Bogota Colombia has had a facelift over recent years and her transformation has caught the attention of travellers worldwide. Existing somewhere between old and new, Bogota has emerged from troubled times as a regenerated urban centre with a very full social calendar. Bogota is experiencing huge growth with restaurants and infrastructure popping up in revamped neighbourhoods, all the while keeping a tight hold on colourful traditions and cultural icons. As the geographical heart of Colombia, Bogota is a great base for wider Latin American adventures. With soaring Gothic cathedrals and quaint colonial homes, Bogota proclaims heritage around one corner and hipster around the next. There is more than meets the eye in this city of layers.
If you are wondering what to do in Bogota, you will find you are spoiled for choice in terms of museums, libraries and historical landmarks. Visit the city's birthplace at La Candelaria and the Plaza de Bolivar. Here you can wander down cobblestone streets past centuries-old churches and homes while skyscrapers loom over the horizon. On a weekend the Plaza becomes home to troubadours, jugglers, fresh fruit vendors and llamas. Lose yourself in the magnificence of the Colombian National Museum – dating back to the late 17th century – or the Luis Angel Arango Library. Bogota also boasts an impressive network of bicycle paths called 'ciclorutas' – it is especially easy to see the city by bike on Sundays when many roads are closed off to cars.
To experience the Bogota cafe culture with a fragrant cup of Colombian coffee, the bohemian La Macarena neighbourhood ('Zona M') is the place to be. The cafe terraces offer perfect people-watching opportunities with menus meshing traditional flavours with innovative techniques. A typical taste of Bogota is Ajiaco – a Colombian potato soup taking on regional variations. French, Spanish, Argentine and, of course, Colombian cuisine draw crowds at new and exciting eateries, while partiers flock to Parque de la 93 for nightclubs oozing Colombian cool. Only the brave should down a glass of chicha – a potent drink made from fermented maize – while a canelazo is a safer choice for most (made with sugar cane alcohol and cinnamon).
Where to Stay
Bogota hotels vary in price and prestige depending on the neighbourhood. Humble colonial dwellings – traditionally two-stories with courtyards and gabled roofs – have been refreshed in palettes of pastels and reborn as delightful 'hostals'. Zona Rosa ('the pink zone') features a number of affordable and luxury hostels and bed-and-breakfasts – central to shops, restaurants and 'discotecas'. True nights out in Bogota don't end until the sun rises – if you prefer a quieter evening, seek accommodation in La Candelaria or surrounding areas. As far as transport goes, colectivos (small buses) cover most major city arterials – destinations are usually displayed on their windshields. If you are heading out for an evening stroll, it's a good idea to bring a friend or local guide.
When shopping in Bogota you will stumble across many hybrid venues – bookshops meld with cafes, hairdressers with galleries. Bogota is home to many progressive movements and new-age philosophers thanks to a wave of enthusiastic expats. Eclectic Parque 93 in the Chapinero district is bursting with unique retail stores – you could easily spend a day exploring the narrow streets, stopping for a world-famous coffee admist your spending spree. Pasaje Rivas just outside the old village centre is a great place to pick up inexpensive local handicrafts, leather goods and jewellery. Haggling is welcome at the San Alejo flea market (open Sundays) where you will find cultural curiosities, antiques and second-hand bargains galore.
Bogota like a Local
Sports fans can cheer until their voices give way in El Salitre where soccer and other games are enjoyed with gusto. This is also the perfect area to indulge your nostaliga with kite-flying or pedal-baoting at the Simon Bolivar public park. If you are in the mood for a rumba (party), make your way to Zona T where popular DJ bars and martini lounges are plentiful. While Bogota is a city infamous for its wild traffic, Zona T is laregly pedestrianised. Pushing through notorious drug wars that once deterred travellers, Bogota has clamped down on unpleasantries to become an urban highlight of Latin America. There has never been a better time to book your flights to Bogota and experience this reinvigorated South American asset.