Travel Guide: Bogota, Colombia. What to know before traveling to Bogota: how to get there, where to stay, what to do, sights to see, and—most importantly—what to eat in Bogota, Colombia. Vamos!
Our trip to Colombia was booked on a whim. I had ended one job and found myself with a week and a half before starting another. Francesco took me to dinner one evening to celebrate my new position and asked, “So what are you going to do for the next week and a half?” To which I promptly answered, “Let’s go to Colombia.”
We knew the time we allotted for the trip (9 days) would be a bit tight to see everything we wanted to see. Colombia has been high on our Travel Bucket List for awhile and we could have doubled our time in the country and still not have seen everything there is to see. So we decided to hit the three biggest cities—Bogota, Medellin, and Cartagena—and spend a fews days eating our way around each city.
Below is our guide to the city, based on the things we experienced and the advice we received from Colombian friends and others who had traveled there before. Disclaimer: This is in no way an exhaustive list of things to do in Bogota as we could have spent a week in the city and still not checked all of our “Bogota To Do” boxes. However, it will give you a great jumping off point for your own travels and this Bogota travel guide will be updated often to reflect new advice from fellow travelers.
Last updated: January 14, 2018. If you have Bogota recommendations you’d like to add to this list please comment below or email me at [email protected]
KNOW BEFORE YOU GO: BOGOTA TRAVEL BASICS
Bogota is the capital of Colombia and the usual jumping off point for most international travelers as the Bogota airport, Aeropuerto El Dorado, is the hub for most international flights. Below is a list of the “know before you go” Q&A about Bogota to help plan your trip.
What documents do I need to travel to Bogota, Colombia? Do I need a visa to travel to Colombia?
As United States citizens, we did not need a visa to enter Colombia. We actually didn’t even think about this until we were at the airport in San Francisco and we looked at one another with wide eyes and worry but a quick search of the US Department of State let us know that a visa is not necessary to enter the country. Are you from outside the US? Confirm with your country’s state department before booking your flights. As always with international travel, a passport is required.
What airport should I fly into in Bogota?
All international flights fly into the Bogota international airport, Aeropuerto Del Dorado.
Bogota Transportation: Is there Uber in Bogota, Colombia? Are the taxis safe? How should I get from the airport to where I’m staying? Do taxis drivers speak English in Colombia? How much is an average taxi ride from the airport to the Centro Historico?
Bogota has Uber and we used it many times throughout our entire trip in Colombia, however we also took many taxis and never had a problem. As of December 2017 (when we traveled), the Bogota airport has 30 minutes of free wifi available to travelers and many of the airport restaurants have wifi as well, so it will be easy to call an Uber to take you to your destination.
However, we found that taxis were often just as inexpensive and often times cheaper than the Ubers we called. We did not find that many taxi (or Uber) drivers spoke English, so if your Spanish is not stellar then it’s always a good idea to pull up the destination on your map to visually show your driver where you want to go.
Also, with taxis we recommend deciding on the fare BEFORE you start driving. Many, if not most, drivers do not have meters so it’s likely they’ll charge you more if you do not decide on a price before setting off (hey, why wouldn’t they?). We found that the average price from the airport to the Centro Historico (the center where we recommend staying, see below) is about $10US.
What currency do I need in Colombia? What is the exchange rate? Do they accept American dollars? About how much did you spend a day in Colombia?
Colombian currency is the Colombian peso and current exchange rates can be found here. When we traveled in December 2017 the American dollar to Colombian peso exchange rate was 1:2400 ($1 equaled about 2400 pesos). The American dollar is not accepted as currency in Colombia.
We exchanged what we expected to spend for the entire trip at our American bank prior to leaving. If you’re curious, we took the equivalent of $800 American dollars and ended up taking out another $150 American dollars on our last day, so about $1000 total spending money for two people for nine days. This included many very nice dinners with bottles of wine and also a few souvenirs, so less than $100/day for two people and we could have gone much, much cheaper. We paid for two tours before we left by credit card, for a total of about $150.
What is the weather like in Bogota? What is the altitude?
We traveled to Bogota in early December and the weather was about 50-60 degrees Fahrenheit (~13 Celsius) all three days we were there, but temperatures are mild year round. It rained for a couple of hours the first day we arrived (we were caught in a shop for 30 minutes in a heavy downpour) but otherwise had decent mild winter weather. I highly suggest pants, sweater, a light jacket and walkable shoes. Summers are relatively mild due to the altitude, but can be hot and humid. See here for year-round Bogota weather patterns.
Bogota is 8660 feet (2640 meters) above sea level and it was very apparent as soon as we stepped off the plane. We live at sea level in California and noticed that even going up small flights of stairs and walking too fast through the airport made us winded on our first day. We also both had dull headaches for which we chalked up to the altitude change (which was not helped by the bottle of wine we consumed).
Is it safe to travel to Bogota, Colombia?
After telling friends and family we were traveling to Colombia we had many people ask, “Is it safe?” While Colombia has a very violent past of drug trafficking and guerrilla violence, today it is safe to travel to Colombia. As with any country, being a smart and consciences traveler is a must and it’s important to always be aware and stick to the more populated areas or take a tour with a great. The drug cartels and guerrillas still exist but on a much smaller scale than the 1980’s and 90’s and many people safely travel to Colombia every year.
For more info about the safety of Colombian travel, see this article.
Will I get Zika if I travel to Colombia? Do I need immunizations before traveling?
The threat of Zika is real in Colombia, especially in the warmer Caribbean and Pacific areas, but not in Bogota due to its altitude and cooler weather. The US Centers for Disease Control suggests taking precautions if you’re pregnant or planning to become pregnant traveling to areas with the risk of these diseases. If you’re concerned about Zika or any other communicable disease, check with the CDC or your country’s health department before departing.
WHERE TO STAY IN BOGOTA
Because we only had a few days in Bogota, we wanted to make the most of it by staying in a central and walkable neighborhood near many of the sights and the Centro Historico, or La Candelaria, was the perfect location.
The Centro Historico, or “Historic Center,” is the oldest part of Bogota and is a very large historic district with many 17th and 18th century buildings and small pueblos. The area is full of museums, coffee shops, restaurants, hostels, and boutiques and is rich with colonial charm.
Where to stay in Bogota’s Centro Historico:
- Airbnb: we had great luck with our AirBnb in Bogota. We rented a small private room located in the loft of a very eclectic and funky apartment on Calle 33. It was a very walkable area and even came with two cat friends (one who couldn’t give two s$*@s about us).
- Hostels & Guesthouses: the area is rife with hostels and boarding houses and is very backpacker-friendly
- Hotels: Most of the Centro Historico offers small, boutique hotels. We found many eco-friendly options like Biohotel Bogota in our research.
Other neighborhoods of note: Zona Rosa, Usaquen, and Zona G. We did not visit these neighborhoods but did research them before traveling to Bogota.
WHAT TO DO IN BOGOTA, COLOMBIA
The list of things to in Bogota is endless but below are a few of the main sights we visited and were recommended to us before we traveled.
- Plaza Bolivar: The main plaza in the city, Plaza Bolivar is named after Simón Bolivar, who played a major role in most of South American countries’ independence from Spain. The Bogota Cathedral, Palace of Justice, and National Capital are located in the plaza. Peruse the streets surrounding the plaza for great people watching and window shopping.
- Museo de Oro: The Museo de Oro is what it sounds like—a museum dedicated to gold and its history in Colombia and South America as a whole. Wander through the four floors featuring gold-plated artifacts and jewels (emeralds have a long and controversial history in Colombia) and you must have lunch in the lobby restaurant (order the ajiaco, see below). Yes, a museum restaurant that is actually delicious (don’t just trust us—we had many Colombians tell us it is one of the best places to get typical Colombian food in the city).
- Montserrat: No, not the font (where my typography nerds at?). Montserrat is a cathedral and monastery located on a high mountain above the city. It is accessible by tram or by trail (but it would be a very steep climb!). We walked to the entrance from the Centro Historico when it first opened around 8:30am and were lucky to beat the hoards of tourists that shuffled in late morning. A must-see in Bogota!
- Museo de Botrero and Mint Museum: These two museums are located side-by-side on XXX street in the Centro Historico and I would highly recommend, even if you’re not a “museum person.” The Museo de Botrero is a gallery dedicated Fernando Botero, arguably Colombia’s most famous artist. The Mint Museum was also an interesting stop to see the history of currency in the country.
- Museo Nacional: Located about 10 minutes (by car) outside the Centro Historico along Calle 13, the Museo Nacional is a must-see for history buffs. From native Colombian art to Spanish colonial religious artifacts, this museum is worth the visit. Make it an afternoon event with lunch at the nearby Macarena district.
- Carrera 4a / Macarena: If you’re in the mood for some delicious food, head to Carrera 4a, window shop restaurants, and grab a drink at an outside cafe. We enjoyed a delicious dinner at Tabula (see below for recommendations) and had a brew (or two) at Bogota Brewing Company.
- Samba at L’Aldea Nicho Cultural: Located next to Restaurante Kutral, we stumbled upon this salsa club when looking for an after dinner drink and it was one of the most memorable nights in Colombia. From the eclectic, bohemian decor to the big band and the packed dance floor, this club is like stepping into a movie. A movie where two gringos dance horribly and embarrass themselves but have a lot of fun doing it.
WHERE & WHAT TO EAT IN BOGOTA, COLOMBIA
I have to admit that I did not go to Colombia with high expectations about the food. It was the fourth country I have visited in South America and, while delicious at time, I cannot say each country has blown me away when it comes to the bold and spicy flavors I love.
I could (and probably will) write an entire essay on the unique flavors profiles and ingredients used in Colombian cuisine, but suffice it to say that I was pleasantly surprised at EVERY meal we had while in the country. That’s not an exaggeration, each and every Colombian meal we had was delicious. The only meal we came to regret while in the country was a pizza—it was our fault for ordering pizza in a country with such delicious food.
From my experience in Colombia it’s hard to find a bad meal, but below are the typical Colombian foods you must try while in Bogota.
- Ajiaco: Ajiaco is a creamy shredded chicken and potato soup served with capers, rice, and avocado. The soup is typical of Bogota and you will find it in most restaurant, however we were told to order it at restaurant within the lobby of the Museo de Oro and we were not disappointed.
- Arepas: Arepas are a fried corn cake that are served with most meals throughout Colombian (similar to how tortillas are served with most meals in other Latin American countries). They can be eaten plain or topped with cheese, meat, fruit, or even sweets like chocolate. Colombian chocolate, of course!
- Coffee: You can’t go to Colombia and not drink the coffee! Coffee culture is alive and well in Colombian (unlike some other South American countries that also produce the bean) and coffee shops are easy to find throughout Bogota.
- Patacones: Smashed and fried plantains with spicy, herbed dips? Yes please!
Below is a list of the restaurants we tried or that were recommended to us by Colombians and our expert travel friends.
- Restaurante Museo de Oro: I mentioned above that Museo de Oro was a must-see while in Bogota, but if nothing else then you must have lunch at the restaurant in the museum lobby. Order the ajiaco (see above) and a fresh tropical juice (no sugar added!).
- La Bruja: Located in the Centro Historico, this restaurant and bar is a must if only to gawk at the adorable decor. La Bruja means “The Witch” in Spanish and the entire two-story restaurant is devote to all things witches, fairies, and magic.
- Kutral: This small restaurant was recommended to us by two ladies we met while dining at the Museo de Oro and it did not disappoint. A small appetizer, two steak entrees, a dessert, and their most expensive bottle of wine came out to about $35 US. And don’t miss the party at L’Aldea Nicho Cultural (see above) across the street after!
- La Ventana Restaurante: We stopped into this small religious-themed restaurant (with ironically a huge alcohol selection, imagine) on our way back from Montserrat and did not know what to expect but it was delicious and might have been one of my favorite meals of our trip. We both ordered soup with fried plantains and enjoyed the meal while being stared at by over 100 statues of the Virgin Mary.
- Kutral: Looking to splurge a little? This restaurant located by the Museo Nacional was recommended by a Colombiano we met along the way and it was the perfect spot for a fancy romantic dinner for two. We recommend ordering 5-6 dishes served tapas style to try a little of everything.
- Andres Carne del Res: We did not have the opportunity to make it here, but it came recommend by every single person who sent us Bogota travel tips. The restaurant has two locations and both are located about 20-30 minutes outside of the Centro Historico, however judging by the amount of people who we spoke to it is a must-do. A reason for us to go back!
- Street food: I can’t write Colombian food recommendations without talking about the street food. Street food vendors can be found on most any street surrounding Plaza Bolivar and offer everything from fresh fruit cups, juices, fried bananas, to empanadas. My rule of thumb when visiting street food vendors in any country (after being burned many times) is to judge a vendor by whether the locals are there. If there’s a line of locals, it’s like a good spot and will (hopefully) have fresher food.
- Coffee shops: We caffeinated at many small coffee shops while in Bogota but we assume it’s hard to find a bad cup in a country that’s famous for it’s delicious coffee!