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The capital of Colombia, home to 8 million people, is located at an elevation of 8860 ft (2640 m) above sea level, in a fertile basin of the northern Andes Mountains. This is the political and economic heart of the country, with a history that dates back to 1538, when the city was founded by a Spanish expedition led by Gonzalo Jiménez de Quesada.
The South and Southwest part of the city are working class areas that have little to offer the visitor. Most of the boutique hotels, shopping areas, and entertainment lie in the well-heeled north. La Candelaria is the historic heart of the city: here you’ll find cobblestone streets, historic buildings (some dating back 300 years), museums, boutique hotels and colorful cafes.
The city authorities have worked hard over the past two decades to lower crime rates, improve mass transit and clean up run-down neighborhoods. Today Bogotá is considered one of the safest and easiest to navigate among South America’s major metro areas. More improvements are on the horizon – a new above ground metro is being planned, with completion expected in 2022.
Planning Your visit
Once you have booked your flights and a hotel, it’s just a matter of taking care of standard procedures before international travel:
- No special vaccinations are required, just make sure you are up-to-date with immunizations before you travel.
- Make sure you have 6 months validity on your passport.
- contact your credit card company to inform them of your international travel plans.
Bogota sits at 8860 feet above sea level. You may experience shortness of breath, headaches, and loss of appetite before your body acclimatizes to the altitude. Take it easy on the first day of your visit, and avoid strenuous activities or hikes. Some tips to consider to avoid sickness: stay hydrated, get plenty of rest, eat carbohydrate-heavy foods and leafy greens.
Temperatures range between 45°F-66°F (7°C-19°C) year round and cloud cover or mist is common. The most rainfall occurs April to March and October to November. It’s a good idea to bring a light sweater, a rain jacket, scarf and long pants, in addition to lighter clothing for warm days.
Best Time to Visit
Bogotá can be visited year-round and the weather is pretty consistent throughout the year. June to August tends to be the high season for hotels and flights, mainly because of increased numbers of travelers from North America and Europe. December is a particularly nice time due to the festive atmosphere and holiday lights. Cerro Monserrate is lit up in December and it’s a great time to visit for panoramic city views.
Festivals & special events
Special events can and festivals are held periodically on Plaza de Bolívar in central Bogotá
March / April
Santa Semana: The Holy Week (the week before Easter) is celebrated throughout the country. You can church hop with the locals, visiting different churches and religious monuments. Special places to visit at this time of year include Cerro Monserrate and the Zipaquirá Salt Cathedral.
Salsa al Parque: salsa dancing in Parque Simón Bolívar
Festival de Verano: 10-day event of free music and cultural activities in Parque Simón Bolívar
Jazz al Parque: This large jazz event features local and international jazz artists.
Bogotá Film Festival: features films from around the world, but best for local films.
Rock al Parque: Features rock, reggae and pop bands in Parque Simón Bolívar
Christmas and New Years are big holidays in Bogotá, Christmas tends to be a party while the New Year holiday is more for families.
How many days do you need?
It’s best to plan for at least two days and three nights in the capital. With one full day in Bogotá, you can get a feel for the historic downtown, exploring the sights and museums around La Candelaria and Plaza de Bolívar. On a second day, you can hike up Cerro de Monserrate and take a graffiti walking tour of downtown. Additional days allow you to explore other parts of the city and make a day trip out of town.
Places to Visit & Things to Do
Bogotá has a wealth of historic sites and museums, excellent restaurants and entertainment options. Most of the attractions are around the La Candelaria district in downtown. Must-see attractions and things to do include the Museo del Oro and the Museo Botero. Don’t miss taking a graffiti tour of the city, biking tours are also possible.
Once you’ve exhausted your list of places to do in the city, make some day trips out of town to explore attractions in the countryside surrounding Bogotá. Many choose to make a day trip to the Salt Cathedral at Zipaquirá but there are also excellent hiking opportunities.
Monseratte and Quebrada La Vieja are hiking options within the city. Both are well guarded by local police, safe, and convenient to get to. You'll find more tourists at Monseratte (there's a cable car to the top as well), while Quebrada La Viega is popular with locals.
If you have kids in tow, here are some ideas for family-friendly activities in the city. And for day trips in the area, check out this article.
While most travelers visit Bogotá without incident, it's worth taking safety precautions before you hit the streets (especially at night).
Be wary of pickpockets in areas frequented by tourists, including La Candelaria and Cerro de Monserrate. Weekends are better for a hike to Monserrate as there is safety in numbers (it's a popular weekend walk for Bogotanos). On weekdays, the safer bet is to ride the cable car to the top.
Take the usual precautions as you would in any big city: leave valuables in your hotel safe and be wary of accepting drinks from strangers at nightclubs. For safety reasons, use ATMs during daylight hours and avoid ones on the streets (look for ATMs inside a mall or inside a guarded bank).
It's a good idea to speak with the staff of your hotel when planning your routes around town in order to avoid straying into unsafe areas. The Northern parts of Bogotá are generally the safest parts of the city while the southern neighborhoods are riskier.
Getting There & Away
Bogotá's recently renovated Aeropuerto Internacional El Dorado has non-stop connections with a number of big cities in North America. The airport is located 13km northwest of the city center, but due to traffic, it can still take an hour to reach the airport from downtown. Terminal 1, which has a helpful tourist information center serves all international flights. Terminal 2 handles most of the domestic air traffic.
The main bus terminal - La Terminal is located 5km west of the city center in the neighborhood of La Salitre. It's clean, efficient and recognized as one of the best in South America. While its big and easy to get lost, the staff at the tourist information kiosk can help point you in the right direction. Air-conditioned buses regularly depart for destinations across the country. Note that a small medical clinic here offers free yellow fever shots. This is handy for those who are making the trip down to Amazonia.
Transport Options in the City
Bogotá has been a pioneer city in the development of the BRT (Bus Rapid Transit) system, which has buses traveling on isolated lanes that are not accessible to cars. Think of it as an above-ground subway, built at a fraction of the cost. The TransMilenio BRT travels along main routes, while standard buses cover other areas. Use the MoviliXA app to help you coordinate routes.
Bogotá has plenty of taxis, which are safe and good to use at night if you've been out late. Taxis are metered (but meters display units instead of the price, each unit represents about 82 Colombian centavos). Flag fall is about $1 and fares tend to increase after dark. Avoid unmarked cabs. Note that some drivers may state a flat rate so have an idea how much a fare should cost before getting in the cab.
Cycling is the most popular option for transport with the locals in Bogotá, and bike rentals are available. With about 200 miles of bike lanes throughout the city, the opportunities for getting around on two wheels are extensive. This is also a great way to avoid the otherwise ubiquitous traffic delays.
Uber is available in Bogotá (but Lyft is not), so make sure you have downloaded this app before arriving. Note that Uber is somewhat controversial in Colombia. For the most part this isn’t a problem; however, if taking Uber to or from the airport, know your driver's name and avoid mentioning the app to avoid causing issues for your driver.
Where to Stay
Bogotá has all manner of accommodation options, from hostels and boutique hotels to the major chains. Most of the high-end options are located in the north while budget digs can be found around La Candelaria. This list of hotels covers some of the best boutique options in town.
Where to Eat
Bogotá is loaded with excellent restaurants serving both local and international fare, plus fusion cuisine. There are plenty of good, locally-run burger outlets and no shortage of Peruvian restaurants.
Zona Rosa is one of the best areas of the city for high-end eating. The heart of the action is Zona T, a couple of pedestrian-only streets. About 10 blocks north is Parque 93, another area of posh restaurants. Zona G, located about 10 blocks south of Zona Rosa, has yet more options. La Candelaria in the historic city center is best for cafes and budget eateries.
Families will find great kid-friendly options on this list of eateries. If you are looking for a local dining experience, try La Macarena, just north of Centro, which has a thriving restaurant scene and is still little known by tourists.
Probably the most famous restaurant in all of Bogotá is Andres Carne de Res, a bar-restaurant serving big steaks and a long list of cocktails. This wildly-decorated place has a fun atmosphere so come prepared to drink, dance and eat.