As the capital city of Colombia, Bogota tends to be the first place people fly into to explore this incredible country. With a population of 10 million, Bogota is a bustling capital city that is diverse and multicultural, attracting people visitors from all over the world. It has a never ending supply of restaurants, bars, quirky cafes, huge shopping malls, fascinating museums and impressive art scene. But remember, Bogota is 2,640 meters above sea level, so it can get chilly with frequent spells of rain. If you can get passed this (and we hope you can!) Bogota has alot offer!
Planning on exploring more of Colombia? How about the bustling city of Medellin? Or getting back to nature exploring the tallest wax palm tress in the world in Salento? Or are you looking for a launch pad for the famous Lost City Trek? Then head north to Santa Marta, finishing off with a digital detox in the mountains of Minca.
The main bus station is called ‘Terminal de transporte de Bogota, Salitre’ which is 9km northwest of La Candelaria, the main backpacker district and easy to reach from the airport. The terminal is incredibly well laid out, with different sections for the different directions of onward travel. If you would like more information, check out the terminal website, although the site is in Spanish, it is very easy to navigate.
There are many bus companies to choose from and travel with, but I would suggest traveling with the following:
- Cruz del Sur (the most expensive company but very comfortable with a strong focus on safety)
- Bolivariano (excellent and extremely affordable)
- Expreso Brasilia
You can travel to almost anywhere from Bogota as it is incredibly well connected by bus. You can easily travel to surrounding areas such as Medellin, Salento or even further afield to Quito in Ecuador, Santiago in Chile and Buenos Aires in Brazil.
The Airport is called El Dorado International and it is located 15km west of the city centre. In a taxi, it takes about 40 minutes to get to the main backpacker district, La Candelaria. As the largest international airport in Colombia, you can catch a flight to many destinations but to make it easier, there are two separate terminals. Terminal 1 serves both international and domestic flights to over 70 destinations; Terminal 2 serves domestic flights only, acting as the main hub of Avianca and several other airlines.
Transport from the airport to Bogota city centre:
- Taxi: 40 minutes to downtown/La Candelaria district, cost: COL$30,000 (€8-9 / $9-11).
- Transmilenio: Take the Alimentador (feeder) bus from outside either airport terminals to Portal Eldorado station and then jump on a Transmilenio bus. Before you enter the station you will need to purchase a Tullave card (have your passport handy to show them, cost: COL$2,000 (€0.60 / $0.65) and take the Number 1 line (a red bus) which links to Universidades or the K96 to the city centre.
- P500 bus: This will take you from the airport to the city centre. Be careful on this service though, always keep an eye on your belongings! Cost is COL$1700 (€0.50 / $0.55). As above, you need to purchase a Tullave card in the arrivals hall at the SITP Counter. Go to Terminal 1, Exit 7 to catch this bus.
If you are exploring during the day, there is plenty to see on foot. Bogota has created a huge pedestrian zone in the historical centre which is full of really interesting places to visit and explore. Make sure you pick up a free map of Bogota from your hostel or at the airport. Please do not walk at night, it is advise for you to get a taxi, even if it is a short distance to the next place / back to your hostel.
Whilst Bogota’s crime rate is decreasing, it is still a huge capital city of 10 million people and unfortunately some bad eggs. For this reason I took taxis most of the time, something I don’t usually do. However, make sure you call ahead for a taxi rather than picking on up on the street. Call a taxi company through your hostel and they will give you a code as well as the license plate number of the taxi coming to pick you up. Make sure the taxi turns the meter on when you get in to ensure a fair price.
The TransMilenio system is key to Bogota#s public transportation - a bus rapid transport system (BRT) that runs all over the city.. The TransMilenio goes to and from El Dorado Airport, around the historical city centre of Bogota (La Candelara, Monserrate, Gold Museum), to the neighbourhoods on the outskirts of Bogota and to most of the main tourist attraction zones around the city.
The TransMilenio consists of various lines that are colour coded and very clearly marked at the stations and on the TransMilenio maps. Most lines run from 5am-11.15pm but make sure you check the exact schedules for where you are going. During the peak hours of 5am-9am and 4pm-7pm, the TransMilenio can get very busy. If you can, try to avoid these times.
To use the service, you will need to purchase a one use ticket or buy a Frequent User Card that you add credit to it. You can top them up at various places around the city including shopping malls and the Transmilenio stations - very similar to when you are topping up your Oyster card in London.
Bogota has plenty of regular public buses as well. These buses run all over the city and sometimes go to the places that the TransMilenio cannot reach. All of the buses will have a route sign in the front window, tell you where they go. If you know where you are going and the place is well known, it should be pretty straight forward. However, if the place is less well known, you will have to speak to the driver as there is no bus map and the routes often change!
Another option is hiring a bicycle for a day and cycling around the city via the bike lanes, Ciclorrutas. Check out Bogota Bike Tours. On a Sunday all the roads close for exclusive use of bicycles. This is a super cool experience and a really good way to see this huge capital!
Go Travel and Talk Top Tips: Once you understand the way the streets are named, getting around is much easier. The streets that run north to south are called Carreras and the streets that run east to west are called Calles and they are numbered.
Free Walking Tours:
I love free walking tours and Bogota has plenty on offer! You can book these through your hostel, every hostel will have all the details you need to join one nearby. Most tours meet in La Candelaria, taking you around food markets, cathedrals, cobbled streets and the vast main square.
Cost: Free, donations welcome at the end.
Chapinero Walking Tour:
Our friends over at Justice Travel have just stated doing walking tours in the Chapinero district of Colombia. Located in the heart of Bogota, Chapinero is a neighbourhood that embraces diversity, considered as the social, cultural and entrepreneurial hub of the city. Tours start at 3pm and last between 3-3.5 hours. Every Thursday and Saturday. Starting point is: Cl. 70 # 7-30, Bogotá – Find the white umbrella!
Cost: $12 (€10.50).
Graffiti Walking Tour:
This tour will blow your mind. It leaves every day at 10am and 2pm from the Simon Bolivar statue on the Plaza del Periodista. You will learn about the street art of Bogota, including notable artists and the political, economic and historical context of each piece of graffiti. It is the best in Colombia and rivals that of Comuna 13 in Medellin, don’t miss it!
Cost: Varies depending on who you go with.
Museo del Oro:
Definitely check out the Museo del Oro (Gold museum) which houses over 50,000 objects of pre-Colombian gold work, the largest collection in the world, both famous and fascinating! Split over three floors, each room has a different theme with descriptions in Spanish and in English. Open 9-6pm Tuesday-Saturday and 10am-4pm on Sundays. It is closed on Mondays.
Cost: COL$4000 (€1 / $1).
Also, don’t miss the Botero museum which houses interesting pieces from the famous Colombian artist, Fernando Botero, who paints enlarged representations of people, animals and objects. Based within walking distance from the Gold museum in La Candelaria district, you could easily do both museums in one day. Open Monday-Saturday, 9am-7pm and 10am-5pm on Sundays.
Museo Nacional de Colombia:
This is the biggest and oldest museum in Colombia, dating back to 1823 and containing over 20,000 pieces of Colombian history.
Here you will also find music performances, exhibitions and seminars.
A breathtaking viewpoint with stunning views of Bogota city. At the top there is a network of market stalls, a stunning church, lots of little restaurants and a surprising bird sanctuary! There are three ways to reach the top:
1. Climbing the stairs:
If you are coming from La Candelaria, walk past the Transmilenio station ‘Museo de Oro’ towards the main street of Las Aguas, keep straight for a little while and then take a right turn. You will see lots of people walking to Monserrate so follow them! Alternatively, you can take a taxi from La Candelaria for COL$15,000 (€4 / $5). I would suggest only walking the stairs during the day and as there have been stories of muggings.
2. The Teleferico:
The Teleferico is beautiful, but very popular so you may have to queue for a while, costs COL$9000 (€2.60 / $3) for a one way ticket and COL$17,000 (€5 / $6) return.
3. The Funicular
Alternatively the Funicular, although less impressive than the Teleferico, is worth checking out, same costs as above.
Go Travel and Talk Top Tips: Take sunscreen and a hat and carry small notes/coins with you for food and water.
In such a chaotic city it is nice to find so many serene green spaces. Head to the Jardin Botanico (Ac 63 #68-95 Carreras), the largest botanical garden in Colombia. With its vast array of flora and fauna and wildlife, you will not be disappointed. The air feels fresh offering the perfect spot away from the hustle and bustle of Bogota.
Opening Times: 7-4.30pm, Monday to Friday. Saturday & Sunday and holidays, 9-5pm.
Cost: COP $2,600 (€0.75 / $0.85)
A huge park that is very popular with the locals and used for big concerts (Katy Perry and Aerosmith have performed here). If you are looking for peace and quiet, avoid this park on the weekends. A big draw is the huge lake where you can rent a small boat and explore for hours.
Cost: free park entrance and around COP $5,000 (€1.45 / $1.60) to rent a boat.
Located on Carrera 7 and Calle 35, this park is hugely popular with locals and tourists because of what it offers. Here you can find a football field, skating rink, tennis courts, a theater and plenty of places to kick back an relax. Why not bring a picnic and some drinks with you and spend the day relaxing in Bogota's nature!
Please note that whilst this park is safe during the day, it is advised to avoid it after dark.
La Candelaria is Bogota's most historic and romantic neighbourhoods. With its colourful houses and cobbled streets, the Spanish colonial influence is strong. Almost every home has a decorative wooden balcony looking out onto the bustling streets, with elaborately painted front doors and brightly coloured walls. There are many museums (like the ones outlined above), libraries, restaurants, bars, cute cafes and market stalls.
Spend the day wandering the streets and breathing it all in. If you are a night owl, be sure to head out to one of La Candelaria's many salsa clubs. But make sure you take a taxi after dark. Whilst I never had any problems, other travellers have, so it is best to be cautious.
The Santuario Nuestra Señora del Carmen is one of the most iconic churches in Bogota. Dedicated to the Virgin Mary, this beautiful church makes anyone's jaw drop to the floor. Known for its gothic style, the architecture is stunning and the elaborately painted interior of red and white stripes is unforgettable. Visit the church on your walk around La Candelaria.
Heads up book worms - this enormously impressive library should definitely be on your Bogota itinerary!
Located next to Parque Simón Bolívar (mentioned above), this beautiful building was designed by one of the most famous architects in Colombia, Rogelio Salmona. Rounded on all sides and encased by water, it offers a space of serenity in the middle of a bustling capital city.
They offer incredible art exhibitions, a whole range of books, a nice little cafe, an impressive open air theatre oh and free WIFI..
Looking to head out of the city for a day? Then check out this underground Roman Catholic church built within a salt mine, 200 meters below ground.
To get there you need to head to the Portal del Norte (North Terminal) and take a bus for Zipaquira. Look out for mini buses that say ‘Zipa’. It takes around 45 minutes to reach the town, make sure the bus driver knows you want to visit the Catedral de Sal. It is about a 10 minute walk to the entrance from where you are dropped off - use Maps.me which can be used offline to track your route - as long as you download the area map beforehand!
The Catedral de Sal consists of 14 chapels in total, discovered through a series of interconnecting tunnels. If you are keen to learn about the historical context, I would advise getting a guided tour which takes around 3 hours but it can be expensive. If you just walk around by yourself, all you need to pay for is the admission which costs COL$30,000 (€9 / $10). Head back to where the bus dropped you off to get back to Bogota.
Masaya hostel Bogota: Based in the trendy area of La Candelaria, this was my first hostel I stayed in on my South American trip. It has a stunning outside patio area, the dormitories are comfortable and come with lockers and privacy curtains running across the bed and they have decent shower / toilet facilities. The staff are friendly and for an extra COL$5,000 (€1 / $2) there was a very decent buffet breakfast available. It had a lovely vibe as a hostel, very chilled and sociable, with 24 hour security and additional activities like salsa, live music, a pool table and a games night. Cost: COL$36,000 (€10 / $12) for a bed in a 6 bed mixed dormitory. Follow them on Instagram: @masyahostels. They also have a hostel in Santa Marta.
Cranky Croc: Also based in the La Candelaria district, this hostel was recommended to me by a fellow traveler. As with Masaya hostel, it is not a party place, but sociable and chilled. Cost COL$33,000 (€10 / $11) for a bed in a 6 bed mixed dormitory.
BoGo Hostel & Rooftop: If you looking to party, then this hostel is for you! Also based in the La Candelaria district, this hostel has an awesome roof terrace and bar to enjoy seeing in the evenings with your new found friends. There are organised party nights and the staff are more than willing to point you in the direction of bars and clubs to dance the night away. If you are looking to sweat out the night before, check out their yoga room. Breakfast included, cost COL$31,000 (€9 / $11) for a bed in a 6 bed mixed dormitory (via Hostelworld).
- If you are looking for something healthy, try one of the many fruits on offer in Bogota, their versatility and tanginess promote a sensory overload - Bogota’s mangos and passion fruit are not to be missed!
- If you are looking for something a little naughty, Colombia has it all! Arepas with a topping of cheese; empanadas (typically stuffed with ground beef or chicken); coco frito (delicious fried coconut wrapped in a paper cone sweetened with sugar), churros which give you the perfect rush whilst exploring the city or try a bunuelos, fried cheese balls!
- Head to the Plaza de Mercado de Paloquemao, to experience the vast array of local produce from farmers around Bogota. Located in the neighbourhood of Paloquemao, you will find lots of fruit, vegetables, fish, flowers, medicinal herbs and so much more. Go early to avoid the crowds (opens at 4.30am during the week). Bring cash and your best Spanish (most vendors do not speak English!)
- Ajiaco is a traditional dish originating from Bogota. It is a white soup made with chicken, potato, sweetcorn and sour cream and served with rice and avocado. Or try arepas and tamales, a corn based delicacy with meat / vegetables / cheese and wrapped in plantain leaf.
- Head to La Puerta Falsa, a famous old restaurant near Plaza Bolivar. They serve up traditional dishes such as the ajiaco. Also, make sure you order the Chocolate Completo - a hot chocolate with cheese and freshly baked bread! A typical mid morning snack in Colombia!
Vegetarian / Vegan Food:
- If you are in Bogota, you must try Quinua y amaranto, a quaint restaurant ran by passionate chefs who work their magic on a daily basis. All ingredients are fresh and natural and they make a range of set lunches, biscuits, cereals and pies. Head to Calle 95, Carrera 11 #2.
- If you are looking for Vegan delights head to Sabor Vegano, you won’t be disappointed by their breakfast and lunch options or their baked treats and healthy shakes.
Our partners and friends over at Justice Travel, have several incredible tours that you can get involved in to experience Bogota and the real Colombia. Their social mission takes precedence over profits, and they involve their partners at all levels, "from planning and promoting tours to international advocacy". As they state on their website, their success is also their partners success, with 30% of the profits from the tours going directly to our the people they work with.
Details on their website. Costs vary but they are super affordable and remember, you are directly investing your money into the people of Colombia.