While fashionable and balmy Medellin is the darling of digital nomads, retirees, and other tourists, Bogota often gets overlooked by tourists.
Those that do venture out into the calles and carreras of Colombian’s once-gritty capital city may find themselves bewitched by the city’s bustling open-air markets, flourishing nightlife culinary scene, eye-catching colonial architecture, and progressive personality.
The sprawling metropolis is perched on a high plateau 8,661 feet (2,640 m) above sea level surrounded by Andean peaks. With more than 8 million inhabitants, Bogota is the fifth largest city in the Americas, falling right behind New York City in terms of size.
In Bogota, there are more than 20 districts and 1,200 quarters to explore—even the taxi drivers will admit that after a lifetime of living in Bogota, they regularly stumble on surprises. If you don’t have a lifetime, however, here are 10 must-dos for a true Bogota experience:
1. Play Tejo
A centuries-old Colombian sport, Tejo, also referred to as turmequé, involves throwing heavy metal rocks at gunpowder (generally while drinking copious amounts of beer). During the cornhole-like game, tejo players throw a metal puck or tejo (pronounced tay-ho)along an alley into or around a target on a square board. The target has small exploding pockets of gunpowder, called mechas. There are four ways to score:
- Mecha (hit): Earn three points for exploding a gunpowder pouch.
- Embocinada (bullseye): Earn six points for landing a techo inside the target.
- Moñona (strike): Earn nine points for landing a techo inside the target and exploding a gunpowder pouch.
2. Hunt through Mercado de las Pulgas in Usaquen
With Spanish-style homes, colorful shops, and cobblestone streets, Usaquen, a neighborhood in the far north of Bogota, feels like a tiny colonial village within a city. Once its own municipality where elites kept country houses, Usaquen was annexed into Bogota in the 1950s.
The quirky barrio is home to stylish restaurants, cafes, and bars. In addition, a weekly outdoor flea market, The Mercado de Las Pulgas, comes to life every Sunday in Plaza Usaquen from around 10 a.m. to 6 p.m., The Mercado features artists hawking vintage clothing, crafts, and other treasures amid musicians, jugglers, mimes, and other performers.
3. Dine in Chapinero
Though many tourists will make a beeline for La Candelaria when they arrive in Bogota, digital nomads, entrepreneurs, expats, and long-term travelers tend to favor Chapinero. This vibrant, urban district is a treasure trove of WiFi-enabled cafes, trendy bars, and artesanal food shops. Chapinero is also where you’ll find Zona G, a stretch of new restaurants helping Bogota earn a name for itself as an international culinary destination. Some of the area’s finest include Astrid & Gaston (Peruvian), Sumo Sushi, and Harry Sasson (fusion).
4. Dance the night away in Theatron
One of the biggest (and arguably the mas loco) gay clubs in the world, Theatron is an unforgettable experience for all patrons—gay, straight, or otherwise—who make it past its long line and rather stringent security. The bumping venue is a labyrinth of five levels and 13 different rooms of varying sizes, each with its own DJ and style. The mysterious top-floor room is only open to chicos (que pena, chicas). Bartenders are relatively responsive and fast; music is loud. Between 10 p.m. and 2 a.m., an open bar is included with admission fee of 50,000 COP ($17 USD).
5. Browse the Museo del Oro
The Museo del Oro (Gold Museum) in the Candelaria tops every one of Bogota lists of must-dos for a reason. The world’s largest exhibition of pre-Hispanic gold, the four-story museum houses more than 55,000 pieces of gold and other historic artifacts, from dazzling jewelry to intricate winged fish figurines. Collections are arranged to tell the story of how metalwork was used in daily life, mythology, shamanism, politics, and war by ancient Colombians.
One of the museum’s highlights is a piece called Balsa Muisca, sometimes called “El Dorado Raft”, a tiny artifact discovered in 1886 in a Colombian cave. The piece depicts the ceremony of the initiation of a new chief in Lake Guatavita. According to the legend, every new chief would cover his body in gold dust and jump into the lake with gold and emerald offerings to the gods.
Museo del Oro is open from Tuesday to Saturday from 9 a.m. to 6 p.m. and on Sunday from 10 a.m. to 4 p.m. A free one-hour tour is offered in Spanish and English Tuesday through Saturday at 11 a.m. and 4 p.m. Audio guides are available in English, Spanish, and Portuguese. Admission is 3,000 pesos ($1 USD) for adults; and free on Sundays and public holidays.
6. Peddle down the Ciclovía
On December 15, 1974, more than 5,000 cycling enthusiasts closed down main streets in Bogota to promote the use of the bicycle. “We called it the ‘grand manifestation of the pedal’, organizer Oritz Mariño recounted to writers from Bicycling.
Today, Ciclovíá, Spanish for “bike path”, is an official city event that happens on Sundays and public holidays. From 7 a.m. to 2 p.m. on Ciclovia days, Bogota blocks off its highways, byways, and thoroughfares to traffic, reserving more than 120 kilometers of main streets for cyclists, runners, pedestrians, and rollerskaters.
Musicians, performers, and food vendors join Zumba, martial arts, and other classes along the route. Some 1.7 million people attend weekly, making Ciclovíá the world’s biggest regular mass recreation event. The concept has spread from Bogota around the world, and now more than 400 cities in Latin America and beyond have now established some kind of auto traffic suppression movement.
7. Stroll through Parque Metropolitano Simón Bolivár
Locals will proudly point out that Simón Bolívar Metropolitan Park is bigger than Central Park in New York. The park has been divided into a of network green spaces, including Parque Central Simón Bolívar, Parque el Salitre, and Parque de los Novios. On a sunny weekend, bus down to the TransMilenio’s E line to explore bike paths, playgrounds, libraries, and lakes for paddle boating.
8. Sip on Colombian coffee
Despite being located in one of the world’s best coffee regions (ranked topped three along with Vietnam and Brazil), Bogota didn’t offer much beyond a watery cup of tinto until a few years ago. That’s changing quickly.
Within the last few years, specialty coffee shops have cropped up across the city. Choose your own single-origin roast at the cheerful Amor Perfecto in Chapinero, or sip on unique brews at free monthly tastings at the nearby Café Cultor. At Azahar Cafe in Park 93, you can choose both your bean’s growing department and your method of brewing, including French press, aeropress, chemex, siphon, and V60 dripper.
9. Munch on exotic fruit and regional specialties at Plaza de Mercado Paloquemao
While local produce markets are wiped out by massive chains like Exito and Carulla, Paloquemao market manages to retain a refreshingly old-school Latin American mercado air.
The labyrinth of a market is packed with vendors peddling a dizzying array of meats, seafood, and produce; including tropical fruits like lulo, maracuya, and borojo. After exploring the bustling, frenzied floors, refuel at a food stall with a tamale and frosty Poker cerveza.
10. Enjoy breathtaking views from Monserrate Peak
Ask any local for tips on what to do in Bogota, and they’ll usually point you towards Monserrate Peak (El Cerro Monserrate).
At 10,000 feet above sea level, the iconic mountaintop can be reached by cable car, funicular railway, or a one-hour climb up a cobblestone path from La Candelaria. In addition to unparalleled views of Bogota’s skyline, Monserrate is home to a church with a shrine to El Senor Caido (The Fallen Lord), which has attracted religious pilgrims since the 17th century.
The peak also features restaurants and tourist facilities. The mountain is open daily from dawn until dusk; check the website for current cable car and railway schedules and rates.
11. (Bonus) Stay in a furnished apartment
There are plenty of places to stay in Bogota from cramped hostel dormitorios in Candelaria to 5-Star hotels around Parque 93, but if you really want to experience Bogota like a local, why not live like one?
Apartment International has over 50 unique, professionally designed apartments all over the city, but we prefer Chapinero for value and location. Staying in Chapinero will put you close enough to the tourist hot-spots that you can visit them in a short cab ride, but more importantly, allow you to live in one of the coolest, up-and-coming neighborhoods in Bogota with some of the newest and hippest bars, restaurants and cafe’s that the city has to offer.
If you prefer paying $30-$50 dollars a night vs $200 – $300 for a luxury hotel, check out the options they have available.
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