Huerta Cocteleria in the heart of Chapinero will tick all your boxes. Using local produce, with an emphasis on sustainability, it combines an understated rustic look with a level of opulence that feels like a special occasion any day of the week. The food is pretty good too.
The colorful, winding roads of the La Candelaria district are a great place to bar-hop and meet the locals. There is often live music, so listen along the little lanes; Quiebra Canto is a particular favourite, with live music every Wednesday. And be sure to try some shishaan ancient fermented drink made from corn sold on the streets here – it is sweet, alcoholic and comes in different flavors.
Known to locals as “Zona T” for the shape of its main connecting streets, the Zona Rosa is the main nightlife and bar district. Here you will find a number of bars and clubs playing everything from pop music to salsa until the early hours. BBC (Bogota Beer Company) offers excellent locally brewed craft beers, while Presea, the only Reggaeton club in the area, is perfect for a dance.
The impact of Christianity in Bogota is evident, with over 1,500 churches throughout the city dating back hundreds of years. One of the most impressive is the Santuario Nuestra Señora del Carmen, a short walk from Bolivar Square. While it’s not the largest place of worship in the city (that distinction goes to Bogota’s Primatial Cathedral), it’s certainly the most beautiful, with a candy-striped exterior and ornately decorated floor. . Admire the giant altar inside, as well as the intricately detailed stained glass windows and hundreds of statues protruding from walls and crevices.
Nuts and bolts
What currency do I need?
What language do they speak?
Spanish, but English is widely spoken.
Should I tip?
Around 10-20% seems to be the going rate.
What is the time difference?
Five hours behind GMT.
How should I get around?
You can walk far; however, when traveling through the city, private taxis are recommended for both safety and convenience.
What is the best view?
A hike or cable car ride to the top of Monserrate Hill will give you spectacular views of the city. (If you’re hiking, travel in a group and in daylight.)
Stock up on street food; Culinary delights can be found around every corner, with something for everyone. Arpas are a must.
Is it safe to explore?
Bogota remains an expansive mass of people and architecture, wealth and urban decay – so, as with any major city, an element of caution is always advised. Although much safer than it once was, it’s best to explore on foot by day, take registered taxis at night, and avoid areas such as Ciudad Bolivar and San Cristobal to the south – the two have high crime rates, with muggings, car thefts, and pickpocketing. .
Try to fly less?
Occasional freighters go from European ports accessible by train (Le Havre, Antwerp, Rotterdam) to Cartagena in Colombia. From there it’s a 20 hour bus ride to Bogota.
Good with flying?
Colombia’s national carrier, Avianca, flies daily from London Heathrow to El Dorado International Airport in Bogota.