The weather in Colombia’s capital, Bogota, is spring-like year-round, meaning that when you see a flight deal, there’s no need to hesitate and check the weather. Just go!
It’s easy: United, Delta, JetBlue, Avianca, Spirit and American Airlines all offer direct flights to Bogota from many US cities.
It’s not as far away as you think: Nonstop flights are less than four hours from Miami, less than six hours from New York and around 7 hours from Los Angeles.
I’ve visited the city twice over Memorial Day weekend with my friend Camila and her family. I was lucky to be traveling with people familiar with Bogota (and, of course, fluent in Spanish!) as they were able to advise which tourist warnings were overkill and which were warranted. Basically, if you’re planning to travel to Bogota, heed typical safety advice: don’t walk around at night by yourself, leave the jewelry and fancy camera equipment at home and don’t draw attention to yourself by speaking in English when you’re in a taxi or walking around downtown.
I spent three full days there over a holiday weekend thanks to red eye flights, but four days would be best if you really want to hit all of these great things to do in Bogota:
Explore La Candelaria
La Candelaria is the historic center of Bogota, where many tourist attractions are located. That also means pickpockets and petty thieves are out in full force, so be careful walking around. If you’re toting a fancy camera, you should rent a taxi to take you around for the day (we negotiated for a taxi driver to pick us up and drop us off whenever we called him for $40 for the day). If you look like a ragamuffin backpacker, you’re probably going to be fine.
The Gold Museum (Museo del Oro) is Bogota’s most famous museum, and arguably one of the best museums in South America. It has a massive collection of more than 55,000 gold pieces from all the major pre-Hispanic cultures in Colombia. You’ll get to see the ancient version of “blinged out” a la giant nose rings and solid gold 3″ diameter earrings.
A short drive away is a second can’t-miss attraction if you’re visiting Bogota: Monserrate. Monserrate is a mountain that visitors can access via aerial tram for some seriously incredible views of the city from above. It’s hard to envision just how big Bogota is from ground level, but once you reach the top of Monserrate, you’ll realize that it’s huge. At the top, there is a small church, stalls selling tourist wares and a restaurant serving typical Colombian dishes overlooking the city. It’s touristy, but the food is pretty good!
A third thing to do downtown is a street art tour. Thanks to lax laws categorizing graffiti as a violation vs. a criminal offense, Bogota has some of the best street art in the world. Bogota Graffiti Tours can take visitors to see some of the most popular works and share the history of graffiti in the city.
Hang Out in Usaquen
Located uptown, Usaquen is an upscale neighborhood that has a lot of great bars, restaurants and shops on its colorful colonial-style streets. A W Hotel recently opened there, pointing to the neighborhood’s growing trendiness. Usaquen wasn’t always part of Bogota – it was actually a separate town until 1954, when the city was just getting too dang large and had to expand. Usaquen is a great place to treat yo’ self if you’re used to USA pricing… here you can get a blowout for about $10 and manicures for less than $5. An affordable way to look extra fly in your tourist selfies!
On Sundays, don’t miss the Mercado de las Pulgas (a flea market) in Usaquen. Whether you want to eat tasty Colombian foods, shop for trinkets or simply people watch, it’s definitely worth checking out. Don’t feel squeamish when you see a woman serving plates of food scraped out of an entire roast pig – this dish, called lechona, is delicious! The pig is stuffed with rice, peas, onions and a combination of spices and cooked in a clay oven for up to ten hours. It’s only served on special occasions, and I saw it at this flea market both times I went, so this is your chance.
There are so many cute little spots in Usaquen that you can just wander the cobblestone streets until you find a place you want to hang out at, but two of my favorites were Abasto, a restaurants serving Colombian food, and Bogota Beer Company, which serves, no surprises here, local brews.
Another unique attraction in Usaquen is its cemetery. The Cementerio Parroquial Santa Barbara de Usaquen is open to the public and a surprisingly colorful and cheerful place, with many of the graves adorned with fresh flowers, candles and pictures. I didn’t take photos while I was there as I didn’t want to be disrespectful to those visiting loved ones, but I found some on Flickr to give you an idea.
If you’re looking to see a bit more of the city and get some exercise in, rent a bike and go for a spin during Ciclovia. On Sunday mornings, many of the streets are shut down while families head out for a ride. Bogota is infamous for its horrendous traffic and resulting pollution, and this is just one way the city is trying to go green by encouraging cycling.
Get Out of the City
A lot of residents escape to the countryside on the weekends, and with good reason: Bogota can be chaotic and crowed, especially with all that aforementioned traffic. If you have an extra day to explore, rent a care and plan to get an early start (again, that traffic!). The mountainous countryside is beautiful, and one of the area’s top attractions is located a little over an hour’s drive away in Zipaquira.
The Catedral de Sal, or Salt Cathedral, is an underground church built within the tunnels of a salt mine. The church goes 200m underground (goodbye cell service) and is divided into three sections representing the birth, life and death of Jesus, including all the stations of the cross. Regardless of your interest in architecture or religion, this place is seriously COOL. The bluish-purple lighting makes you feel like you are in another world, and the fact that people actually attend church in these caverns is pretty amazing. If you don’t have access to wheels, you can also take the TurisTren from Bogota to the Salt Cathedral.
Taking things in a very non-churchly direction, another place you must visit outside Bogota is Andres Carne de Res. About an hour from the city (and 35 minutes from the Salt Cathedral), Andres is a famous Colombian restaurant that serves up both food and debauchery. Things can get so crazy that the restaurant offers “Guardian Angels,” or people you can hire to drive your car back to Bogota when you’ve had one drink too many.
Choosing what to order from the book-length menu of Colombian dishes can be tough, but you’ll definitely want to have a bottle or two of Aguardiente, aka Colombian fire water, to get the party started. Throughout the meal, costumed characters, musicians, and dancing troupes of waitresses entertain. My friend Camila nailed it when she said Andres is like “Chuckie Cheese for adults.”
If you’re going to Colombia, your trip isn’t complete until you’ve had a couple staples. Colombian food isn’t particularly flavorful, and but its simplicity is what makes it so yummy. Steak and potatoes? Bread and cheese? All sounds pretty fantastic to me.
There are two foods I die for that you cannot get in the United States. Well, you can get them, but they just aren’t as good. The first is ajiaco, a soup made with chicken, potatoes, corn and a Colombian herb called guascas (the ingredient you can’t find stateside). The soup, usually served on Sundays, is garnished with capers and avocado slices. The avocados in Colombia are huge, by the way, putting those $3 California avocados you find at Whole Foods to shame.
The other food you must eat in Colombia is steak. I’m not a huge steak eater and I can’t explain why, but steak is always better in South America. One unique twist on steak you might find in Colombia is lomo al trapo. Lomo al trapo consists of only two ingredients: beef and salt. The key to deliciousness is all in the preparation: the beef is generously salted to the point where you’re like woah am I going to die from a sodium overdose? and then wrapped and tied tightly in a kitchen towel. The entire bundle is placed in a fire to cook for 10 to 15 minutes before it’s removed, unwrapped, and quickly eaten because it tastes so good.
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top of post photo: robertocontrer/Flickr