Bogota is the sprawling capital of Colombia, and the country's largest city by a landslide. Home to over 8 million people, the city sits at an elevation of 2,640 meters, ensuring cool temperatures year round.
On account of its sheer size, Bogota is also the most cosmopolitan city in the country. The majority of travelers visiting Colombia will either enter or exit through Bogota, so it's worth taking a few days to experience what the city has to offer.
Getting There & Away
Flights arrive from around the country, and the world, via El Dorado International Airport (BOG). Avianca is the largest Colombian airline, with Aires and Aero Republica providing stiff competition for domestic routes and prices.
To get to your hostel or hotel from the airport, it's best to use one of the regulated taxis. Simply exit the baggage area and look for a booth where you can give the attendant the address of your destination. He or she will print a small slip of paper out with the price of the ride. Then head for the next available taxi in the queue, and give him the slip.
Do not pay more than the rate on the slip of paper. Tipping is not expected, however rounding up to the nearest thousand pesos is always appreciated by the drivers.
Internet Access: Free wi-fi is available.
El Terminal de Transporte is Bogota's main bus station. Buses arrive and depart 24/7 for destinations around the country. As with the airport, regulated taxis are available to connect you with wherever you're staying in Bogota upon arrival. Try to avoid arriving in Bogota (or any city) by bus late at night, or early in the morning, as there are fewer people around and it can be more dangerous.
When leaving the city, you can usually just show up and find a bus departing within a few hours for wherever you're headed, especially if it's another major city such as Medellin or Cali. The exception is national holidays, when a larger volume of Colombians are traveling around the country.
Internet Access: Communications shop with internet access, however it may not be open at night.
Getting Around Bogota
Taxis are an easy and inexpensive way to get around the city.
You can hail them from the street, however it's safer to call a taxi service to have one pick you up. Upon calling, they will give you a code (clave) to confirm with the driver, thereby ensuring you're getting in the right taxi. Be forewarned, sometimes the taxis don't show up, so leave yourself extra time if you're meeting someone at a specific time.
Make sure the taxi's meter is on once you get started. The numbers on the meter correspond to a rate chart in the back seat.
For safety purposes, it's better to sit in the back seat, with the windows rolled up. Do not take valuable possessions out of your pocket, purse or bags while in the taxi. Smartphones are an especially popular target for thieves. Some taxi drivers work together with the thieves, and garner a share of whatever is then stolen from you.
The Transmilenio is the city's answer to mass transit, and is meant to help ease congestion on the busy streets. These special bus routes have their own lanes on major roads, and you'll see the metal and glass stations throughout the city.
The Transmilenio buses, while big, can also get very crowded, especially at rush hour. As a result, thieves now target riders. When possible, avoid riding these buses during busy hours. The cost is 1,600 pesos (about $1) per ride.
A plethora of private buses ply the city streets, and can take you just about anywhere you need to go. The bus routes are posted in the front windows, and feature major landmarks, universities and shopping centers to help you get your bearings.
Flagging a bus is as easy as holding your hand out as it approaches. To get off the bus, look for a red button on the inside to push, or if you can't find one or it's not working, alert the driver that you want to get off. The average cost of a ride is 1,300 pesos ($0.75).
Where to Stay
The majority of hostels are located in the historic La Candelaria district. This neighborhood is worth a walk through, and features lots of funky shops, bars, and quality restaurants, however it can also be dangerous, especially at night. From 2010 to 2011, there was a wave of robberies targeting hostels and their guests in the area.
If you prefer to stay in a different part of the city, there are plenty of other hostels to choose from and some, like La Pinta, have even popped up in the safer, upscale Chapinero neighborhood to the north.
Couchsurfing in Bogota is another option which can help you save money, and give you a chance to see the city through a resident's perspective.
Things to See & Do
Despite Bogota's grandeur, most of the popular tourist sites are all within walking distance of each other. If all you have is a day, you should be able to see most of them, albeit in a rushed manner.
- La Candelaria – La Candelaria is a historic district in Bogota, and can be enjoyed by simply walking around the streets during the daytime, taking in the colorful buildings and ubiquitous graffiti art. Eventually, you'll find yourself in the large Plaza de Bolivar, a popular people watching spot surrounded on all sides by government buildings and the picturesque Catedral Primada.
- El Museo del Oro (Gold Museum) – Every major city in Colombia has its own gold museum, however Bogota's is by far the largest and best. The entrance fee is nominal, about $2, and photos are allowed without flash.
- Donacion Botero & Museo Botero – Fernando Botero is Colombia's most famous artist, and his work can be seen around the world, as both paintings and sculptures. Originally from Medellin, he has donated a large number of pieces to several museums in the country, including the Donacion Botero in Bogota. Additional works by Picasso, Renoir and Dali are also on display. Entrance is free, and photos are allowed without a flash. The Museo Botero is larger, and features a wider array of Latin artists.
- Cerro de Monserrate – On a clear day, you can take the small tram up Cerro de Monserrate for sweeping views of the capital. A church is situated atop the mountain, as are a bunch of souvenir shops.
- Catedral de Sal de Zipaquira (Salt Cathedral) – About an hour outside of the city, in the town of Zipaquira, a cathedral was carved within a salt mine. Colorful lighting helps to brighten the interior. Guided tours are available for about 15,000 pesos ($8). No flash photography allowed.
Food & Drink
- Ajiaco – a hearty soup of shredded chicken, potatoes, corn on the cob, capers and cream. Usually served with a side of avocado which should be sliced up and thrown in, as well as some rice.
If you're only going to be visiting Bogota, be sure to try other common Colombian foods such as arepas, empanadas, and chorizo.
- Andres Carne de Res – a frequently recommended restaurant with a new location on Calle 82 #11 – 57.
- Antigua Santafe – the best Ajiaco in Bogota. Calle 11 #6 – 20, just off Plaza Bolivar in La Candelaria.
Bogota's nightlife offers something for everyone, from weekly poker matches with expats (if you can find them) to salsa dancing until the early morning hours with Colombians.
The city's main nightlife area is referred to as the Zona Rosa. Take a taxi here, and you can just get out and walk around until you find a bar or discoteca that looks good. To gauge which clubs are hot at any given time, check out the ones being featured regularly on the Pegateya nightlife site.
Bars & Clubs
- Bogota Beer Company – sample the city's popular microbrews. Multiple locations throughout the city, including the charming Usaquen neighborhood at Carrera 6 #119 – 24.
- Kukaramakara – a chain of clubs by the same name are in all the major Colombian cities, plus Miami. Cover bands rock the house with Latin covers on Friday and Saturday nights. Between sets, DJ's play crossover music, including plenty of reggaeton. Carrera 15 #93 – 57.