Bogota is kind of like New York, with its thousands of cafes, restaurants, museums, attractions, and hotels. Just throw in extra pollution, weirart your tour of Bogota at la Plaza de Bolivar. Take a picture with a llama or feed the the thousands of pigeons that inhabit Bogota’s most important Plaza. Step inside la Catedral Primaria, dating back to the 1600s, and check out el Palacio de la Justicia, which was rebuilt after it was burnt to the ground in 1984 by leftist M-19 terrorists. From la Plaza de Bolivar, walk east toward La Candelaria, Bogota’s semi-picturesque historic district with its one-story, colorful colonial-style homes, often covered in astonishingly intricate political graffiti art. Home to large university crowd and plenty of cafes and mid-range restaurants, Bogota’s cultural center is also home to some of the city’s most important museums, such as El Museo Botero and El Museo de La Moneda. After you’ve sufficiently explored La Candelaria, head to Monserrate, Bogota’s tallest peak, offering 360 degree views of the city. Take the train or cable car up if you’re visiting during the week; on Sundays, you can hike all the way up. After Monserrate, walk north on La Septima toward El Museo de Oro, which claims to own the world’s largest collection of pre-Columbian gold artifacts. Stop in for a couple hours then keep walking north on La Septima until you reach the Museo Nacional, which showcases thousands of years of Colombian history, as well as rotating art and cultural displays. From el Museo Nacional, walk east toward the Moorish Plaza de Toros toward La Macarena, with its fun and funky restaurants and bars. Stop at Luvenia books, get lunch on Carrera 4 between Calles 25 and 27 or head to La Boheme for a delicious cappuccino. If you’re still not tired of walking, take a bus to western Bogota’s Plaza Salitre neighborhood to observe Bogota’s attempt at organized planning before taking another bus to el Jardin Botanico and Parque Simon Bolivar, which often hosts mega concerts and events. I recommend you only visit Parque Simon Bolivar on weekends in order to avoid being mugged or robbed. Later in the evening, head to Chapinero Alto or Teusaquillo to check out some of Bogota’s coolest architecture, from swiss-style chalets to sprawling, gloomy-looking tudor homes to high-end modern brick apartment complexes. Keep walking north toward Los Rosales, one of Bogota’s most exlusive neighborhoods, home to Bogota’s “gastronomic” district, as well as some beautifully renovated early 20th century homes. If you still have energy, grab a taxi to el Parque de la 93, a small but attractive urban park surrounded by high-end restaurants and bars.
Hotels: In my opinion, there’s a general lack of decent mid-range options in Bogotas, and visitors will find that they have to choose from budget, hostel-type accommodations or high-priced four and five star hotels. That said, travelers looking for a memorable lodging option in Bogota should check out Hotel Casa Deco, Hotel de la Opera or Hotel Abadia Colonial in la Candelaria, the Embassy Suites Hotel or the architecturally impressive Casa Medina Charleston in los Rosales. La Casona del Patio Amarillo is one of the best B&B options in town.
Dining and Nightlife: Yes, beans, rice, and chicken are the name of the game in Bogota, but there are literally thousands of restaurants here, serving everything from Asian fusion to Italian to Spanish and Peruvian specialities. Among my favorites are Wok, with locations at Parque de la 93 and Calle 122, which serves up Thai, Indonesian and Chinese classics; Crepes and Waffles, with dozens of locations across the city where customers can order a curry, Scilian or stroganoff crepe; Fusionario, a cozy little restaurant on Carrera 6 #55-59 in Chapinero Alto, serving up mostly Asian-inspired dishes starting at COL$10,000 for lunch; Di Lucca a perfect little Italian place right off the Zona T; La Jugueteria, La Macrena’s most famous restaurant decorated with hundreds of toys and serving international fare, and Harry Sasson steakhouse in La Zona G for a tender steak. And you can’t miss El Corral for one of the best hamburgers of your life.
Heading out? Check out la Residencia in Teusaquillo, a midrange bar situated in a restored old house and catering to a bohemian/artsy clientele. Head to Andres Carne de Res just outside Bogota in the town of Chia for an unforgettable night of dancing and (aguardiente) drinking. Or just head to la Zona T, Parque de la 93 or la Candelaria, walk around a bit and see what calls to you. Partying in la Zona T and Parque de la 93 is quite upscale – expect to pay about $10-$15 per cocktail – and la Candelaria caters to an younger, artsier crowd that favor beer and aguardiente.
Local Transportation: Because it was built on a grid system, Bogota is surprisingly easy to get around. Technically, you can walk from one end of the city to the other, but considering its sprawling size, you may be more comfortable taking public transportation.
The Transmilenio is a mass bus system that transports over two million people a day. Set up much like a metro, most Transmilenio stations have maps uniformed personnel who can help you plan your route. The Transmilenio costs COL$1,600 each way and usually runs from 5am to 11pm.
Bogota’s bus system is also relatively easy to manage, but be warned that drivers don’t have much consideration for road rules or passenger comfort and buses often get crammed with way more passengers than would be legal in North America or Europe. Bus fare costs $1,300 during the day and 1,350 at night on holidays.
There are thousands upon thousands of taxis in Bogota, so unless you’re trying to catch one at 5pm on a rainy afternoon, it’s pretty easy to find a taxi. Make sure you take a marked yellow cab; the driver should immediately turn on the meter, but if he doesn’t just ask. If you plan to take a taxi by yourself at night, it’s best to have your restaurant or hotel call one for you. Not calling from a restaurant or hotel? Dial 411-1111, 211-1111, 311-111, or 611-1111.
Traveling to Bogota: Many popular airlines, such as American, Delta, Avianca JetBlue, and Continental, fly directly to Bogota, from Miami, Atlanta, Fort Lauderdale, New York, and Washington. Airline fares start at $350, but can go as high as $900 in December, when many Colombians fly back home to spend the holidays with their families. The best way to find direct flights to Sao Paulo from your local airport is to check Skyscanner for flights, airlines, and prices. I’ve also found that Kayak is the best resource for finding low-priced fares to Bogota.