City Guide Bogota, Colombia

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Visiting Bogota

From the wealth of the colonial churches to the poverty of the shantytowns, Bogota is a city of vast contrasts.

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About Bogota, Colombia

Bogota’s history goes back as far as 1538 when it was founded by the Spanish conquistador, Gonzalo Jiménez de Quesada and named Santa Fe de Bogotá. After it gained independence, however, it was shortened to Bogota but was changed back to its full title again in 1991.

In 1740, the city was made the Capital of the Viceroyalty of New Granada and played a huge political role during the Colonial period. After the country won its independency from Spain in 1819, Bogota became the country’s capital.

The city is now the largest in Colombia and is also one of South America’s fastest growing metropolitan areas. After 1940, large numbers of rural Colombians migrated to Bogota in search of greater economic opportunities and the population rapidly grew. It currently stands at over six million, twenty times greater than the number of inhabitants just half a century ago. It is home to the National University of Colombia as well as several other universities making it the chief educational centre in the country.

There is an excellent variety of restaurants and cafes in the city and the good news is that you can get a very satisfactory meal for a very reasonable price. Numerous restaurants offer superb local cuisine as well as traditional dishes from all over the country. Among the delicacies to be found in Colombia is ajicaco, a type of chicken soup which includes three different types of potato and is served with corn and capers. This is actually a typical Bogotan specialty as is Chocolate santafereno which is a cup of hot chocolate accompanied by cheese and bread which you are supposed to dip in the chocolate. Lovely! Dishes from the rest of the country include Bandeja paisa – ground beef, chorizo sausage, red beans, rice, fried green banana, a friend egg, a piece of pork and an avocado – and Lechona – a pig carcass stuffed with its own meat, rice and dried peas and baked in an oven.

Well, after reading that I suppose you should be told that Bogota also has a variety of restaurants serving international cuisine. So, if the thought of pig carcasses doesn’t exactly make your mouth water you can always nip down to the local Italian for a pizza. Most of the bigger fast food chains have also made it to the capital so you will never be short of options about where to go for dinner.

Eating Out in Bogota, Colombia

There is an excellent variety of restaurants and cafes in the city and the good news is that you can get a very satisfactory meal for a very reasonable price. Numerous restaurants offer superb local cuisine as well as traditional dishes from all over the country. Among the delicacies to be found in Colombia is ajicaco, a type of chicken soup which includes three different types of potato and is served with corn and capers. This is actually a typical Bogotan specialty as is Chocolate santafereno which is a cup of hot chocolate accompanied by cheese and bread which you are supposed to dip in the chocolate. Lovely! Dishes from the rest of the country include Bandeja paisa – ground beef, chorizo sausage, red beans, rice, fried green banana, a friend egg, a piece of pork and an avocado – and Lechona – a pig carcass stuffed with its own meat, rice and dried peas and baked in an oven.

Well, after reading that I suppose you should be told that Bogota also has a variety of restaurants serving international cuisine. So, if the thought of pig carcasses doesn’t exactly make your mouth water you can always nip down to the local Italian for a pizza. Most of the bigger fast food chains have also made it to the capital so you will never be short of options about where to go for dinner.

Restaurants in Bogota

  • Casa Vieja

    3 – 73 Avenida Jimenez, Bogota, Colombia

    If you haven’t been completely turned off the local fare, then you should check this restaurant out. They have branches all over the city but this one is particularly nice.

  • El Zaguan de las Aguas

    15-62 Calle 19, Bogota, Colombia

    Another establishment offering traditional Colombian cuisine so make sure you check out the lechona and ajiaco while you are there.

  • La Fragata

    Calle 100, Bogota, Colombia

    This too is one of many branches of the same restaurant but this time it’s seafood. Its location at the top of the World Trade Centre where it rotates every few minutes to offer amazing views Bogota is what makes this restaurant so enjoyable.

  • Ultimos Virreyes

    3 – 16 Calle 19, Bogota, Colombia

    This is one of the more popular restaurants in the La Canderlaria region and serves an appetising mix of both local and international cuisine.

  • El Patio

    27 – 86 Carrera 4A, Calle 19, Bogota, Colombia

    For good old fashioned pizzas and lasagnes this is one of the better Italian restaurants in Bogota. It is also one of the pricier establishments so if it is out of your price range you could check out some of the copy-cat restaurants in the area.

  • Nuevos Horizontes

    6 – 37 Calle 20, Bogota, Colombia

    This is one for the vegetarians among you and serves delicious and cheap meals all day unlike some of the neighbouring eateries which close after lunch.

  • Pajares Salinas

    96 – 108 Carrera 10, Bogota, Colombia

    This is one of the many traditional Spanish restaurants in the city and comes highly recommended.

Transport in Bogota, Colombia

Getting There
International flights from both Europe and the US fly directly to Bogota and both airports, El Dorado and Puento Aereo, are served by busetas and colectivos which have Aeropuerto clearly marked on the front. You will find these on Calle 19 or Carrera 10 for your return journey. You can also take a taxi which will cost you about US$6.

Colombia has road connections with Venezuela and Ecuador but some of the border crossings come under regular guerilla attacks and it is not recommended to enter the country using such crossings. You can also enter the country by boat but Bogota is quite a distance from the major ports and again the journey can be quite an ordeal.

Getting Around
While most of the main tourist attractions are within walking distance of each other, it is always helpful to know that the bus service in Bogota covers the entire city. If you are feeling a little drained, all you usually need to do is put your hand out when you see an oncoming bus. There are some official stops but these are not that common and are mainly located on Carrera 7. The very reasonable fare is always written on the door or the window.

If you are getting a taxi, insist that the driver uses the metre. There is a standard charge of about US$1.25 before your journey starts and after that the fare is calculated by units which are transferred into pesos. There should be a chart in every taxi showing you the list of units so you can ensure that you are not being overcharged.

Things To See in Bogota, Colombia

Bogota is one of the southern hemisphere’s principal centres for writers, architects, intellectuals and artists and each one of the professions manifests itself throughout the city. Home to the national museum and the national cathedral, these are just two of the multitude of magnificent museums and churches located throughout the city. As well as impressive interiors, you will also see a fascinating mixture of colonial architecture and modernistic structures which give the city a unique appearance and one worthy of checking out.

Generally speaking, Bogota can be divided into four large zones; the central zone between carreras 1 and 14 and calles 5 and 34. This area includes the colonial neighbourhood of La Candelaria and is where the majority of government offices, museums, churches and other buildings of historical, artistic and cultural interest are situated. The northern zone is the modern commercial sector and is where the majority of cultural and activities take place. The southern zone is mainly industrial working class and the western zone is where you will find the city’s various parks and sports centers as will as the Eldorado Airport.

One of the sights just outside the metropolitan area is the shrine of Monserrate. This is located on a nearby mountain and offers breathtaking views of the city. Also in the locality, you will see the unique underground Salt Cathedral of Zipaquira and the world famous Tequendama Falls which plunge through a canyon in the Andean jungle.

Attractions in Bogota

  • Cinemateca Distrital

    22 – 79 Carrera 7, Bogota, Colombia

    This offers a change from your everyday cinema as it’s a typical Bogotan art cinema. While you won’t see any Hollywood blockbusters, you will get to broaden your mind and you will also have a really good time.

  • The Gold Museum (Museo del Oro)

    Carrera 6, Calle 6, Bogota, Colombia

    This museum is the most important of its kind in the world. Housing a unique collection of precolumbian gold which includes objects from the Calima, Tayrona, Sinu, Muisca, Tolima and Tumaco cultures, you will be amazed at what is on display. Among the objects are exquisite masks, collars, bracelets, pectorals and jars. The Golden Room alone has more than 8.000 gold pieces on display and the total collection contains over 33,000 artefacts. It is closed all day Monday.

  • Church of Santa Clara (Iglesia de Santa Clara)

    Carrera 8, Calle 9, Bogota, Colombia

    This church is regarded as the most representative of the city’s vast range of colonial churches. It was part of the Clarist religious community convent and was built between 1619 and 1630. The building serves has served as a museum and a concert hall since 1968 and houses a wonderful collection of religious art including wood carvings, paintings and ornaments.

  • National Cathedral (Catedral Primada de Bogota)

    Carrera 7, Calle 11, Bogota, Colombia

    This cathedral is particularly significant as it is built on the site where the first mass was celebrated after Bogota was founded back in 1538. It is a monumental building, the fourth built on this site and today it houses several treasures and relics as well as the tomb of the city’s founder, Gonzalo Jiménez de Quesada.

  • 20th of July Museum (Museo 20 de Julio)

    Carrera 7, Calle 11, Bogota, Colombia

    This is a colonial residence where you will see the famous flower vase which was the cause of the Creole rebellion against Spanish rule that began on July 20th, 1810. The conflict arose when the vase’s owner, Jose Gonzales Liorente who was a Spaniard, refused to lend the vase for decoration at an event in honour of Antonio Villavicencio who was a prominent Creole. The refusal was used as a reason for the Creoles to fight against the Spaniards and this rebellion led to their independence.

  • La Quinta de Bolivar

    3 – 23 Calle 20, Bogota, Colombia

    This is another colonial mansion and was built around 1800. It now serves as a museum where you will see several cannons that were used at the battle of Boyaca. The house was offered to Bolivar in 1820 as a sign of gratitude for the victory of the Spaniards and is now home to his personal possessions, weapons, medals and uniforms.

  • Botanic Gardens (Jardín Botánico José Celestino Mutis)

    56 – 84 Carrera 66, Bogota, Colombia

    If it’s tropical flora you’re after, you’ve come to the right place. With a collection of over five thousand orchids as well as native and international flowers planted in beautiful surroundings, a trip to the gardens is the perfect way to escape the chaos of the city life going on outside.

Entertainment in Bogota, Colombia

The most popular entertainment venues in Bogota are situated in the Zona Rosa region which is located between Carreras 11 and 15 and Calles 81 and 84. Here you will find a vast array of cafes, pubs, clubs and live music venues. And, if you don’t like the first place you decide on, all you have to do is move along as they are all situated right beside each other. Life in this sector of the city doesn’t start until after the sun goes down and it’s still going when the sun comes back up again. It is also one of the safer areas but you should always go out in groups for extra security. Outside the Zona Rosa, there are also several discotheques located on Calle 94 and Pepe Sierra Avenue.

Carribbean music is also very popular in the Colombian capital and there are several clubs which offer both salsa and reggae music to its clients. If you fancy something with a tropical tone, then Carrera 5 between Calles 26 and 28, is where you need to go. A bohemian and informal atmosphere makes it very easy to unwind after a day of doing the tourist thing.

Because most clubs and bars shut at 1.00am, the after party scene in Bogota is huge. These can cost anything from 5 to 25,000 pesos and they are extremely popular among young revellers in the city. So if you still have some energy left at closing time, you should check one of these unique soirees out. Most parties last until dawn unless the police decide to shut them down and they are usually just one big rave. You should be aware, however, that there are a great deal of drugs in use too but nobody is forcing you to partake so just stay safe and have fun.

Entertainments in Bogota

  • Quiebra Canto

    Carrera 5, Calle 17, Bogota, Colombia

    This is one of the most popular venues in Bogota and plays a good mix of reggae, salsa, hip hop, funk and more. The crowd are friendly and the cover charge is extremely reasonable (about US$1.50). It is also located in one of the safer parts of the city making it a good option all round.

  • Cinema

    Carrera 13, Calle 78, Bogota, Colombia

    This is an excellent venue which opens until 4.00am, most of the other clubs close at 1.00am. The interior is weird and wonderful and top local DJs play hip hop, reggae, house etc. While the cover charge is on the expensive side for Bogota, it is still only around US$5.00, it is worth every penny.

  • Mister Babilla

    Calle 82, Bogota, Colombia

    Playing a mix of reggae, rock and heavy metal this is just one of the many popular venues in the social centre of the city. The cover charge is reasonable too so be prepared to wade through the masses as it’s always crowded.

  • Galeria Café Libro

    11 – 92 Calle 81, Bogota, Colombia

    Bogota is renowned for its salsotecas which are discotheques that play mostly salsa music. So, if you fancy trying your hand, or your feet, with the local dance, this is just one of the many places worth checking out.

  • Salome

    82 – 116 Carrera 14A, Bogota, Colombia

    Similar to the Galeria Café Libro, this is another of the city’s salsotecas and is situated right in the heart of the Zona Rosa meaning that you are in the middle of the social centre of Bogota.

General Info about Bogota, Colombia

Currency
The currency used in Bogota is the peso (Col$). The notes come in denominations of 2,000, 5,000, 10,000 and 20,000 pesos and the coins in use are 50, 100, 200, 500, and 1000 pesos. You should also be aware of fake notes as they are rampant in the city but the good news is that they are pretty easy to recognise as they are generally of a much poorer quality than the genuine article.

Language
The language spoken in the capital is Spanish and for all you Spanish speaking backpackers, the good news is that it is generally easy to understand with very few variations.

Climate
The climate in Colombia is extremely variable and in Bogota which is 2,600 metres above sea level the situation is the same. Overall, it is much cooler than the Eastern plains and December, January and February are usually the driest months. The average temperature for every month of the year is 58 F (14C) but it can reach 80F (27C) in the shade on the hotter days and at night it can cool down to as low as 38F (3C). It also rains quite a lot but this is usually confined to the months between March and November where rain and hail storms can be very heavy.

Time Zone
Bogota uses Eastern Standard Time which is five hours behind Greenwich Mean Time.

Opening Hours
In general shops open between 9.00am and 12.30pm and from 2.30pm until 8.00pm from Monday to Saturday. Some of the larger stores also open on Sunday between 9.00am and 3.00pm. Banks are open from 9.00am until 3.00pm from Monday to Thursday and between 9.00am and 3.30pm on Friday. It is also worth noting that they only open between 9.00am and 12.00pm on the last day of the month. Government offices are open from 8.00am until 3.00pm, and to the public from 10.30am.

Electricity
Electricity in Colombia operates at 110 volts and plugs are the flat two-pin US type.

Visa Requirements
For vistors from Europe (with the exception of Czech and Slovakian nationals), Japan, Australia, New Zealand, the Americas (with the exception of Cuba, Nicaragua and Haiti) and the US a visa is not required. All that you need to get is an entry stamp in their passport from the security police when you enter the country. This will entitle you to stay for a period of either 30, 60 or 90 days depending on which stamp you get. You can get an extension on all of these but if you do get the 90-day stamp, you are only entitled to one 30 day extension. For visitors from all other countries, it is recommended that you contact the Colombian Embassy in your home country.

Tourist Office
The main office, Instituto Distrital de Cultura y Turismo, is located at the western corner of Plaza de Bolivar, piso 2 and the number is 334 8749. It is open between 7.00am and 12.30pm and again from 1.30pm until 4.30pm from Monday to Friday. You will also find tourist offices at the airport and the bus terminal.

Currency Exchange
Some banks will exchange cash and traveller’s cheques while some others will not and this can vary in different branches of the bank. The banks which do offer an exchange facility usually do so within limited hours so your best bet is to go to the bank in the morning.
Visa, Mastercard and American Express are widely accepted in the more up-market restaurants and are becoming popular for purchasing goods but they still cannot be used everywhere. They can, however, be used in the increasing number of ATMs (cajeros automaticos) which pay out in pesos. You can also use cards which are part of the Cirrus or Plus network to withdraw cash.

Telephone
The country code for Colombia is 27 and the area code for Bogota is 01. You need to dial the latter if you are calling Bogota from somewhere within the country. If you are calling from overseas you first dial 00, followed by the country code, the area code without the 0 and the local number.
Public phones are found in the streets all over the city but many are out of order. They generally take coins but the newer ones take cards (tarjeta telefonicas) which can be purchased in a Telecom office. With three telephone networks in operation, you need to check the international code for whichever one you are using before dialing outside Colombia is as it varies for each network.

Tipping
If a service charge is not included on your restaurant bill a ten per cent tip is adequate. If you bill is pretty large, then you can leave an even smaller tip. For baggage, 2,000 pesos per piece of luggage is the norm and it is not necessary to tip taxi drivers.

Public Holidays
It is worth noting what the public holidays are before you travel to a country as the majority of businesses, banks and shops usually shut for the day. In Colombia they take place on January 1st and 6th, March 19th, April 12th, Good Friday, Ascension Thursday, May 1st, June 14th, 22nd and 29th, July 20th, August 7th and 15th, October 15th, November 1st and 11th and December 8th and 25th. It is a good idea to check the particular area too as certain towns and cities also shut down during special events.

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