A Local's Guide to Bogotá
Dom Herrera, 22.08.18
Alternative Destinations: 10 min read
In recent years, Colombia has begun a modern-transformation. And as people start to realise that it’s a much safer country to visit than it’s made out to be, Colombia is finally gaining the praise that it deserves.
At the heart of the country, is the capital, Bogotá. A captivating city that demonstrates what Colombia is, once was and what it will be in years to come.
Alternative Airlines' Bogota Travel Guide
Before you decide take a vacation in Bogota, get to know the country a little better with these interesting facts:
- Bogotá was the capital of Gran Colombia
In 1819 after Colombia, Venezuela and Ecuador gained independence from Spain, Gran Colombia was created as a territory that covered all three countries. Bogotá was the capital of that entire territory until 1831 when the countries separated and now exist as individual states.
- Avocados are massive in Bogotá
Both in size and popularity! You'll find that a slice of giant Avocado accompanies many different traditional Colombian meals.
- Graffiti is legal in Bogotá
Following protests in 2011 after a young sixteen year old boy was killed by a police officer after graffitiing in the streets of Bogotá, street art was made legal in the city. Walking through the capital, you’ll see all types of different street art decorated on the walls of Bogotá. The attention to detail and sheer creativity from some pieces will blow your mind, while others… not so much.
Regardless of whether it's a unsung modern masterpiece or a shoddy-looking tag from a cheap can of spray paint, Bogota's street art definitely gives the city a unique feel.
Bogota street art
- Bogotá has two days a year where all motorvehicles are banned
A few years ago, Bogotá decided that every year, on the first Thursday of every February, the city would celebrates el Dia sin Carro (no car day) — a day where cars and motorbikes aren’t allowed on the roads and people are encouraged to travel using alternative modes of transport.
It proved to be so popular that Bogotá now celebrates el Dia sin Carro twice a year, with plans to add even more annual no car days in the future!
Alternative Airlines' Guide to Bogotá
Bogotá top tips
Know the difference between North and South Bogotá
There’s a great contrast between the north of Bogotá and the south of Bogotá. North Bogotá is a lot more built up and wealthy than the south. In the north you can find many shopping malls and high-end clubs, bars and restaurants. Whereas the south is a lot more basic, with local shops and businesses.
There’s a fair bit of poverty in southern Bogotá, and it becomes more prevalent the further down south that you travel. In the poorest parts ‚ a fair distance away from the main roads — you’ll see shanty towns at the bottom of the mountains.
Ride the TransMilenio
The TransMilenio is a bus that runs from the north to the south of Bogotá. Traffic can get hectic in Bogotá, especially during rush-hour. Because the TransMilenio travels in its own lane in the centre of the road, it’s often the fastest — and cheapest — way to travel around the city.
You must buy a TransMilenio card to ride the TransMilenio. Transmilenio cards are available to purchase at each TransMilenio station and are topped up with credit which can be used for journeys. It’s important to be aware of pickpockets on the TransMilenio, especially in busy periods!
Is Colombia hot?
Pack warm clothes!
We know what you’re thinking — ‘why on Earth would I need to pack warm clothes in Colombia?’. The truth is, Bogotá isn’t all that hot. Other areas of Colombia outside of the capital are, but because Bogotá sits at such a high altitude (2,644m above sea level) and is surrounded by mountains, it can get fairly cold — and it does rain. That’s not to say that it’s always cold, it has an average temperature of 15℃ and can rise well above that. But our advice is to pack a jacket and a few layers, just to be safe.
What is the local cuisine in Colombia?
Food in Bogota
Hot chocolate and cheese
Chocolate con queso is a typical Colombian dish which consists of hot chocolate and cheese. It’s one of those flavour combinations that sounds like it definitely shouldn’t work, but trust us — it definitely does.
Using a popular Colombian hot chocolate brand like Luker, this snack consists of a cup of hot chocolate with little blocks of unsalted cheese dropped in and left to melt at the bottom. It's usually served with breakfast, however, you'll be able to try it from local places at any time of the day.
Chocolate con queso
Empanada and Aji
Empanadas are tasty little pastries, usually filled with meat or cheese. They can be found across Spain and many other Latin American countries. However, what sets Colombian empanadas apart from the others is when they’re paired with Aji — a spicy sauce made up of finely cut tomato, onion, coriander, aji pepper and water.
The Colombian arepa is essentially a substitute for bread. A Colombian food that is made from corn, water, butter, salt and usually some type of cheese. Many Colombians cook arepas at home and add their own twists to them, but you’ll also find them in local cafes and restaurants.
Eat at the local chains
There’s two Colombian chain restaurants that are must-try when staying in Bogotá.
El Corral — El Corral is a fast-food burger chain that cook some of the best burgers you'll ever taste. They have every burger topping you could possibly ask for and offer a mix of different sides to accompany them. We recommend having your burger with a side of yuca frita (fried yuca). Yuca is root vegetable from Colombia that is similar to potato.
El Corral have also opened a string of restaurants with table service, called El Corral Gourmet, which are mostly found in the north of Bogotá.
Crepes & Waffles — Crepes & Waffles is one of those places that when you visit, you HAVE to get both main and dessert. They offer a long list of both savoury and sweet crepes, along with mouth-watering waffles and ice-creams.
There’s over 40 different Crepes & Waffles restaurants in Bogotá, more than 80 in the whole of Colombia, as well as some others spread across the rest of South America, and even a few restaurants in Madrid. However, nothing compares to eating at Crepes & Waffles in the city where it was born.
Crepes & Waffles — Bogota
There are many traditional soups in Colombia and Bogotá. One of our favourites is Caldo de Costilla — a broth with sliced potato, beef rib, onion and coriander. Some people add egg to the soup, but it’s not essential. Traditionally, this soup is eaten at breakfast. However, it’s quite heavy for first thing in the morning, so you can be forgiven for giving it a try at lunch time instead.
Another is Ajiaco, the soup that Bogotá is most famous for. This soup is made from chicken, onion, potatoes, cilantro and topped with avocado and creme fraiche.
Originating from the Paisa region in northwest Colombia. Bandeja paisa is a meal consisting of a mixture of beans, chorizo, egg, chicharrón (pork rind), rice, arepa, fried plantain, avocado and morcilla (black pudding). Although it’s not typically a dish from Bogotá, you can find some of the best bandeja paisa in Colombia's capital. So it’s definitely worth trying while you’re in the city.
Which airlines fly to Bogotá?
Avianca is the flag carrier of Colombia and the airline that serves the most destinations from Bogotá. Avianca offer many flights around South America, as well as direct services from destinations outside of the continent including London, Barcelona and Madrid and also fly direct to Miami, Orlando, Los Angeles and New York.
SATENA also operates domestic flights around Colombia.
How far is Bogotá airport from the city?
Bogotá airport, or El Dorado International Airport (BOG) is around a thirty minute drive from central Bogotá, if the traffic is good. Taxis are the most convenient way to get to and from Bogotá airport and can easily be booked from inside the terminal.
Do I need a visa to travel to Bogotá?
Residents from most countries in the Americas and Europe can visit Colombia for a maximum of 90 days without the need to obtain a visa, on the condition that their passport is valid for a minimum of six months after the date of entry to Colombia.
The visa requirements for countries outside of these continents will differ depending on the country of origin and the length of stay.
Bogotá Price Guide
The local currency in Colombia is the Colombian peso.
Exchange rate: $1 USD = 3,033 COP (August 2018)
Please note that prices are considerably higher in December and moderately higher in January. These prices are based on February—November.
As a general tip, the further north you travel, the higher prices will be.
Accomodation Backpacker/budget traveler - Around 20,000 COP per night for a dorm room and 40,000 COP for a private room. Mid-range (3 star hotel) - 130,000—190,000 COP Top-end - 200,000 COP+
One-way journey on TransMilenio — 2,300 COP Taxi — 1km journey = 4,800 COP A meal for one at a local restaurant — 10,000 COP+ A three-course meal for one at a mid-range restaurant — 35,000 COP Bottle of water — 2,500 COP Coffee — 4,000 COP Domestic beer (0.5l) — 3,000 COP
Things to do in Bogotá
Visit old town Bogotá
Situated in the old town, the colourful streets of La Candelaria and the Bolivar Square are two of the main things to see in Bogotá. Although it’s not very tourist friendly at night, in the day Bogatá's old town is great to walk around, stop for a coffee at a local cafe or a drink at a local bar and take in the authentic Bogotá.
Go to Club de Tejo La 76 and play tejo — a traditional Colombian game played throughout the country. The game consists of throwing a metal puck at board of clay that sits at a 45-degree angle. Bits of gunpowder are folded into triangle pockets and placed on the clay and the objective is to try and hit the triangles with your puck, resulting in a very loud (and very satisfying) explosion.
It can be quite challenging to hit a target at first, but it makes for a very competitive game with friends. You’ll be impressed with the locals who have razor-sharp accuracy as a result of playing the game their entire lives.
Go and see the chubby Mona Lisa
Bogotá is great city for art museums and galleries but there is one museum in particular that is must-visit.
Located just off of La Candelaria, the Botero Museum has a huge international collection of art. The highlight of the museum is the exhibition that takes objects, food, animals and classic artwork and makes them chubby! Why visit le Louvre when you can see the Mona Lisa in its best form at the Botero?
Chubby Mona Lisa — Botero Museum
Drink a Juan Valdez coffee
Colombia is synonymous with coffee and Juan Valdez is Colombia’s equivalent of Starbucks. Juan Valdez coffee shops are pretty much everywhere in Bogotá. You’ll easily be able to spot a Juan Valdez coffee shop by the picture of the fictional character Juan Valdez and his pet mule Conchita on the front of the cafes.
Have a fresh juice in the Restrepo
The Restrepo is a neighbourhood in southern Bogotá that has many different shops and eateries. One great thing to do in the area is to visit one of the fresh juice stalls at the indoor market. These delicious juices are made from a great variety of fresh fruit. Make sure you brush up on your Spanish before you order though, some places mix the smoothies with blended live crabs if you ask them to!
Last but certainly not least. Monserrate is a mountain in central Bogotá that boasts gorgeous views of the city. If you’re up for the challenge, you can walk up the mountain (taking between one—two hours), or you can get a cable car up to the mountain instead which only takes a few minutes.
At the top of Monserrate sits a catholic church, as well as cafes and several souvenir shops. The area is one of the more touristy locations in Bogotá, but it’s charm is irresistible. And it’s worth visiting for the panoramic view of Bogotá alone.
View of Bogotá — Monserrate
Things to do in Bogotá at night
As a general rule, we suggest staying further North of Bogotá when it comes to nightlife. Many places in the South are safe and fun. But you don't want to end up in the wrong area late at night. Nightlife in the north is much safer and there's plenty of exciting things to do!
Just north of Zona Rosa, Parque 93 is a park in the middle of an attractive and energetic section in the north of Bogotá. The surrounding area has an abudnace of great resstaraunts — including the aforementioned El Corral Gourment and Crepes & Waffles — plus a selection of trendy nightclubs and bars.
Check out our other local’s guides
New Year's Eve in Bogotá
If you get the chance to spend New Year's Eve in Bogotá — you're in for a treat! Make sure to buy a Año Viejo doll and join in with the tradional Colombian new year traditions. Find out more in our Best Cities to Spend New Year's Eve blog.