Bogota’s historic district, consisting of La Candelaria and La Plaza de Bolivar, has served as the country’s cultural engine for nearly 500 years. Its colorful, one-story homes have mostly been converted into cafes, restaurants and bars, but La Candelaria was once home to Bogota’s first European settlers. There are half a dozen universities here, and the neighborhood caters to an intellectual, bohemian and international crowd. However, La Candelaria is also home to a significant working class and homeless population, making it one of Bogota’s most economically diverse neighborhoods. Aside from its many museums and attractions, La Candelaria boasts a lively bar and restaurant scene, some beautifully restored houses, as well as some sadly dilapidated buildings that have seen better days. All in all, however, La Candelaria is Bogota’s historic and cultural center and can’t be missed. Keep in mind that there are dozens of museums and attractions in La Candelaria and only a few are mentioned below. If you’re interested in exploring more of the area’s sites and attractions, check out: www.lacandelaria.info. The site’s in Spanish, but provides a lot of useful information on museums, churches, historic houses and attractions in La Candelaria.
Start your day at El Museo del Oro, perhaps Colombia’s most famous museum. With almost 35,000 pieces of gold from the pre-Columbian era, I recommend taking a tour. English language guided tours are available at 11am and 3pm, but self-guided audio tours are available all day. Be prepared to be dazzled by the “gold room,” with its almost 10,000 pieces of gold objects. El Museo del Oro is located on Calle 16 with Carrera 7, and hours are Tuesday-Saturday 9am-6pm and Sunday 10am-4pm. Admission is COL$3,000 (US$1.50).
After properly exploring El Museo del Oro, walk south along La Septima, one of Bogota’s oldest and most important avenues, until you reach La Plaza de Bolivar, Bogota’s historic city center dating back to 1539. Here, travelers can visit the colonial-style Museo del 20 de Julio, also known as La Casa del Florero, on the northeastern most corner of the plaza. Colombia’s war for independence began here, and visitors can enjoy browsing objects dating back to Colombia’s colonial/independence period. The museum is open from 9am-4:30pm Tuesday through Friday and 10am-3:30pm Saturdays and Sundsays. Admission is COL$3,000 (US$1.50). Other plaza attractions include Bogota’s Catedral Primaria, a rather somber Baroque-inspired cathedral, the impressive neoclassical Capitolio and the Palacio de Justicia, rebuilt after the 1985 M-19 guerilla bombing that killed 55 people. In the middle of plaza, visitors will find a statue of Simon Bolivar. If anything, the Plaza de Bolivar provides a brief but intense history into Colombian history and architecture.
Next, head north toward La Candelaria, Bogota’s charismatic if slightly seedy colonial quarter. The best way to see La Candelaria is to simply stroll through the quarter’s narrow streets, but some must-sees include the Museo Botero (Calle 11 #4-21; Monday through Saturday 9am-7pm, Sundays 10am-5pm; free admission), which houses the largest collection of Botero paintings and sculptures in the world. Next, head over to the small but impressive Italian Renaissance-inspired Teatro Colon (Calle 10 #5-32; 10am-5pm Tuesday to Saturday and Sunday 1pm-5pm; admission COL$8,000 (US$4), Bogota’s oldest and most prestigious theater which often hosts ballets, concerts and theater productions.
Bogota was officially founded El Chorro de Quevedo, around Carrera 1 and Calle 13. Here, travelers will find Bogota’s most bohemian, tattooed and alternative crowd, specialized in playing the bongos and selling inexpensive jewelry and handicrafts. There is a funky cobblestoned street to the north of the plaza, filled with hole-in-the-wall bars, artesania markets and tiny restaurants and cafes. It gets a bit seedy here at night, so I recommend visiting el Chorro de Quevedo during the day if you’re on your own.
If you’re feeling hungry, I recommend heading back toward La Plaza de Bolivar to La Puerta Falsa (Calle 11 #6-50; Mon-Sat 7am-11pm), Bogota’s oldest restaurant and Colombia’s longest operating business, dating back to 1816. This cozy, intimate restaurant/café specializes in tamales, a typical Bogota dish made with corn flour, chicken and vegetables and wrapped in a banana leaf, and also serves up Chocolate con Queso (hot chocolate with cheese) and dozens of tasty, typical Colombian treats.
After a lunch of tamales and hot chocolate, walk toward Calle 20 and Carrera 2 to the Quinta de Bolivar, at the foot of Monserrate, was the Bogota home of Simon Bolivar and his long-time mistress Manuelita de Saenz. Now a museum, visitors will get too see many of Bolivar’s and Saenz’s original belongings. Finally, head to Monserrate, one of Bogota’s highest peaks, and home to the Santuario de Monserrate and the fallen Christ. In addition to the church, there are several souvenir shops and restaurants atop Monserrate, as well as sweeping views of Bogota. Monserrate can be reached by train or cable car at 2E #21-48 and costs COL$12,000 (US$6) before 5:30 and COL$15,000 (US$7.50) after 5:30. English and Spainsh language information about Monserrate can be found at: www.cerromonserrate.com. Make a dinner time reservation at Casa Santa Clara, one of Bogota’s finest French restaurants, and watch the sunset over Bogota.