Bogota: A Guide to Colombia's Vibrant Capital City
June 4, 2019
by Amy Swanson
With so many beautiful cities and national parks to visit in Colombia, some travelers might overlook Bogota, Colombia’s bustling capital city perched high in the Andes mountains. Although it lives up to its nickname of “the refrigerator of Colombia,” don’t let that turn you away from this gem of a city. With a growing foodie scene, fantastic nightlife, and surrounding natural wonders close by, Bogota is a city that you don’t want to skip on your trip to Colombia.
What to Do
La Candelaria is Bogota’s historic city center that has kept its charming colonial style intact. Walking around La Candelaria feels like being transported into the past, and the vibe is much different from Bogota’s posh, modern neighborhoods in the north of the city. Packed with colorful Spanish-style buildings and lined with cobblestone streets, La Candelaria is the perfect spot for an afternoon stroll and a delicious almuerzos (see more on this in the food section below).
Plaza Simon Bolivar
Located a few blocks from La Candelaria is Plaza Simon Bolivar, the city’s main square, which contains the National Capital, Palace of Justice, and the very Instagram-worthy Bogota Cathedral. If you’re craving a snack, don’t worry–the streets are lined with vendors selling everything from fresh mango to candy to homemade potato chips.
Perched high up in the mountains surrounding Bogota is Monserrate, a beautiful cathedral that offers spectacular views of the sprawling city. You have a number of options for how to get there: by tram, by cable car, or you can dare to ascend on foot–but if you haven’t acclimated to the altitude, a hike is not recommended.
The tram or cable car will whisk you up to the beautiful grounds of the cathedral, which include stunning gardens and a number of elegant restaurants. At the church, you can enjoy a marvelous view of Bogota, and an abundance of photo-op worthy spots.
Local’s tip: If you walk up behind the church, you’ll find a long row of vendors selling artisanal souvenirs, such as mochilas (traditional handmade Colombian bags), handmade hats and ponchos, and jewelry. Stroll even further back and you’ll find numerous food vendors. Stop by a stall and try a traditional Colombian arepa, paired with a chocolate santafereño–a hot chocolate with cheese. It may sound strange, but don’t knock it until you try it!
Usaquen Sunday Market
If you happen to be in Bogota on the weekend, you can’t miss the Usaquen Sunday Market. You can buy almost anything your heart desires–from handmade clothes to sculptures and art; household wares, floral arrangements, even handmade pet accessories. The market stretches across several blocks and is surrounded by delicious restaurants and cafes, a mall, and a lovely park. There’s no better way to spend your Sunday in Bogota.
What to Eat
When in Bogota, you’ll want to try their delicious traditional dishes, from creamy Aijaico soup to crispy empanadas and savory tamal. However, Bogota is rapidly becoming more international, and you can find any kind of food your heart desires in the city: from pizza and hamburgers to sushi, Italian, and even Korean! (Read the local’s tip below for more info on the Korean food).
Traditional Colombian Dishes
During your trip to Bogota, make time in your afternoons to sit down for almuerzos, traditional Colombian lunch. For as little as $3USD, you can enjoy a large meal consisting of soup, a main dish (usually meat), and a fresh juice. Some restaurants have a set menu for the day, while others offer different dishes to choose from.
You’ll want to try Aijaico, one of Colombia’s national dishes. It’s a creamy soup filled with chicken, potatoes, and sometimes corn or other vegetables. If you’re in La Candelaria, check out La Puerta Falsa for some mouth-watering traditional Colombian food.
Other Colombian dishes you don’t want to miss include tamal, which is like an upgraded version of a Mexican tamale; arepas, made from corn flour and filled with cheese, eggs, or meat; and empanadas (don’t skip out on the variety of salsas that accompany your golden-friend treat).
If for some reason you get tired of Colombia’s traditional dishes, don’t worry! There’s a huge international food scene in Bogota, but beware, because some places can be rather disappointing.
For Italian (with a view!) try Tramonti in Chico Alto; for Mexican, La Taqueria near Parque 93 will satisfy your cravings; for sushi, head over to Sushigozen, also located near Parque 93.
Local’s Tip: If you’re looking for an interesting culinary experience, head over to Arirang, Bogota’s only authentic Korean restaurant. It’s owned by a lovely Korean family who renovated part of their house into a restaurant. Don’t miss the Kimchi Jigae or the Bulgogi.
Where to Party
Bogota is well known for its exciting nightlife scene–whether you’re into electronic music, salsa, pop, or punk, there’s a club for you. It’s also home to South America’s biggest nightclub, Theatron, which boasts fourteen rooms all playing different kinds of music.
If you prefer upscale, elegant nightclubs, then Parque 93 is the place for you. Other popular areas include the famous Zona T and Zona G, which are brimming with restaurants, bars, and clubs; the perfect place if you’re looking for a pub crawl or a fun place to dance.
Local’s Tip: Located in the bohemian Chapinero neighborhood is local favorite Latino Power, a graffiti-scrawled nightclub that features live artists from a variety of genres including punk, indie, reggae, and ska. Check out their Instagram or Facebook page ahead of time to see what the tunes of the night will be.
Where to Stay
For the classic experience, you’ll want to stay in La Candelaria, Bogota’s historic city center. This is where most travelers choose to stay, and there are plenty of options for hotels, and AirBnbs alike.
For the “Bougie Bogota” experience, you can find a number of luxury hotels in Parque 93 and the surrounding neighborhoods. The area boasts plenty of fine restaurants and designer stores for shopping. If you can afford to splurge, Parque 93 is worth it!
For a local experience, Chapinero Alto is the place to go. Located right next to Bogota’s famous Zona G, it’s the perfect spot to spend the day exploring the foodie and coffee scene, followed by dancing the night away in one of Zona G’s many fantastic nightclubs.
Don’t Skip Out…
Hopefully, this guide has convinced you to put Bogota on your Colombia itinerary. The vibrant capital is the perfect place to explore Colombian culture, food, and fun.