Nestled high up in a natural bowl between cool green hills, Bogota is the heart of modern Colombia, with over 6.5 million inhabitants. It’s a center of arts and culture, an innovator, a mecca of colonial architecture and modern architecture, a cycle-friendly paradise, a haven of green spaces and a culinary capital. From world-class museums and art galleries to street art and graffiti, the old cobbled streets of the Candelaria to the fashionable chic of Zona Rosa and from skyscrapers to 400-acre parks – There are so many awesome things to do in Bogotá, you’ll wish you could stay longer!
Check out some of the cool and cheap tours you could do in Bogotá.
Safety in Colombia – Is Colombia Safe to Travel?
One of the first questions we are asked about Colombia is always – “Is Colombia safe? Is Colombia safe to travel? Will I get kidnapped in Colombia?”
The answer is simply and unarguably YES! (Except for the kidnapping part!) Like many countries in the world, Colombia experienced a period of instability and violence, both political and drug-related, leaving the country with a hard-to-shake reputation. The truth is that Colombia, its government, and its people, have worked incredibly hard over the past 20 years to deal with the problems of its past and it has worked. Crime rates have decreased dramatically, the major drug cartels of the 1980’s and 90’s have largely been broken apart, and in Bogota in particular, homicide rates are now only 25% of what they were in 1993. The reputation that Colombia has worked so hard to change is often perpetuated by the constant portrayal of Colombia as the ‘drug capital of the world’ where innocent people die by the hundred daily and casting ‘evil Colombian drug lords’ as the villain in big budget action movies. Sure, it makes for easy and exciting viewing on the big screen, but it’s an unfair, outdated and plain untrue portrayal of a well-developed, thriving society. Every city in the world has areas that are best avoided, so take local advice on this and use the same common sense that you would anywhere else.
Here are 7 Awesome Things to do in Bogota, Colombia
1. Art Tour of Bogota – A Guided Path through the Colombian Art Scene
“Colombia has been established as a spearhead and leading actor of the culture field in South America, Colombia, a country whose range of cultural products has grown significantly in the last decade. Positioning itself as the most dynamic scene among emerging economies, regarding the arts.” Federico Ruiz – A Bogota art dealer and owner of the ‘Art-Boutique Eco Hotel,’ La Colina Hotel Cottage. (See below for a full review)
Political and social turbulence is very often catalysts for the production of art, music, and literature, as they often serve as a powerful expression of human sentiment in the face of difficult times. As Colombia’s turbulent past begins to fade into historical anecdotes, its arts scene does exactly the opposite, as older generations of Colombian artists start to blend with the new generations of fine arts graduates from Colombia’s many art schools and academies.
Colombia, in particular, Bogota, does seem to be putting itself ahead of the game in South America in its cultivation and promotion of all arts and art culture in the country. Since 2004, Bogota’s art fair, ArtBo, has been a driving force in the Colombia’s art scene, helping to gain domestic and international exposure for the country’s artists and to increase exposure of Colombian art to a greater worldwide audience.
As an Art Dealer and Cultural Manager in Colombia for more than ten years, Federico Ruiz offered in depth and customized ‘art tours,’ which he calls, ‘A Path through the Colombian Art Scene.’ Each path is unique, as Federico adapts the tours for each’s taste and interests. As well as galleries and museums, being very well-embedded into the arts and culture scene in Bogota allows Federico to offer a unique look under the skin of the city, past the gallery walls and into the artists’ studios themselves. He also offers a fascinating look into the wider street art scene, outside of the more touristic La Candelaria district, where the wider spaces and larger walls provide artists with far greater canvasses on which to express their talents.
2. Graffiti Walking Tour of Bogota, Colombia
Graffiti has been a part of Bogota for decades, with street artists working under the cover of darkness to express themselves and their talents on walls across the city. But pursuing their art always came with risks – arrest; a beating; territorial dispute; and eventually, even death. It was 2011 when Diego Felipe Becerra was painting his signature piece of Felix the Cat on the walls of an underpass when he was shot dead by a policeman. Public reaction was instantaneous and overwhelming – graffiti artists and other members of the public rose up in protest all over the city and eventually two police officers were arrested. The mayor of the city didn’t stop there, taking the unique decision to legalize graffiti and street art in certain areas and in certain walls and to actively promote it as part of the artistic and cultural identity of Bogota.
While this legitimization of street art has not put an end to the scrawling tags and lettering that defaces many walls, bridges and concrete barriers, but it has led to the emergence of a new generation of extremely talented artists who are making a name for themselves by painting stunning, creative murals on permitted walls around the city. Some artists are even commissioned by private business and home owners to fill their empty walls with artwork. A donation only graffiti walking tour through the central Candelaria district guides you through some of the best artwork the city has to offer and even introduces you to some of the artists.
3. Monseratte – The Mountain of Bogota, Colombia
Monserrate Mountain towers over Colombia’s capital city at over 3000 meters above sea level. The mountain has been known as a pilgrim destination since the early 1600’s, with a religious retreat built at the very top in around the 1650’s. As well as the panoramic views of the city and the sunset, Monseratte is most famous for its statue of ‘El Señor Caido’ or The Fallen Saint, which depicts Jesus Christ after being taken off the cross.
Nowadays, there’s no need to hike for several hours to reach the top, and there are funicular train and a cable car to transport you up and down the hill, taking just a few minutes. The walk down offers amazing views and takes around an hour. Many people will tell you that it’s not safe to walk up or down the hill, but with much of what is written about safety in Colombia, that’s a little out of date. Not only are there uniformed guards stationed at regular points up and down the hill, but Colombia and Bogota, in particular, is no more dangerous for a tourist than any other major city. Common sense and awareness are enough!
P.S. There were reports of robbery while walking up the hill. Take precautions, just take the funicular train to avoid this situation. The train/ cable car is really cheap!
4. Take a Food Tour of Bogota, Colombia
Colombian cuisine has a reputation for deep-fried, heavy on the rice and beans and even at times labeled as bland. With a little digging beyond the street food stands, you’ll soon find this is not the case – not bland that is, rice, beans, and deep frying are Colombian staples! There is so much more than that though, with rich, flavourful soups, juicy grilled meats, fresh fish, ceviche and even local delicacies like grilled Chiguiro, which is essentially a South American beaver! Colombia also cultivates over 150 different fruits and an equally impressive number of vegetables, so it’s not hard to find fresh, healthy dishes here.
There are three organised food tours available in Bogota that we know of – Bogota Foodie, run by an Australian, food-obsessed expat; Bogota Food Tour, a local run company with a range of tour options; and another expat-run food tour called Food Tours Bogota, whose website looks pretty new, but his other food articles suggest a lot of local knowledge.
Here are a few Colombian cuisine classics just to get you started:
- Bandeja Paisa – Colombia’s national dish of rice, beans, chicharron, avocado, arepa, fried egg and other optional ingredients.
- Ajiaco – A traditional Colombian soup from Bogota region, made of chicken, potato, corn, served with avocado and rice.
- Pescado Pacifico (Pacific Fish) – Not actually from Bogota, but there are plenty of great coastal-style fish restaurants in the city. Fried, with plenty of sides including rice, avocado, fried platano, but usually with a bit more flavor than the inland dishes.
- Arepas – A corn-based patty or biscuit, which on its own is bland and flavorless, but with the right combination of other ingredients can make for a tasty meal.
5. Cycle Tour of Bogota, Colombia
With around 300 kilometers of bicycle routes, or Ciclorutas, constructed in Bogota since 1998, Colombia’s capital is one of the most cycle-friendly cities in South America, if not the world. In a city with a population of 6.3 million, it is estimated that 300 to 400 thousand people travel by bicycle every single day in the city – that’s 5% of the population who are able and willing to jump on a bike and travel around the city! This impressive network makes cycling one of the best ways to see the real Bogota, up close and personal, rather than through the window of a taxi.
There are several companies offering guided bike tours around the city, but the one with the best reviews in Tripadvisor is Bogota Bike Tours. They have many tours and can even organize private excursions and bike rental, but their most popular day tours take place at 10.30am and 1.30pm in La Candelaria. Although each tour varies depending on the day, on conditions and events in the city, you’ll get to see many of the sightseeing hotspots of Bogota, including Plaza del Chorro, the Botero Museum, Plaza Bolivar, the Central Cemetary and Café de la Fonda coffee Factory, a very unlikely creator of some of Colombia’s best export coffee.
6. Gold Museum (Museo del Oro) – Bogota, Colombia
Opened in 1939 by the Bank of the Republic to help preserve Colombian artifacts, the Museo del Oro in Bogota houses the largest collection of Pre-Hispanic gold work in the world exhibited over two floors. The entire collection comprises 55,000 pieces of ancient works by indigenous cultures of Colombia, made from gold, pottery, rock, precious stones and textiles, which have given scientists and archaeologists a deeper insight into the lives and cultures of South America civilizations before the arrival of Europeans.
7. Simon Bolivar Central Park – The Lung of Bogota, Colombia
Best known simply as ‘Parque Simon Bolivar,’ this is the largest green space in Bogota and is located right in the middle of the city. At 400 acres of lake, trees, public facilities, events arenas, an Olympic swimming pool, gym, sauna, motocross track, amusement park and water park! Including all of the adjacent green spaces which connect to the park, Simon Bolivar Park extends over 970 acres, making it larger than New York’s Central Park and earning it the nickname, ‘Lung of the City.’ This is an amazing way to escape the city, without actually having to leave the city!
Where to Stay in Bogota, Colombia
Boutique Tranquillity – La Colina Hotel Cottage
La Colina Hotel Cottage is a haven of peace on the edge of one of the busiest cities in the world.
Located on a scenic hillside on the outskirts of Bogota, commanding views over the valley and the lush, green hills beyond, you won’t believe that you’re only a fifteen-minute drive from the city center. The air is fresh and clear, the traffic noise, horns and pollution of the busy streets are forgotten the moment you arrive.
The hotel started life as the family home of the Ruiz family, which mother and son, Federico and Marta, decided to convert into an ‘art-boutique-eco-hotel’ just over a year ago. In doing so, they have created something incredible!
The spacious, open-plan living room and social kitchen are the centerpieces of the whole experience, with a large log fireplace, high ceiling with old wooden beams and comfortable sofas to relax in the evenings with a glass of wine and stories about Colombia and what makes it the fascinating country it is today.
Everything about La Colina is unique, right down to the experience of each guest who stays there. Upon making a reservation, every guest is sent a simple questionnaire about what they like or dislike, what they’re expecting from their visit to Colombia, what they want to experience and discover…everything possible to help make their stay in Colombia as amazing as possible. Federico, an art dealer and cultural manager by profession, can even organize fully customized tours of the city and its cultural highlights, from street art, national galleries, and museums, to the artists’ studios themselves.
The second unique feature of La Colina is that it’s like living within an art gallery. That doesn’t mean to say the walls are white and you can’t touch anything! The Ruiz’s are a family of artists, art collectors, and art dealers; huge canvasses adorn the walls and a stone sculpture of a woman gracefully guard the kitchen, while countless metal-sculpted masterpieces, transformed from confiscated street weapons into works of art, populated the entire property. It’s possible to spend days simply looking around and finding new and intriguing objects, each with a personal story behind it.
Every bedroom is individually designed with classic luxury and real comfort in mind. The king-size bed, super thick duvet and big pillows keep you warm in the cold nights, and the super-hot showers in the elegant bathrooms bring you back to life in the crisp morning. In another building, just a few feet away are two equally stunning apartments for families and groups who like some space of their own.
There’s a subtle and effective emphasis on environmental sustainability, which has earned them a GOLD LEAF from the Sustainable Hotels Group and a Gold Level as a GREENLEADER from TripAdvisor.
Marta is an expert on healthy food, with a herb and spice collection that spans an entire wall and together with Alex, they prepare delicious, fresh, original and healthy Colombian and European food with their twist. Ask Federico about his burned tomato and onion arepas!
Breakfast is always the most important part of a hotel for me, and this was the best breakfast I’ve had, period! Home-made granola with yogurt made fresh that morning from local farm milk, fresh, natural fruit juice and a Colombian vegetable omelet over an arepa, with plenty of the finest Colombian coffee. Fresh, filling, healthy and energizing!
But what hits you the most here, is the energy and atmosphere, created by a perfectly natural blend of family hospitality, luxury comfort, art and creativity, conscientious sustainability and personal care and attention.
Luxury in the City – Sheraton Bogota
When you’re visiting a big foreign city, far from home, with new sights, sounds and smells swarming your senses, it’s reassuring to know that when you’re ready to take a break from all the discoveries and adventures, you can step through a door and into a world of calm, where everything is just as it should be.
When you arrive, the service is exactly as you would expect from a 5 Star hotel, from opening doors and carrying your bags to generally making you feel welcome. The staff seemed to maintain a perfect level of attentiveness and helpfulness, yet never once overdoing it and always with complete genuineness.
Our room was a Superior Triple with large, luxurious beds and a wide, full height window offering plenty of natural light and views over the north side of the city. The bathroom was spacious and bright with a hot, powerful shower, exactly what you need in the cool climate of Bogota.
For us, the biggest highlight of the Sheraton Bogota is the luxury Pool and Spa, which has a huge heated pool, Jacuzzi, sauna, Turkish steam room and a full gym. After an hour or so relaxing in the warm pool, then lying in the sauna, you’ll forget that you’ve just flown 12 hours to get here!
There are three restaurants in the hotel, including a fantastic Sushi bar on the ground floor. The buffet breakfast is served in Restaurante La Chimenea, with an open fire and a large outdoor terrace. Breakfast buffets are something that either goes so-very-right or so-very-wrong, but here there was a perfect balance of fresh fruit, juices and cereals, world bread and steaming hot traditional Colombian breakfast dishes. Not to mention the obligatory omelet chef, with delicious cooked to order omelets filled with fresh vegetables and cheese!
The Sheraton Bogota is only a short taxi ride from the city center, but far enough to be able to relax in quieter streets with less traffic and noise when you feel like it.
If you’re looking for the comfort, assurance, and confidence that comes with a well-known, 5-star hotel, but with the added spice of Latin American city life, then the Sheraton Bogota is exactly what you’re looking for.
Best ApartHotel in the city – Hotel 101 Park House
Hotel 101 Park House is a hidden gem tucked away from the busy city center. An excellent choice provides guests with a homey feel. The property is an apartment-style living with hotel amenities, with separate bedroom, lovely living room area and has a dining room and kitchen too. The guest rooms are the pinnacle among this hotel many facilities/amenities. Spacious, and well designed with a kind of “loft style.”
Service is outstanding as well – staff is all nice, polite and very helpful. Car service is great and fairly priced too. The people are so professional and welcoming.
They also have an elegant restaurant (breakfast included in the rates), serving delicious food.
A highly recommended accommodation, perfect for business, leisure or even family travel.