Colombia’s capital in the clouds! Nestled in a wide Andean valley, Bogotá, Colombia, is a gritty, vibrant and truly welcoming city.
Often overlooked for the more popular cities of Medellín and Cartagená, Bogotá still deserves a place on every backpacker’s itinerary. The city’s lively street art scene, vast array of fantastic eateries and fascinating history all combine to make Bogotá a surprising gem in Colombia’s already shining crown.
With over 11 million people calling the city home, Bogotá is more populous than the majority of European nations! Its sheer size can be daunting, especially when you hear reports from other travellers about pickpockets and robberies. But getting around is easy and as long as you’re sensible, Bogotá is as safe as any Colombian city!
So, let’s break down the best things to do, places to eat and where to stay in Bogotá!
Bogotá, Colombia Travel Guide
Bogotá Map and Resources
Best Time to Visit Bogotá
Bogotá sees the best weather in December, January and February. These are the driest months. April/May and October/November see the most rainfall but don’t let this put you off, there’s plenty to see and do in Bogotá, even when it’s raining!
Bear in mind that due to the city’s elevation (over 2600 metres above sea level), and proximity to the equator, the weather in Bogotá is never easy to predict. It can rain anytime and when it rains, it really rains!
Average temperatures are consistent year-round and the warmest and coldest times fluctuate by only a few degrees. Be aware that Bogotá does get chilly, especially overnight! Expect to see plenty of locals wearing coats – this might come as a surprise if you’ve just arrived from the warmer regions of Colombia!
Is Bogota, Colombia Safe?
Bogota has a reputation for being unsafe and upon first arrival, the city’s gritty image doesn’t do much to dissuade this notion. For reference, the crime rate is higher than Medellin but it’s actually a tad lower than New Orleans in the USA!
The fear surrounding Bogota comes mainly from its rough-around-the-edges appearance and blood-spattered past. Transport yourself back to the cartel heyday in Colombia, and Bogota was a dangerous place to visit. But today, thanks to huge investment and infrastructure improvements, Bogota is a friendly and welcoming city.
As with all Colombian cities, you should still exercise caution when visiting Bogota. There are plenty of areas travellers should avoid but your accommodation will be able to warn you of these when you check in. Nightlife in Bogota is fantastic but don’t make yourself a target when partying in the city. Avoid drugs and never leave your drink unattended. Wherever possible, don’t leave bars or clubs by yourself and never walk back to your accommodation at night, especially if you’re intoxicated.
You should practice common sense strategies when visiting Bogota. Don’t walk around after dark and avoid areas where theft and muggings are common. Taxis should be avoided if possible. Instead, stick to Uber or other ride-sharing apps. Be aware that services like Uber operate in a legal grey area in Colombia, so you should always sit in the front and learn your driver’s name in case you’re stopped by the police.
Tourist police in Bogota can generally be trusted but as always in Colombia, don’t rely on them if you can avoid it. A big police presence is usually a sign you’re in a safe area but corruption is rife, so avoid attracting attention if you can!
It’s also worth noting that civil unrest and protests are common in Bogota. You should avoid these when visiting the city. Protests can get out of hand fast and you don’t want to get caught up in them.
Where to Stay in Bogotá
Stretching on as far as the eye can see, Bogotá is massive. There are plenty of neighbourhoods throughout the city but travellers tend to stay in just a handful of these. As a rule, the wealthier neighbourhoods are in the north of the city, while the south is made up of more working-class areas.
- La Candelaria – Undoubtedly the beating heart of Bogotá’s tourism scene, La Candelaria is an intoxicating mix of old-world charm and up-to-date trends. Wild graffiti adorns every other wall, shops sell traditional alcohol and modern art museums sit side by side with colonial-style theatres. You’ll find plenty of hostels and backpackers waiting for you in La Candelaria!
- Chapinero – A half-hour drive from La Candelaria, Chapinero offers a quieter more chilled-out stay. That’s not to say there’s nothing going on, Chapinero is full of university students meaning there are plenty of spots to drink, eat and relax. Chapinero is usually agreed to be a tad safer than Candelaria too!
- La Zona Rosa – If you’re looking for a great night out in Bogotá, look no further than Zona Rosa. This cosmopolitan area is where locals and visitors go to really celebrate. Nice bars, excellent clubs and some of the city’s best restaurants, mean a stay in La Zona Rosa is one to be remembered!
Best Hostels in Bogotá
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Located in La Candelaria, just a short walk from the action, Cranky Croc is a backpacker institution in Bogotá. With a range of dorm beds and private rooms available, there’s something for everyone here! The onsite bar and restaurant provides excellent food and an array of local and imported beer. Tours can be arranged at the front desk and the hostel has a sociable but laid-back atmosphere. You can make friends without being kept up late by a party!
Another addition to the famous Latin American Viajero hostel chain, Viajero Bogotá is more than just a hostel. While still maintaining the fun, lively atmosphere of other Viajero hostels, the Bogotano offering delivers a sophisticated, relaxing stay. The onsite spa and sauna are included in your room rate and massages are available at a discounted rate for guests. Based on the outskirts of La Candelaria, Viajero is within walking distance of almost anywhere in downtown Bogotá!
A more intimate, family-run hostel based in La Candelaria, Cedron Hostel is the perfect place if you’re feeling a little homesick. The owners treat guests like family and the compact social areas, as well as communal breakfast, make it easy to get to know your fellow travellers. Simplicity is the name of the game at Cedron – it’s a clean, friendly place to make new friends and enjoy your time in Bogotá!
Found in the vibrant Chapinero neighbourhood, Trip Monkey is a colourful hostel that boasts private and dorm rooms, as well as a shared kitchen and a wonderful garden. Bogotá’s main attractions are a 20-30 minute cab ride away but the drive is spectacular – especially on a clear day when you get a great view over the city. An amazing breakfast is available for a small additional fee and it’s well worth it! Nothing like waffles and eggs to set you up for a day exploring the city!
Bogotá is no stranger to the infamous Selina hostel chain – the city is home to three of them! Selina Chapinero is the most laidback of the three and one of the nicer Selinas in general. The decor is beautiful, the staff are super friendly and the bar/restaurant serves delicious food and beer. As you’d expect from Selina, the WiFi is excellent and the co-work space is great for those needing to get their hours done!
Usaquen Station Hostel is perfect for backpackers wanting to escape the hustle and bustle of Bogota’s centre. Located just a 15-minute drive from Zona Rosa, it’s easy to get an Uber to and from the hostel. Dorms and private rooms are available for a good price and the communal kitchen means you can save money on eating out. However, if you’re keen to experience some true Bogotaño cuisine, some nearby restaurants offer discounts to Usaquen Station Hostel guests!
Things to Do in Bogotá
1. Take a Walking Tour
Free walking tours are one of the best ways to get to know a city. We always recommend finding one in your first couple of days in a new place. The guides will be able to give you hints and tips to make the most of your stay!
Beyond Colombia offer an exceptional free walking tour of Downtown Bogotá. They meet outside the Gold Museum every day at 10am and 2pm to walk you through the history of Bogotá and Colombia as a whole. The tour lasts around three hours and visits some of the most important landmarks in the city. It’s worth booking the tour in advance online to secure your spot!
2. Graffiti Tour
Bogotá owes a lot to the vibrant street art scene that adds a splash of colour to the city. The graffiti tends to be politically or socially motivated so visiting with a tour guide is recommended, so they can add the background colour to what is otherwise, just a pretty picture!
3. Go on a Food Tour
There’s a surprisingly strong and diverse culture of food in Bogotá. But without insider knowledge or months to explore every eatery on offer, good luck making the most of it. A food tour of the city allows you to cut out the poor experiences and focus on visiting the best places to find top meals! Tip-based food tours are available but for a truly immersive experience, we recommend A Chef’s Tour Bogotá. They deliver a fun and filling afternoon out that includes more than 10 different tastings, including coffee and beer, as well as a stop to play Colombia’s national game of Tejo!
4. Try a Beer Tour
As well as an exciting food scene, Bogotá is the setting of a booming craft beer revolution. The city has a tumultuous history with beer but in recent years they’ve put that behind them and now lead the way when it comes to craft beer in Colombia. A beer tour offers the chance to try plenty of these beers firsthand, as well as giving you the history of each brewery. Just don’t make the mistake we made – don’t plan anything for early the next day! 🥴
5. Ascend to Monserrate
Towering 500 metres above Bogotá is the famous Cerro Monserrate. Easily identifiable from almost anywhere in the city, the mountain houses Monserrate Sanctuary, a Catholic shrine. The shrine itself isn’t that impressive compared to other Catholic Churches around the world but the setting atop the mountain is breathtaking – and that’s before you factor in the altitude of over 3100 metres above sea level! The mountain offers great views across the city and highlights just how massive Bogotá is.
There are three ways to reach the top:
- The cable car
- The funicular
While there have been reports of people being robbed on the walk, plenty of people do it each day so just be sensible and don’t flash your phone or valuables. It’s hard work though, the altitude makes every upward step significantly harder than at sea level!
The cable car and funicular cost the same, around 30,000COP (approx. $6USD) and it takes around 10-15 minutes to reach the top. Prepare for queues though, at busy times (Sundays especially) the wait can reach up to two hours!
The cable car offers better views, so we recommend taking this if possible. However, you may not have a choice as often, only the cable car OR funicular are running.
6. Spot an Emerald Sale
Take a free walking tour with Beyond Colombia and this will be pointed out to you. But, if you fancy an exciting challenge, head to Plazoleta del Rosario and enter the throng of people on the southeast side. It might not look like much but this is the world’s largest open emerald market. You’ll see groups of men chatting away and occasionally, if you look closely enough, you’ll spot them examining and selling emeralds. Look out for the white envelopes – a giveaway that a sale is in progress!
Beware though, if you’re not an expert, don’t try your hand at buying emeralds here. It’s easy to get ripped off if you don’t know what you’re looking for!
7. Visit Museo Botero
Fernando Botero is one of Colombia’s biggest names. Known for his proportion-bending paintings and sculptures, Botero is famous across the globe. And boy, Colombia is proud of him! Bogotá is home to the museum named after and curated by Botero himself.
The work on display in Botero Museum was all donated to the city by the Colombian artist on the strict understanding that the museum will always be open for free to the public.
Located in La Candelaria, Museo Botero is part of a larger complex of free museums and galleries where you can see work from Dali, Klimt, Bacon, Picasso and of course, Botero.
8. Check Out the Gold Museum
Colombia is where the legend of El Dorado (South America’s city of gold) started. Today, while most of Colombia’s gold is outside the country, either in the hands of foreign museums or private collectors, the Museo del Oro is still home to over 35,000 individual gold pieces! Entry is around 5,000COP ($1USD), which is great value considering the hours you can spend inside!
9. Take a Day Trip to the Salt Cathedral
Located in Zipaquirá just 30 miles north of Bogotá, Colombia’s Salt Cathedral is one of the country’s finest pieces of modern architecture. The cathedral is unique among churches because it’s housed 200 metres below ground in the tunnels of an old salt mine! The church is active too, attracting more than 3000 religious attendees every Sunday – it even holds weddings!
10. Take a Day Trip to Guatavita
Also known as Gold Lake, Guatavita was sacred to the Muisca indigenous population that called the area surrounding Bogotá their home. Legend says that every new ruler of the Muisca people would throw huge amounts of gold into the lake as an offering to the gods. Legend also has it that the Spanish recovered 99% of this gold and shipped it out of the country, the remaining 1% can supposedly be found in Bogota’s Museo del Oro.
However, after a little digging, it appears only very small amounts of gold were ever recovered by anyone from the lake, so take it with a pinch of salt when every tour guide tells you there was tons of gold in there.
Regardless of tall tales, the lake did hold spiritual significance to the Muisca people and the history surrounding the attempts to recover gold from within it are interesting, to say the least! Plus, the area is beautiful, making it well worth the trip!
11. Go to a Music Festival
Bogotá is a music lover’s dream! No matter your genre of choice, Bogotá hosts a music festival for you. Check out what’s on while you’re there – you might get lucky and time your trip with a festival that suits you perfectly. But even if you’re not in time for your ideal festival, the fact most of them are free means you can see some big bands or artists across many genres for absolutely nothing!
12. Participate in La Ciclovía
Every Sunday, over 100km of Bogotá’s roads are closed to traffic to encourage locals to enjoy their city without the constant thrum of engines and beeping of horns. You’ll see thousands of people cycling, walking, skating and running along the closed roads. Street vendors sell anything from old typewriters to knock-off football shirts, street performers attract large crowds and musical beats come from all directions. Hire a bike and join in, it’s a unique way to experience the city!
Food and Drink in Bogotá
Bogotá is home to a vibrant food scene. If possible, we recommend doing a food tour to get the full experience but if that’s not for you, these are some of the best places to eat and drink in Bogotá!
Chorro de Quevedo Plaza
This plaza and the long, colourful alleyway that stretches away from the left-hand side of the pink wall, is the perfect place to try chicha, Colombia’s famous indigenous drink. Routinely named ‘indigenous beer’, chicha is made by fermenting corn and adding natural fruit flavours like mango, red fruits and blackberry. A litre of chicha costs around $15,000COP (approx. $3USD).
Carbon D Lena
One of the best BBQ restaurants in Bogotá, Carbon D Lena is a must-visit for meat lovers in Bogotá. It’s in La Candelaria, making it the perfect place for dinner after a day exploring the city. You’ll know you’re close by when you start to smell the food cooking! Meat is cooked on a wood fire BBQ right in the doorway, so you know everything is fresh!
La Puerta de la Cathedral
Also found in La Candelaria, La Puerta de la Cathedral is where locals come to celebrate. This is Colombian food at its finest. Prices are a little higher than in other spots but you’re paying for quality rather than the touristy location. Portion sizes are generous and the staff are friendly, attentive and many even speak English!
If you’re looking for a taste of home, the BBC (Bogotá Brewing Company) pubs always hit the spot. The best among them is the Chapinero offering. With hipster decor, delicious craft beer and a menu that makes any gastro bar back home jealous, BBC Chapinero is the place to go for some home comforts!
Embaja de la Coca
If you’re looking for something a little more ‘authentic’, head to Embaja de la Coca. This Peruvian/Colombian-owned café is about as Latin American an experience as you’ll find. Small cramped tables, tiny plastic stools and friendly atmosphere make this a spot to slow down and unwind. They serve traditional Colombian drinks and food is available at certain times. You’ll want at least a decent level of Spanish to get the most out of this experience though – it will be challenging without!
Getting Around Bogotá
Bogotá is a big city. Even if you stay in La Candelaria, where most of the attractions are, you’re bound to want to venture further afield at some point. The two main ways of getting around the city are:
- The TransMilenio
The TransMilenio acts like a metro system, except it’s buses instead of trains and they run on the roads, not rails. They have dedicated bus lanes and stations – there’s none of the “just drop me here please” you get in most South American cities.
You need to get a card to ride the TransMilenio. It costs around 5,000COP ($1USD) for the card and each ride costs around 2,500COP ($0.50USD). While the TransMilenio covers much of the city and is often faster than taxis due to having its own lanes, you can’t always get where you want to go using just this. Be aware of how far you may have to walk to and from the stations, especially if you’re alone in a dodgy area or at night. Be aware that pickpockets do operate on the buses and robberies have been reported by solo travellers riding the TransMilenio at night.
Taxis in Bogotá have quite a reputation. We never advise hailing one on the street. If you can find an official taxi rank, like outside the airport or some major attractions, these taxis are safe as they have to be registered. If you want to use a taxi elsewhere, you can use the Easy Taxi or Cabify apps to book one – then pay the driver in cash when they drop you off. Alternatively, Uber is available throughout Bogotá and tends to be cheaper than taxis.
How to Get to Bogotá
By Plane: Bogotá is well-connected to almost every Colombian city by cheap flights. Expect internal flights to Bogotá to start as low as 50,000COP ($10USD) and get up to around 500,000COP ($100USD).
Bogotá is also well-connected internationally, with many flights into Colombia heading to Bogotá’s El Dorado International Airport.
By Bus: Being the capital city, Bogotá is well-connected to other towns and cities throughout Colombia. However, the journeys can be long and arduous. Prepare for mountain roads, hours on the bus and long stretches without a toilet! Most buses drop you off at one of the city’s bus terminals and you’ll need to get a taxi to your accommodation from there.
Where to Go Next?
Desierto de la Tatacoa: (6 hours bus journey South West)
Take a bus to Neiva (5 hours) then to Villa Vieja (45 minutes) to see this 330km² desert that is different to pretty much everywhere in Colombia. The cloudless skies at night mean it’s great for stargazing.
San Gil: (6 hours bus journey North East)
Colombia’s adventure capital! Activities on offer include rafting, hiking, swimming, caving, paragliding, mountain biking and paintballing and much, much more. In addition, the incredibly preserved old town of Barichara makes a good walking trip with buses going regularly from San Gil all day.
Villavicencio: (2½ hours bus journey South East)
Fed up with Bogotá’s average weather? Just a couple of hours’ descent down from the Andes brings you to the bustling town of Villavicencio on the Los llanos (the plains). The town hasn’t got that much to offer on paper but a vibrant centre combined with friendly locals and spectacular surrounding scenery makes it a viable option for a day trip from Bogotá.