Bogotá, Colombia's grand capital city, has no shortage of things to do. But travelers eager to escape the hustle and bustle of this sprawling metropolis will find as many attractions right outside of town. Here are our picks for the best.

Overview

Between the Zona Rosa, Cerro de Monserrate, and all the colonial culture and heritage of the La Candelaria neighborhood, Bogotá can be a whole vacation in itself. And although you're guaranteed a great time in this highly impressive Latin American capital city, sometimes it's nice to get away for a day. The beauty is that you won't lack for culture, tranquility, and epic dining and partying outside the city, either—it all depends on your preference, and this thorough list will help you choose.

As for the best options for things to do in Bogotá, be sure to check out this article

Andrés Carne de Res

Photo courtesy of Andrés Carne de Res

Every weekend (and many weekdays) hordes of Bogatanos (locals from the capital) make the pilgrimage from the capital 45-minutes north to the rural town of Chía. Here they descend on their version of Mecca: Andrés Carne de Res, a place that is more institution than restaurant, more spectacle than dining experience. However, that's not to say you won't enjoy the food—this sprawling, hacienda-like eatery serves up Colombian country fare of plates piled high with asado (grilled meats) and roast papas criollas (mini potatoes). And even though Andrés Carne de Res sits on almost three square miles of property and boasts 11 dining rooms (which can pack in up to 3,300 people at one time), it still gets so busy that a reservation is recommended.

That's because it's a showstopper. During the day families can enjoy this institution, as it features a children's zone complete with clowns, crafts, and face painting. Then there are the wild themed costumes the employees wear—everything from gauchos and mimes to jungle animals and Mexican Day of the Dead characters. At night the place turns into a raucous dinner-and-a-show nightclub experience not suitable for young ones. Patrons dance, drink, and otherwise carouse into the early hours. 

Those who don't want to make the journey into the countryside can opt for Andrés' satellite location, Andrés DC, located in the bustling Zona Rosa neighborhood in north Bogotá. DC may be a smaller venue, but the party is just as rollicking. Also, the interior decor is equally as loco as the Chía location. The restaurant takes up four stories, with the top called cielo (heaven) and the bottom floor infierno (hell). Here it doesn't matter if you're doomed to damnation or welcomed into the Promised Land—everyone's guaranteed a good time.

Honda

El Alto Rosario church, in Honda

The traffic, the mayhem, the endless nights—sometimes you just need a break from the commotion of Bogotá. And there's no better quaint colonial haven in which to recharge your batteries than the town of Honda. If you get up early enough you can make the three-and-a-half-hour bus journey northeast and enjoy the cobblestone streets, thriving indoor produce market, and the lovely stone church, El Alto Rosario.

Even better, Honda has seen an emerging expat community in recent years, so new restaurants and hotels are popping up all the time. The town also lies at the junction of the Río Magdalena and Río Gualí, so the Honda boasts some lovely old and rickety bridges. Moreover, fisherman flock from all over during the fishing season, which begins in February when the Magdalena rises. The conditions are excellent. Those who want to escape Bogotá's often frigid climate are also in for a treat: Honda boasts a 91°F average temperature. 

Laguna de Guatavita (Lake Guatavita)

Laguna de Guatavita

Some say that the mythic body of water called Laguna de Guatavita is the site where the legend of El Dorado was born. What is known for certain are some incredible facts. This body of water, located in a forest-rimmed crater, was once a holy site for the indigenous Muisca people who inhabited the region of Cundinamarca in Colombia, and whose descendants still exist today.

Gold was an elemental part of Muisca life—it was so honored that the Muisca cacique (chief) would paint himself with gold dust, lead a party out to the middle of the lake by raft, and toss gold adornments in the water as an offering to the goddess of Guatavita. Eventually, the Spaniards got word of these natural resources, and by the time the first conquistadors arrived inland they all had gold fever. They never found El Dorado, the lost city of gold, but every now and then new mining endeavors pop up around the lake, pet projects of 21st-century treasure hunters.

Many hotels and hostels offer a half-day tour to visit Guatavita, located about an hour and a half north of Bogotá. It's also possible to combine it with a visit to the jaw-dropping Catedral de Sal (see below).

The Catedral de Sal (Salt Cathedral)

One of many crucifixes inside the Catedral de Sal, in Zipaquirá

One of the most famous attractions in or around Bogotá is the Catedral de Sal, the famed church carved out of a rock salt mine outside the town of Zipaquirá (about 45 minutes north of Bogotá). Rock salt has been mined here for centuries, starting in the 15th century before even the Spanish arrived. And the idea of a church carved into the mine isn't a new occurrence either. Even before the official Catedral de Sal was consecrated in 1954, miners had carved shrines into the salt years before. Not so coincidentally the church was dedicated to Nuestra Señora del Rosario, who just happens to be the patron saint of miners. 

Today the Salt Cathedral is a tourist attraction of the highest order, featuring three levels covering 25 acres of space. These interior corridors cover "14 stations of the cross;" that is, there are 14 shrines, each sculpted by a different artist and featuring a crucifix 13-feet high at the center. There are even sections featuring a choir, sacristy, and baptistry. You'll descend lower into the church (up to 590 feet below the surface), where you'll be treated to the 52-foot-high central cross.

You can combine a trip to the Salt Cathedral with the aforementioned Laguna de Guatavita or an onward visit to the colonial town of Villa de Leyva, described below. 

Villa de Leyva

Villa de Leyva at dusk

Once again, if you get up early enough, you can enjoy Villa de Leyva as a great day trip from Bogotá. Located in Boyacá Department, about three hours north of the capital, this well-preserved colonial town (part of the Colombian National Network of Heritage Towns) is another popular retreat for Bogotanos. Moreover, it's just a short drive from the site of the Battle of Boyacá, where the great "Liberator" of the independence movement, Simón Bolívar, dealt the Spanish a final crushing blow in 1819.

People come partly to see the quaint, white-washed colonial homes nestled amid these arid and wind-swept Andes. But mostly they come to stroll the expansive Plaza Mayor (the largest town square in the entire country), which is surrounded by buildings dating back as far as the 16th century. The plaza is paved with rough-hewn stones that, at first glance, appear to have been laid in the 1500s as well. But, alas, it's a misnomer: the thick plaza stones the town is famous for were actually added in the 1960s.

Still, all along and around the plaza, you'll find wonderful restaurants, bakeries, ice cream parlors, and artisanal shops. There are great, easy hikes in many of the hills that surround the town, and some fascinating archeological sites nearby as well. One of these, Infiernito, is a monument to fertility featuring a grouping of giant stone penises (yes, you read that right). Mostly the region around Villa de Leyva makes for great cycling—for more on the best mountain biking in the country, see this article.