As you probably know from reading my blog, I enjoy traveling pretty much anywhere. But I especially enjoy visiting cities and countries where I can practice my college Spanish and where my dollar goes far. Bogotá, Colombia meets both of those standards. Bogotá was not always on the top of our travel list, but when we found round-trip flights from Dallas to Bogotá for only $200, Alex and I immediately jumped on the deal and began researching the city. I have a few friends who had recently spent time in Bogotá, so we were able to gather plenty of personal recommendations, which is always nice. We spent four nights in the city and absolutely loved our time there. I’ll do a separate post about all of the delicious food we tried during our vacation; this one will be devoted to all of the great activities we did!
Our home base in Bogotá was the Hotel Casa Deco in La Candelaria, the historic district. There is a lot to see in the area and it was easy to fill up two full days. I cannot speak highly enough of the Hotel Casa Deco! The boutique hotel was clean and centrally located and the staff was always happy to help answer any questions or provide recommendations. Each room has a private bathroom, sleeping and seating areas, TV, phone, and safe. There is wi-fi throughout the hotel, but it seemed to work best in the lobby and breakfast areas. The wi-fi was spotty in our third floor room. The hotel provided us pick-up from the airport for 55,000 COP (40,000 COP if you arrive between 5am and 10pm). One of the best parts of the stay at Hotel Casa Deco was the breakfast. Each morning, we were offered coffee and a fresh juice of the day, a bowl of fruit, bread, and your choice of eggs, pancakes, or cereal. The full and delicious breakfast was a great way to start each day of sightseeing! Another favorite feature of the hotel was definitely the beautiful terrace that overlooked La Candelaria. It was the perfect place to enjoy a glass of wine before going out to dinner.
The Museo del Oro contains more than 55,000 pieces of gold and artifacts from pre-Hispanic cultures in Colombia. There are great explanations of how pieces are used, whether as tools, jewelry, or idols. To get a fuller idea of the civilizations that used these gold artifacts, the museum offers free one-hour tours twice a day from Tuesday through Saturday in both English and Spanish.
The Museo Botero was my favorite museum of the visit. All of the subjects in the paintings are rotund: fat people, fat horses, fat fruit, and more. It’s very entertaining!
My favorite activity during our time in Bogotá, and my top recommendation for anyone visiting, was the Bogotá Bike Tour. It starts in La Candelaria just a couple of blocks from Casa Deco and goes all over the city for 4.5 hours through several different neighborhoods including La Candelaria, downtown, national museum and park, the Victorian neighborhood, and working-class neighborhoods.
Some of the highlights were having a snack break of arepas with cheese and local fruit salad (also with cheese) in the national park and seeing a lot of the famous graffiti in Bogota.
We visited Cafe de la Fonda where we learned about the coffee-making process and tasted some Colombian coffee. I found it interesting to learn that Colombians typically cannot find good coffee locally because it is all exported to other countries like the USA.
We also rode through working class neighborhoods where we saw a different and grittier side of the city, including the red light district. My favorite part of the bike tour was at the end, where we played tejo with locals while drinking very cheap (~25 cent) local beers. Tejo is similar to the American game of cornhole, except that it uses gunpowder. The object of the game is to hit the target to be rewarded with a loud “pow.”
Our guide was Diego and he was awesome – both informative and entertaining. The cost of the tour was just over $10 (35000 COP). If you have time for nothing else, please do this!
Another must-do activity in Bogotá is to summit Cerro Montserrate. There is an option to hike Montserrate, but it is recommended to only hike on weekends when it is busy and when there is security. Otherwise, you can always take a funicular or cable car. Both are the same price: the round-trip total was ~$12 (36,000 COP). When we were in Bogotá in June, the hike was closed for maintenance, but we took the funicular up and the cable car down. The views are amazing and there is a restaurant where you can eat lunch. We also enjoyed sitting in the Santa Maria de Montserrat Abbey to escape the rain. Pro Tip: Bring an umbrella or rain jacket to Montserrate. Bogotá can be rainy in general, but the weather at Montserrate can be drastically different from that in the city.
Since we weren’t able to hike at Montserrat, we looked for another option and found the Quebrada La Vieja hike. This hike is locked up with security guards so it is safe, but note that it is closed on Sundays. Unfortunately, I missed that crucial piece of information when I was researching it, so of course the hike was locked up when we arrived. However, we met a group of locals that had permission to do the hike and I asked in my rusty Spanish if we could join them. They were happy to oblige as long as we stayed with the group. We had a great time hiking with a group of nature enthusiasts and practicing our Spanish conversational skills while making new friends. It ended up being perfect because our group had the trail to ourselves and everyone was so nice. The hike doesn’t take too long (I’m not sure exactly how long it would take normally; we went at a slower pace with a small child in the group). The trail isn’t marked very well, but I imagine if you just keep following it upwards, you would reach the top eventually. The trail ended with incredible panoramic views of Bogotá under the shade of the Virgin Mary.
The entrance/exit of the hike is also right near the Zona G neighborhood, so we stopped at the Four Seasons for fancy drinks to reward ourselves after a morning of exercise! Pro Tip: The entrance can be a bit hard to find, but the address on google maps takes you right to the gate where you can begin the hike.
If you are in Bogotá on a Sunday, you should rent bikes and check out Ciclovia. The main avenue shuts down throughout the city from 7am to 2pm and people bike around town all morning. It’s really fun and there are stands with food and drinks along the way where you can stop for a break and people-watch. Since we had already done the bike tour, we didn’t rent bikes, but we walked along Ciclovia for a bit to take part in the festivities! This video gives a great idea of what it is like and this map shows you which streets are closed for bikers/pedestrians only.
Finally, an option for a short day trip from Colombia is to visit the Salt Cathedral of Zipaquirá about 50km north of Bogota. I will preface this by saying that I would only go here if you have extra time. While the cathedral is beautiful and unlike anything I have ever seen, it is a little complicated to get to and the entrance fee for foreigners is overpriced ($53,000 COP). Upon arriving at the cathedral, we purchased our tickets to see the cathedral and museum. The tickets included a guided tour of the 14 chapels and cathedral as well as a short 3D movie and light show on the salt walls. The entire structure is built from a salt mine and everything inside is salt. The chapels and cathedral are beautiful, but much of the place is geared toward tourists and consists of shops trying to sell souvenirs.
How to get to the Salt Cathedral: Uber (but you most likely won’t be able to find a return Uber), taxi, bus, or colectivo. The colectivo is the cheapest option, but can be a little unnerving as the bus picks up and drops off people seemingly at random. We took an Uber to the salt cathedral (for 65,000 COP), but could not get one back and didn’t have cash for a taxi. We accidentally got on a colectivo instead of the bus. The colectivo took us to the Portal Norte station. There, we got on Line H13 of the TransMilenio (rapid transit system), which we took to Calle 100, where we found a Juan Valdez coffee shop and requested an Uber to take us to dinner before we had to head to the airport later that night.
We also took Uber to and from the Virgen Guadalupe, who stands sentinel on a mountain overlooking the city. If you haven’t guessed, Uber was extremely inexpensive, so we took it almost everywhere. The drive up the mountain was beautiful but slightly terrifying on narrow switchbacks and I was relieved to get out at the top and take pictures while standing on solid ground. Even our Uber driver was taking pictures as it was his first time seeing the big statue, too!
Next week, I’ll tell you all about the delicious food in Bogotá. Just thinking about it makes my mouth start watering. And P.S., I apologize for the hiatus in posts. Between lots of summer travel and my day job, time has really flown by this summer! Thanks for reading and hope you check out next week’s post about the cuisine in Bogotá!
Hotel Casa Deco, Calle 12c #236, Bogotá
Museo del Oro, Carrera 6 #1588, Bogotá
Museo Botero, Calle 11 #4-41, Bogotá
Bogotá Bike Tour, Carrera 3 #12-72, La Candelaria, Bogotá
Montserrate, Carrera 3 Este, Bogotá
Quebrada la Vieja, Calle 71 #1-45, Bogotá
Salt Cathedral of Zipaquirá, Parque De La Sal, Zipaquirá