One of the hardest parts about moving to a foreign city is deciding what neighborhood to call home. If you’re like most expats, you can’t help but wonder how safe the neighborhood is, how much you’ll stick out, and if there’s anything exciting within walking distance. While being the lone Gringo in a dangerous neighborhood in the middle of nowhere might be some people’s idea of adventure, most of us are looking for a safe, comfortable neighborhood with easy access to transportation, restaurants and shops. In this sprawling city of 8 million, there are plenty of cool neighborhoods, from the chic and uber upper-class to the fun and funky, and choosing where to live really depends on what you except from your neighborhood.
Although the security situation has vastly improved in the last decade or so, there are still certain areas and neighborhoods that will appeal to foreigners more than others.
The South: Bogota’s densly populated South stretches on for what seems like forever, but I’m including it as one neighborhood because as a foreigner, you’re unlikely to live here. For sure, there are some perfectly attractive and safe neighborhoods, but this section of the city still harbors somewhat of a negative reputation. Overall, the South is not as attractive as other parts of the city and is home to mostly concrete block buildings, “Tipico” restaurants and “cigarreria”-type bars. That said, there are some serious real-estate deals to be had in this area of the city, with brand new apartments going for COL$38,000,000 to COL$100,000,000 on average, or US$20,000-$55,000.
El Centro and La Candelaria: The center might have a bad reputation, but it is the cultural heart of Bogota. With nearly a dozen universities, the center teems with college students during the day, but can be a bit empty and seedy at night. A large university presence means that there are plenty of cultural events here, plus a good amount of atmospheric cafes and restaurants. If you decide to move to the center, try to stay on main avenues as side streets and carreras can be quite dangerous. Most foreigners who choose to live in the center move to restored or partially-restored colonial houses in La Candelaria, the city’s historic quarter. Again, this area can be dangerous at night, but is quickly gentrifying and becoming popular with a college-educated, artistic/bohemian crowd.
Chapinero: (Approx. Calles 40-81 and Carreras 1-20) Chapinero was once Bogota’s most elegant and upscale neighborhood, but things have changed in the last 50 years. Much of the area has become commercial, impressive Tudor homes have become somewhat unimpressive, and street vendors crowd the sidewalks. That said, Chapinero is one of my favorite neighborhoods in Bogota; this middle-class area has plenty of dodgy areas, but the presence of several universities means there’s a youthful vibe to Chapinero, plus plenty of funky cafes, bars and restaurants. If you’re an expat between the ages of 20-30, you’ll likely end up in Chapinero. Transportation is easily accessible. Chapinero’s slightly posher section, Chapinero Alto, is home to restored Tudor and French-style homes, young couples, and a slightly bohemian population. Also known as “Chapi-Gay,” Chapinero is considered the city’s gay district.
***As a rule of thumb, Chapinero is pretty safe from approximately Carreras 10 and under (although the high parts of Chapinero Alto are a bit abandoned at night). Carreras 11-13 are a bit seedier, but still relatively safe. However, La Caracas (Calle 14) and above can be quite dangerous, as there’s quite a bit of drug-dealing, prostitution and homelessness in this area, so I definitely wouldn’t recommmend this area to anyone thinking about moving to Bogota.
Teusaquillo, El Centro Internacional and La Macarena: Teusaquillo is a midde-middle class neighborhood with some of Bogota’s largest and most impressive early 20th century homes. This quiet, residential neighborhood is full of green spaces and parks and is quite popular with foreigners between 20-30. Many of the larger homes have been turned into “pensiones” or “hostales” and are populated with underpaid twenty-something young professionals. This area of the city is quite safe, though some parts of Teusaquillo can be a bit of a hike from local transport.
El Centro Internacional is one of Bogota’s most important business districts and high-rise apartments have gone up here in the last couple decades. While this area offers perfectly nice apartments, I find it lacks a bit of character and can be quite empty at night when workers head home.
La Macarena is one of my favorite neighborhoods in Bogota. It’s funky, bohemian and slightly dilapidated with plenty of green spaces. The restaurant scene here rivals that of La Zona G, and La Macarena attracts a good mix of expats and Colombians. Set against the mountains, La Macarena is a bit empty at night and can be a bit of a hike from public transport, so it’s always better to arrive or leave by taxi late at night.
Los Rosales: Though technically part of Chapinero Alto, Los Rosales has a very different feel to it. In my opinion, this is the classiest neighborhood in Bogota, home to the high-end Zona G, with some of Bogota’s best restaurants, as well as some beautifully restored early 20th century homes and luxury apartment buildings. This exclusive neighborhood is home to a fair share of foreigners and feels somewhat removed from the noise and chaos that characterizes much of Bogota.
The West: The up-and-coming western part of the city offers competitive prices and newer apartments. The area around Plaza Salitre has been developped in the last few years and the urban planning model hair far exceeds anything else found in Bogota in terms of organization and orderliness. I personally find this area of the city a bit soulless, but if you’re looking for a nice, newer apartment complex in a residential area at bargain prices, the west deserves consideration.
The North: (Approx. 82-220 and Carreras 1-50). The North is Bogota’s upper-middle-class and upper class enclave and most Bogotanos from the aforementioned economic classes wouldn’t consider living anywhere else. Some of the city’s most ambitious apartment complexes can be found here, as well as Bogota’s ritiziest party and bar zones. There are plenty of restaurants, cafes, malls, and easy accesss to transportation. This part of the city generally feels safe, even at night. Personally, I don’t think this part of the city has as much character as La Candelaria, La Macarena or Chapinero, possibly because most of the buildings are newer (built in the last 50 years or s0) and there are few stand-alone houses. That said, Usaquen is an adorable neighborhood (Calles 116-127 and Carreras 7-1) featuring a park plaza, a church and plenty of colonial-style reverted homes now boasting some of Bogota’s best restaurants and bars. Other safe and convenient neighborhoods in the north include the area around Unicentro, the area around La Zona T, and el Chico, and Cedritos. Generally, the North tends to be the most expensive part of the city, though it does get cheaper north of Calle 150.
You can read about the various neighborhoods I’ve lived in at my personal blog. For more safe neighborhoods in Latin America, check out those of Mexico City. Or, for additional information on Bogota, learn more about its historic district.