critical tourist (1)

Top 10 coolest things to do in Bogotá

Whether you’re an adventurer seeking urban thrills or a traveler longing for a touch of tradition, Bogotá promises an experience like no other. Dive in and let the city’s spirit captivate you.

Iulia Hau
Iulia Hau

Nothing could bribe me to spout lies that Bogotá is one of my favorite Colombian places, that its vibrant atmosphere will lead your feelings of well-being to levitate or any such nonsense. No! Bogotá (and not Bógota as you might be inclined to pronounce) is well placed at the bottom of my list of Colombian preferences, but I can’t deny it has its charm. If you add to that the fact that you’ll probably have to pass through here when your plane lands, make sure you see the crème de la crème of this bustling capital and note the following:

1. Join the most important free walking tours

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Street art in Candelaria, the most bohemian city in Bogotá

There’s no better way to get a feel for the country and society you’ve just landed in, and luckily the city’s “free tours” are just what you need. The Bogota Graffiti Tour, which covers Candelaria (the quintessential bohemian, colorful, artistic, and touristy neighborhood of Bogotá) will probably remain one of the most beautiful memories of the place. The material is abundant, and the guides (whether artists or anthropologists, all passionate about what they do) are captivating from the first “Hello, who’s here for the graffiti tour?”

If you feel warmed up and eager to learn more after the tour, book one of the tours offered by Beyond Colombia for the next day.

2. Stroll down Carrera Septima

The creativity and life overflowing from the street artists who reside here leave a lasting impression. If you’re lucky enough to pass by when salsa groups are performing, you’ll understand what dance means to the people here.

Elderly couples dance, young couples dance, young singles dance, and even toddlers who can barely walk… they dance too. Right in the middle of the street, with the skill and ease that characterizes every atom of them, it’s hard for any foreigner to remain indifferent.

3. Indulge in arepas without remorse

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With omelette, cheese, meat filling, and always well buttered - arepas can be found on every Colombian street corner.

Bless the one who invented arepas, the South American cornmeal wonders for which I’d traverse the entire continent. Words fail to describe the sheer adoration these simple-tasting pancakes evoke, capable of inducing pure addiction. For four months, I was on a strict arepa diet.

It’s hard to believe you could find unsatisfactory arepas, but I’d skip the fried ones and go for those sold on the street, at makeshift stalls. If you’re in the Candelaria area, head to Parque Germania, in front of the Goce Pagano club, any day until six in the evening.

And if you’re a fan of sitting and watching the youth and students, reminiscing about times past and letting your imagination run wild, grab an arepa from the mentioned place, find a free spot, and blend in with the young students of Bogotá.

4. Wander without a map through Champinero

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Guatapé, Columbia / Image credit: USA-Reiseblogger

I could say “it’s the most modern and affluent part of the city” (but that’s so vague you wouldn’t bother reading), urban art and graffiti abound (“you just defined Bogotá,” you’d mutter), there’s a park every two blocks (“gimme more…”), this is where you can watch the sunset and see how the city’s middle-upper class has fun (now you’re perking up).

But leaving aside the linguistic constructions that look good on tourist brochures, this is where you can easily imagine life. The large Victorian-style houses resemble wealthy Europe, but they also have street food stalls. The restaurants and hotels exude luxury and opulence from the street, the same street where street vendors carry thermoses of coffee and aromatic spices. The upper class takes their dogs for walks in the many parks, seemingly undisturbed by the reggaeton that permeates the air… everywhere.

5. Visit the Gold Museum

Why would I say I’m a museum fan? I’d risk freezing every drop of water in the library where I am. I’m more often overwhelmed by a heavy drowsiness that weighs on my shoulders and eyelids every time I enter a museum, but the Museo del Oro seems different. And the explanation is simple: what caused the suffering of pre-Columbian populations and their more contemporary descendants was… gold. Or rather, the greed that gold can awaken and the quantities available in these South American lands.

With an 80-year history, the museum houses nearly 60,000 gold pieces that tell the stories of vanished civilizations (although “destroyed” might be a more fitting term), flirt with fantasy, and act as portals to bygone times about which we know too little.

6. Drink chicha in Chorro de Quevado

Chorro de Quevado is the heart and soul of the alternative category of rolos (as Colombians from Bogotá are known by Colombians outside of it), and this will be clear from the first glance here, when dreadlocks, leather jackets, and guitar players will compete for a spot in the scene. It’s the kind of place where the sound of a beer cap, signaling the end of its purpose, fills the air and where a risqué street dance show doesn’t surprise anyone.

It’s the favorite spot for students who are a bit different from their peers, just as it once was the favorite resting place for the chief of the Muisca tribe (the ancient indigenous people of these lands). One of the entrances to this small square is El Callejón del Embudo: a cobbled alley, emblematic to the sky and even more photogenic. Here or in the aforementioned square, drink a chicha (chicha and chica have nothing to do with each other), an ancestral drink derived from corn.

7. Have breakfast/lunch at Mercado de la Perseverancia

I often returned to this place that delighted my eyes and tickled my poetic sense. I don’t know if it was the colors, the intertwined smells, or the uninhibited people inviting me to join them at their tables, reciting the menu from memory.

It looked like a kitchen where dozens of mothers’ cuisines were crammed. But not Romanian mothers, but Colombian ones, who must have infused their homes every Saturday morning just as my mother has done since I can remember. Needless to say, I was fascinated by this rustic place in the middle of the urban monster.

8. Walk up El Cerro de Monserrate

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View of Bogotá from the path to Monserrate's peak Photo by @diegonzalez

… yes, you can also take the cable car. But unless you physically can’t spend an hour to an hour and a half climbing 500 meters of urban mountains, you have no excuse to take the easy way. Especially considering the arepa trucks that will make their way to your stomach.

About the path, it’s said to have 1034 steps, but with its vegetation, its picturesque nature, and the chubby folks who make up for their lack of waist with great humor, stopping here and there to breathe… all together, it’s a great way to start the day. The reward for this journey, where neither the incline nor the altitude helps, is a breathtaking panorama over this mountain-protected capital, full of intrigue, narrative, and life.

9. Take the Transmilenio during rush hour

Do you know what it means to have a city with over seven million souls without a subway? A city where even public transport is plagued by the greed of corruption that doesn’t care that during rush hour, buses pass every 10-15-20 minutes, with people waiting impatiently to start or end their long workday. Inopportune, we might conclude with a small margin of error.

Why would I suggest you subject yourself to such torture? Not out of some macabre masochism or pure sadism. My conclusion after a few trips on public transport in Bogotá was that its inhabitants deserve all the respect. Hats off! All admiration! If after so many hours given to the bus and its stations, people still find enough resources to be cheerful, kind, smile, chat, give money to the poor, support street artists, and even dance in the evening, they deserve our fervent applause.

10. Travel outside the city

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Villa de Leyva, probably the most popular urban destination near the Colombian capital

We might think that the misfortune of citizens condemned daily to the Transmilenio or forced to endure the traffic, aware that the sands of time are running out, is compensated by the proximity of some villages, forests, lagoons, and other urban escapes, a balm for the city soul.

Choose either Villa de Leyva or Guatavita, and ignore the recommendations to visit Zipaquirá. A cathedral in a salt mine sounds more interesting than it actually is, and I would never forgive it if you missed the legend of El Dorado built around the Guatavita lagoon or didn’t breathe the eternal air of Villa de Leyva because of the aforementioned salt mine.

If the spirit of adventure pushes you and you’d rather be in the middle of nature, under a star-filled sky, perhaps with a jacuzzi nearby, check out the glamping options near Bogotá. It seems that this trend is becoming popular among the beautiful Colombian mountains.

11. Take some salsa lessons and (then!) go dancing in one of the rumba zones

Well, you don’t have to go all out and try everything if you don’t want to and don’t know how to dance. You don’t have to go through the frustration I imposed on myself when I tried to dance alongside Colombians, but if you still want to try your luck, wisely take some salsa lessons first. The more private, the better. If you want advice, ask the teacher to also show you some reggaeton moves, just enough to defend yourself if needed.

Either way, dancing or not, Bogotá’s nightlife is not something you want to miss. Even if many clubs might remind you of Romanian clubs from the early 2000s, the risqué moves will widen your eyes in shock, and the less angelic among us might adopt the attitude of an unmarried 50-year-old woman from the countryside. But you can always opt for the much… much more familiar pubs and breweries.

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