10 ways to spend two weeks in Bogotá
Maybe Bogotá isn’t the first destination on your list of places to visit when you come to Colombia. You might think one night is enough before you catch a night bus to Cali or Salento.
However, if you’re interested in powerful political street art, love to find panoramic city views, eat all the street food you can imagine, take part in a game of ‘aim for the gun powder while drinking beer’ or treat yourself to some Gastro grub and rooftop bars, Bogotá offers it all.
It’s one of my favourite Latin American capitals and I could definitely see myself living here some day. At 2,640 metres up, Bogotá has an unpredictable climate and chilly evenings, but the city has adapted to this and you will find there is something to do come rain, wind or shine.
Here’s how I spent two weeks in Bogotá and why I would recommend you to do the same.
1. Take part in Ciclovía on Sunday afternoons
Every Sunday 100km of Bogotá’s streets close for several hours from 7am. They open up to pedestrians, cyclists, joggers and dog walkers. Ciclovía is a concept that started over 40 years ago in Bogotá. As a result, it has lead the way for many other capital cities to become bicycle friendly.
You can walk or cycle freely to areas such as Zona Rosa, the more affluent zone. All the way down to Las Cruces beyond La Candelaria. An area deemed unsafe and not normally visited during the week. However, with such a lively and friendly atmosphere, it’s the most relaxed you will see Bogotá all week.
Up to 1-2 million people take part in Ciclovía each Sunday. You can expect to see roadside aerobic classes, extremely well groomed dogs as well as their owners and also street vendors selling an array of local food.
The length of Carrera Séptima is also open to the public. Here you can find el Mercado de Usaquén and el parque de Usaquén. Incredible smells of street food will lure you in to the main park, where you will also find an amazing flea market, full of unique artisan handicrafts. Let the street performers entertain you as you crunch into some grilled corn. Around the park, Carrera 5 and 6 have some amazing choices for more upmarket cafés and restaurants.
Getting out and about on a Sunday in Bogotá is the perfect way to see this laid back way of life most locals enjoy.
2. Loose yourself in La Candelaria
La Candelaria is Bogotá’s most colourful district and it is extremely popular with backpackers. Wander around the cobbled streets and admire the wooden balconies overhead on each of these multi-coloured casitas. Search for hidden cafés and eccentric shops splashed with powerfully charged graffiti. This district is an Instagrammers dream and for anyone who loves a good walking tour, there are plenty to choose from.
Bogotá and Beyond specialises in alternative tours, from discovering Bogotá’s craft beers to the best cuisine Bogotá has to offer. They also run a Séptima challenge on the first weekend of the month, where they encourage people to interact with locals during Ciclovía. By doing so, visitors get an insight in the cultural norms of Colombians whilst partaking in a scavenger hunt.
Beyond Colombia offer Bogotá’s most popular free walking tour covering La Candelaria’s main attractions. Meeting at the Museo de Oro, the guide’s aim is to inform you on Colombia’s history, battles and triumphs and how they have changed the city.
3. Museos and Catedrales you shouldn’t miss in Bogotá
The weather in Bogotá can be unpredictable. One minute it’s glorious sunshine and the next a torrential downpour. There are plenty of things to do to suit the weather in Bogotá, which is what makes it such a great city. There are over 70 museums in Bogotá to visit, Museo del Oro being my favourite. Make sure you read my post about the best museums in Bogotá.
Throughout Bogotá there are hundreds of intricate catedrales that provide a silent retreat from the sirens, constant horns and crowds. I would definitely recommend slipping into a few, as the detailed interiors are as impressive as their exteriors. Here are a few of my favourite ones:
- Iglesia de San Francisco
- Parroquia Nuestra Señora de Chiquinquirá
- Iglesia de Nuestra Señora de Lourdes
4. Cerro Monserrate
In order to reach Bogotá’s most beautiful viewpoint, Cerro Monserrate, you can choose between a cable car (el teleférico) or the funicular (el funicular).
Firstly, the cable cars take only 4 minutes to reach the mountain and they run until 12am during the week. Return tickets cost $20.000COP Monday to Saturday and only $12.000COP on a Sunday.
Alternatively, the funicular runs on Tuesday to Saturday mornings and Sundays. A return ticket is the same cost as the cable car. In 1928 the funicular was the original mode of transport to reach Cerro Monserrate. However, in 2003 they redesigned the carriages to have glass doors to allow for panoramic and unobstructed views of the city and forest below.
On the weekends the queue for the cable car and funicular can be quite long and I would make sure you go up on a clear day to get the most out of the never ending views of this vast capital. Once you’re at the top, the santuario de Monserrate is quite underwhelming but the surrounding gardens and statues representing the journey of Christ are pretty impressive.
Spend an afternoon on Cerro Monserrate
It seemed like the biggest secret here is found at the back of the sanctuary and if you don’t explore past the tourist markets, you won’t even know it’s there. If you wade through all the tat, you come to find some very cheap food markets serving up traditional lunches. Each restaurant offers mostly the same menu and they showcase plates of “this is what I made earlier” to allow potential clients to peruse. I would definitely recommend stopping here for a lunch break.
You can even try local agua de panela to warm you up on a typical cold Bogotá day. Also, you can come up to Monserrate for sunset and in the evenings, which I can imagine to be breathtaking. However, be careful with your belongings as muggings have been known to happen here at night.
5. Guatavita Lagoon
This was one of my favourite things to do outside of Bogotá. I found the history and tales of El Dorado and the Muisca people so mystical. I would recommend coming here before visiting the Mueso del Oro so that once you go to the museum you can envision where all the gold originated from. You can do this with a tour booked from your hostel or you can follow my instructions.
I have written a post on Laguna de Guatavita and the legend of ‘El Dorado.’ To find out a very simple way of reaching the laguna, you must read my post on how to get to Guatavita.
Another incredible place to visit outside of Bogotá is el catedral de sal de Zipaquirá – the Salt Cathedral in Zipaquirá. This beautiful and sacred cathedral lies 180 metres underground. It was built in one of the four underground salt mine chambers, whilst the other tunnels are still functioning salt mines today.
If you want to save some money and do this independently, then you must read my post on how to get to the Zipaquirá Salt Cathedral from Bogotá for half of the price of a tour.
7. Loose an afternoon in a cantina or a tejo bar
One Monday afternoon, after hours of exploring La Candelaria, we were advised to go to a particular place to eat arepas. We got here only to find that it opened at 6pm and we were 2 hours early. Fortunately there was a convenience store next door that appeared to be quite lively so we went to investigate as to why this was.
Walking straight past the store’s goods, we came to find a cantina hidden behind crates of beer. As 3 blonde girls, we looked rather out of place but we sat ourselves next to the jukebox and ordered our first round of Poker beers, for $6.000COP each. 2 hours later we had acquired the attention of some Colombian lawyers and the beers were flowing and the vallenato music was blasting. We never did make it to eat arepas and got back to our hostel 8 hours later. If you have an afternoon spare, this is the best way to spend it!
If you want to find this particular cantina, I don’t know it’s exact location, despite searching on google earth. However it is on Carrera 4 between BBC Candelaria and T-Bone restaurant. Let me know if you find it!
How good is your aim?
Equally as good a way of spending an afternoon, is mastering the game of Tejo. If you ever hear loud gunshot noises in Bogotá don’t always assume it’s crime. It could just be drunk people throwing lead at a wooden box filled with clay and gunpowder.
The aim of the game is to drink as much as you can while aiming for a circle shape on a wooden box and get the gunpowder to explode. It is a team game and is free to play when you purchase a crate of beer or a bottle of aguardiente. You will find a Tejo court in most Colombian cities, especially in the Andean region and it is hugely popular with the locals. Club de Tejo La 76 is a popular place with locals and tourists in Bogotá. I dare you to join in!
8. Graffiti tour of Bogotá’s street art
Political graffiti is very common in Bogotá, portraying issues such as desplazamiento (displacement), environment and the ongoing armed conflict. The main aim of graffiti is to make people aware of these issues and to show the government that people have a voice and want these things to change or improve.
My first visit to Bogotá in 2013 sparked my interest in this topic. So much so I wrote a presentation about Colombian graffiti in my final year of Hispanic Studies at University. If you’d be interested in reading more about this, visit my post on graffiti in Bogotá.
Take a graffiti walking tour
There are many options to see these politically charged, anti-government, anti-capitalist graffiti, or urban murals in Bogotá. The most popular being a walking tour with Bogotá Graffiti Tour. Originally led by Australian street artist, Crisp. With it’s expansion and generally much more interest in street art with international and local visitors, you will now be guided by people from all round the world who are hugely passionate. Sometimes Crisp makes an appearance but if not, his art is very prominent throughout Bogotá. The walking tours are usually free but the guides do heavily rely on tips.
Appreciate the murals yourself
I think it’s incredibly important to acknowledge Bogotá’s street art and appreciate the political messages spread across the city that affect an entire country. To have this freedom of speech as a form of art allows everybody to be able to get their message across, muralists and taggers alike. On the other hand, political graffiti could been seen to be so rife in Bogotá because of the lack of freedom of speech in channels such as media and politics.
If you aren’t interested in taking a tour, I would start at parque de los periodistas and wander the back streets of La Candelaria. Here you can easily find murals yourself. Look carefully at each piece and you can make your own assumptions of the meaning behind the paint.
For you to get an understanding of what this country has faced in its troublesome past and ways present issues can be improved, graffiti is a good starting point. So that is why I implore you to walk around the city and appreciate this urban art, either independently or part of a tour.
9. Eat arepas and drink coffee
The beauty of Bogotá is that each zona has a particular speciality, which probably explains why I spent most of my time in Zona G. Gastronomy. I was amazed by how contemporary this capital was, rivalling the coffee shops I once loved in Melbourne. And also how artesian beers are the most commonly served in bars. There is a huge spectrum of food and drink in Bogotá, ranging from arepas, obleas and salchipapas from the street. To the Michelin Star standard restaurants serving fried ants at LEO to Japanese-Colombian fusion at Harry Sasson.
10. El Parque Metropolitano Simón Bolívar
This is the largest park in and apparently it’s even bigger than Central Park in New York with 380 to 400 acres to explore. We walked the lengthy Calle 63 (over 2 miles) to reach the park. I would only really recommend doing this huge walk from El Chapinero area and if you are in a group of 3+ and during the day. Above all, only do it if you can be bothered with the trek.
Once you get to the entrance of the park, you can follow some of the walking trails through the woods and collapse on the freshly cut lawns and escape this bustling city. The park has a huge lake at the centre, where you see people kayaking and dogs jumping in. As you lay on the grass, enjoying Bogotá’s sun, joggers will loop round the lake putting you to shame. To get back to El Chapinero, we took an Uber from the opposite entrance of Caraterra 68. If you haven’t got any internet just hail down a yellow cab – but be warned there will be traffic!
So that’s what I would recommend you to see and do during your time in Bogotá. If you know of any other cool places or secrets I have missed, please share them in the comments below. I love knowing there are new things to go back for.