Sitting at 8660 feet above sea level, it's not just the altitude that will take your breath away in Bogota. Surrounded by towering emerald mountains, this capital city's barrios are as varied as Latin America itself. Roam around La Candelaria for a dose of colonial history, ponder the city's many street art murals, and learn about legendary icons like Jorge Eliecer Gaitan and Gabriel Garcia Marquez. Take advantage of the city's proximity to nature and hike through lush mountain paths to savor unparalleled vistas. Sip on the world's best coffee in one of Chapinero's urban cafes and dine on traditional Colombian fare in one of Zona G's gourmet restaurants.
With its booming economy, life can be hectic in Bogota, but there's always a reason to celebrate in this country- sometimes until the sun rises. Whether you're seeking adventure, culture, or just a good time with welcoming locals, Bogota has it all. Even if you just have two days in the city, here's how to get the most out of your time.
Once you arrive at the airport, forget renting a car. There is plenty of public transit throughout the city, and with the organization of the city grids, it's easily navigable by foot as well. Grab a taxi or an uber for a 20 to 30-minute ride to your hotel, drop your luggage off, and get ready for an incredible day.
If this is your first time in the Capital District, you'll want to get to know its historic center first to learn about the city's history and culture. Head to La Candelaria to get a cup of coffee. The importance of coffee in this South American country cannot be overemphasized, as they are the world's second-largest exporter of the roasted bean. The unique climate in the high-altitude, rich-soil cafetero zones bordering the equator provide extraordinary cultivation. Grab a coffee at Contraste Coffee Lab for an intimate coffee tasting experience.
Most Colombians have a light breakfast; you can grab a cookie or palo de queso to accompany your coffee at Contraste. Otherwise, you'll have no trouble finding food carts selling the ubiquitous arepa, Colombia's most popular street food. It's a thick, delicious pastry made from ground corn, normally stuffed with cheese and garnished with avocado, plantains, or eggs.
There is no shortage of walking tours within La Candelaria, and many are free. The historic tour will familiarize you with important buildings and areas here, such as Plaza de Bolivar and Chorro de Quevedo, where the city was supposedly founded. Other important tours include the graffiti tour, where you'll be shown several gorgeous murals honoring indigenous culture. The war and peace tour is a must for visitors eager to learn about Colombia's political past and how it has transformed over the years.
For lunch, head to Puerta Falsa to try ajiaco- a traditional rolo (slang for Bogotano) soup made from chicken, potatoes, guasca leaves, maiz, avocado, and cream. This is perfect for the typically cold and rainy days that so often set upon the capital.
Bogota is saturated with art, and you can't miss the chance to soak up the culture by visiting at least one of its stellar museums. The Museo de Oro isn't just eye candy; its impressive collection of gold and Precolombian art demonstrates the country's wealth before the conquistadors' arrival. If you want a quick introduction to Colombia's most popular "modern artist," go to Museo de Botero for a collection of Fernando Botero's paintings and sculptures. The Museo de Arte Nacional is an excellent choice for a more thorough discovery of the country's art. Please note that most museums are closed on Mondays.
After absorbing the long-standing creativity of Colombian culture, it's time to head into higher altitude to visit Montserrate. This mountain rests over 10,000 feet above sea level and topped with a church, which draws in droves of pious worshippers during religious holidays. Even if you're not religious, it's worth a visit just for the spectacular views of this metropolis, especially as the sun sets. There are three different ways to ascend its steep façade; you can walk up (which takes about an hour and a half), take its funicular- a train pulled upward by cables, or the cable car. For the quickest ascent and best views, I recommend that latter. Stay until sunset and watch as the clouds set in and lights across the city begin to glimmer.
For dinner, head north. Located on Calle 92, Gaira Café Cumbia House is a restaurant owned by Carlos Vives. Dedicated to embracing Colombian culture through music, dance, and- of course- food, this is a must-visit destination. Forget any rumors about the greatness of Andres Carne De Res; this is the place to be. Decorated with musical paraphernalia, it is especially lively on Friday and Saturday nights, when live cumbia and vallenato are played. Savor flavors of the coast, such as coconut rice and patacones, and you just might be surprised by a visit by Senor Vives himself.
There are many places to sleep in Bogota, whether you're on a budget or looking to be enveloped by luxurious pillows and linen so soft you'll swear you're sleeping amongst a pile of bunnies. For the lower price range, head to Quinta Camacho to stay at Aurora Hostel, arguably Bogota's best budget accommodation. This is an eco-friendly hostel, filled with plants, bright, clean spaces to lounge, and breakfast included in the cost. Eight-bed dormitories cost approximately 27,000 COP and private rooms start from 40,000 COP per night.
If you're looking for more upscale accommodations, try the GHL Hotel Bioxury. Located north of Chapinero, in the Retiro neighborhood, this airy five-star hotel combines the perfect combination of luxury and ecological balance. While you want to get the most out of your time in Bogota, you may be tempted to lounge around here, get a massage, work out in its exercise room, or journal in its garden.
After taking advantage of the complimentary breakfast at your accommodation, head out for a morning cup of tinto, or black coffee. Nearby Colo, also known as Bourbon Coffee Roasters, is another excellent establishment that serves coffee prepared in a variety of filters like the sifon and French Press. They also offer sandwiches, pastries, and almond milk for vegan-friendly coffee.
Chapinero is an area in the heart of Bogota, roughly between Calle 50 and Calle 90, known for its modern approach to life. It includes the bustling financial district, the gayborhood boasting mega-nightclubs like Teatron and Oktavia, fashion boutiques, and way too many places to eat.
If you want to get an idea of what more contemporary artists in Bogota are up to, head to the Flora Ars Natura Gallery, which holds various exhibitions exploring the connection between art, nature, and the body. Join an art workshop at Rat Trap- a gallery that also serves as a bar, recording studio, and space for live events.
After you’ve worked up an appetite exploring Chapinero, it’s time to eat. Walk to the nearby Zona G (“G” for gourmet), which boasts a variety of international cuisine. From Peruvian to Italian to Thai, there’s everything here- even a two-story Starbucks. Grab some Mexican sopes at La Lupita Restaurante or a typical Colombian dish, cazuela de frijoles, at Casa Bizarra. Walk around after to admire the quaint brick architecture and posh Bogotanos walking their French bulldogs.
Not only do Colombians love to celebrate, there is also a blossoming craft beer culture here in the capital. Skip the water suds and head to a proper brewery, such as El Bar Perdido in Zona G or Mono Bandido in Quinta Camacho. Tip: If you’re traveling with someone else and plan on having more than one glass, it’s more economical to order a jarra (pitcher).
The District Capital of Bogota is known for its arts culture, as you’ve already seen in its museums and walking its streets. However, no visit to Bogota would be complete without watching a show at one of its theaters. Teatro Libre, with locations both in Chapinero and La Candelaria, was established in 1973 and has a dedicated group of 22 artists who put on plays based on the works of Dostoevsky, Shakespeare, and many more.
If you’d like to see a bigger production, head to Colombia’s national theatre, Teatro Colon. Built in the 1800s in neoclassical design, there is no place more elegant to absorb Bogota’s artistic prowess. Check their schedule beforehand, as they offer a variety of productions, ranging from opera to ballet, circus, music, and more.
Usaquen was its own municipality until it became part of Bogota in the 1950s, but it still maintains its small-town charm. Located in the north of the city, it is known for its weekend feria, or flea market, and wide range of restaurants. Head to Parque de Usaquen to see the main plaza lit up at night. Roam around the cobblestone paths, where you'll find street vendors selling handmade artesanias, talented musicians busking for pesos, and countless boutique shops and restaurants. Don't leave South America without trying chicha, which is a fermented beverage made out of corn, at El Tigre. After, head to La Rosconeria, which sells over 30 flavors of Colombian pastries, for a sweet end to your two days in Bogota.
Top image credit: Unsplash / Flavia Carpio