17 Unmissable Things To Do In Bogota

17 Unmissable Things To Do In Bogota

There are many interesting things to do in Bogota. The capital of Colombia, a city of no less than 7.5 million people, well deserves to be explored and has plenty of things to see and do to keep visitors entertained – though many mistakenly decide to only spend a few hours there, while on a layover to go elsewhere.

It’s a pity, really. Bogota has a lot to offer, a lot more than meets the eye, and despite being such a vast metropolis, the vibe is friendly and the locals are extremely welcoming.

Perched at 2600 meters above sea level in the Andes, Bogota it’s a world apart from the sunny Cartagena, which is on the Caribbean coast (read more about Cartagena in this post). The average temperature here is 14 degrees Celsius, and it pretty much rains every day. Upon arriving, the impression you will get is that of being in northern England, or Ireland. Definitely not the sunny, hot, salsa-dancing, tropical picture that fills up the imagination of most foreigners.

Yet, one can’t help but warming to it.

Bogota is sophisticated, progressive and at times overwhelming. It’s chaotic, but it can also be incredibly peaceful. It’s a city of contrasts: next to the colorful colonial buildings of La Candelaria, you’ll find the skyscrapers of the financial district. The center is packed with beautiful historical sights, good museums and colonial buildings.

This posts highlights all the unmissable things to do in Bogota, and includes a few tips on how to make the most of the city.

These are some of the best guided tours of Bogota:

things to do in Bogota

The beautiful cathedral in Plaza Bolivar

17 Things To Do In Bogota That You Shouldn’t Miss

Go to Plaza de Bolivar

Located in the historic heart of Bogota, Plaza de Bolivar is actually as eclectic as it gets in terms of architectural styles. The Capitolio Nacional, where the congress sits, is built in a neoclassical style. The Alcaldia (the City Hall) is built in French style and dates back to the early 20th century. The Catedral Primada, which is on the eastern side of the square, is Bogota’s largest church and was built in neoclassical style. The only example of colonial style architecture in the square is the Capilla del Sagrario, which is right next to the Cathedral. Whichever way you look at it, Plaza de Bolivar is an interesting place and visiting is one of the things to do in Buenos Aires.

Walk around Candelaria

Visiting La Candelaria is what to do in Bogotà to appreciate the colonial feel of the city. It’s a lovely neighborhood of cobbled alleys, museums galore, theaters, cafés and street art. The area has some good hostels and other places to stay, and some fairly good restaurants too. It’s one of the safest neighborhood in Bogota, so you can safely explore by yourself. But if you are curious to learn more about the history of the area and of how it evolved into becoming a place for artists, you may as well join a guided tour.

These are some of the best tours of Bogota that include La Candelaria:

things to do in Bogota

One of the things to do in Bogota is admiring the view from Monserrate – photo courtesy of Mariusz Kluzniak (flickr)

Enjoy the view from Monserrate

Among the unmissable things to do in Bogota there’s visiting Cerro de Monserrate. This peak towers over Bogota with its 3200 meters. It’s been a place of pilgrimage since the 1600s and a church was built at the top in the 1650s. The views of the city from Monserrate are impressive, but the site is also famous for the statue of El Señor Caido – a statue that depicts Jesus Christ right after being taken off the cross. There is also a park, which is nice to explore.

To get to Monserrate, you have three options: you can take the cable car, which is called Teleferico, the funicular, or walk all the way up the more than 1500 steps to the top. Although there are meant to be uniformed guards on the trail, robberies are often reported so take precautions should you decide to walk it – and by all means don’t go alone.

TIP: Bogota gets terribly congested with traffic, and as the day goes along, the pollution increases and the views from Cerro Monserrate become less clear. Make sure to go up quite early in the morning for clear views. Also, keep in mind that the temperature inevitably drops even more compared to the already cold city, so bring up an extra layer.

You can also join a guided tour that goes all the way to Monserrate. These are the best options:

Enjoy a different view from Torre Colpatria  

You can get a good 360 degrees view of Bogota from its tallest skyscraper, Torre Colpatria, where you can access the mirador (viewpoint) on the 48th floor. 

Visit La Zona Rosa

Zona Rosa, whose official name is Zona T, is the upscale area of Bogota – with all the luxury shops, restaurants and hotels and some of the best bars and nightlife in the city. It’s definitely where to go in Bogota if you want to treat yourself to a good dinner, but keep in mind that prices are going to be higher than in the rest of the city.

In Zona Rosa you’ll also find the famous Andres Carne de Res, a restaurant which originally opened in Chia but that now also has opened here in Bogota. It’s more than just a restaurant – here you can spend the night dancing to salsa and merengue tunes. Spending a night there is one of the best things to do in Bogota at night.

You can book a visit to Andres Carne de Res (with transfer) online:

Explore Chapinero

Chapinero is one of the nicest areas of the city and if you want to get out of the main tourist trail, visiting is what to do in Bogota. It’s where a large university is located, so the vibe is young and friendly. Here, you’ll find some very good restaurants – though not as expensive as those of Zona Rosa, and good places to stay that are a world away from the backpackers’ places of Candelaria.

things to do in Bogota

Make sure to visit Candelaria – it’s one of the things to do in Bogota

Explore Bogota by bike

One of the things that impressed me the most about Bogota is how biking friendly the city is. There’s something like 300 km of biking lanes, that have been built since 1998, and locals regularly use this mode of transportation to go about their daily business. Needless to say, one of the top things to do in Bogota to properly see it is joining a bike tour. Most of them start in La Candelaria and make several stops throughout the day, to visit museums, have a taste of street food, admire street art. Tours vary depending on the events going on in the city.

These are some of the best bike tours of Bogota:

things to do in Bogota

Biking is the best way to move around Bogota

Join the Ciclovia Sundays

Speaking of bikes, one of the most fun things to do in Bogota on Sundays is joining the Ciclovia. That’s when more than 100 km of roads are closed to traffic, and the locals get to use them to bike, skate, rollerblade, run and even walk the dogs. You can rent a bike to join in the fun. And if you get hungry you can stop at the many stalls that pop up at the side of the street.

things to do in Bogota

There’s a lot of street art in Bogota – photo courtesy of Pedro Szekely (flickr)

Admire all the street art

If you love street art, you’ll be in for a treat. One of the nicest things to do in Bogota is admiring the many pieces of art painted on the city walls. Bogota street art is thriving, and has been so for decades – despite the fact that graffiti artists had to work at nights and under cover not to be caught by the police. In 2011, Diego Felipe Becerra was shot by two police officers as he painted his famous Felix de Cat, causing such a reaction from the rest of the artists community and the public that the two officers were eventually arrested. That’s when graffiti art was finally legalized in certain parts of the city, and it became an integral part of Bogota identity.

You can join a guided tour of Bogota street art that will take you to the most impressive pieces – some work on a donation basis, most you have to pay. This is a selection of the best street art tours of Bogota:

Visit the incredible museums  

Colombia’s capital has some excellent museums and art galleries, and visiting them is what to do in Bogota on a rainy day. Museo del Oro is thought to be the most important gold museums in the world. Yet, if you have to pick just one museum to visit in town, go to Museo Botero. It’s a great gallery, funded by a donation by Botero (Colombia’s most famous artist) himself. Other than his paintings, you’ll also be able to see works of Picasso, Mirò, Renoir, Dali, Matisse and Monet.

Other interesting museums include the Museo Nacional, which is located in an old prison and gives plenty of insights into the history of Colombia; the Museo de Arte Colonial; and the Museo Historico Policia, which is a rather quirky museum with dummies of drug dealers of the likes of Pablo Escobar.

If you want to make the most of Bogota’s museums, you can join a guided tour. These are two of the best:

Hang out in Simon Bolivar Park 

Simon Bolivar is to Bogota what Central Park is to New York: it’s the biggest park in the city, and it gets incredibly busy at weekends. It’s the perfect place to visit at the weekend, for a picnic, to hang out by the lake, rent a bike and take a stroll. During the summer, lots of concerts are held in the park.   

Mingle with the locals at the market

Bogota isn’t a touristy city – you can get much of a local feel here wherever you go, really. Yet, if you want to get a good understanding of the local vibe and way of life, a visit to one of the local markets is one of the most interesting things to do in Bogota. The market in Plaza Paloquemao has an incredible array of fresh produce, flowers, eggs, seafood and meat. You’ll also get to taste a lot of street food.

If you prefer, you can even join a guided market tour. This is a selection of the best tours available:

things to do in Bogota

Eating arepas is one of the things to do in Bogota

Go on a food tour

Food in Colombia is quite an experience: this is a country with an incredible array of fruit that you won’t get to see anywhere else in the world. Most people who travel to Colombia complain that food is either incredibly bland, or too deep fried. In my month in Colombia, I actually tried a few things that were delicious, and I enjoyed the earthy, warm soups that are served any time of day. Bogota is a great dining destination.

Some of Colombia’s must try are:

  • Arepas – corn patties that can be plain or filled with cheese;
  • Bandeja paisa – which is actually a full meal of rice, beans, avocado, arepa, fried eggs and often also some grilled meat;
  • Sancocho de gallina – a chicken soup with potaoes, onions, corn and whatever else is available;
  • Ajaco – similar to sancocho de gallina, this soup is typical from the Bogota region and is served with rice and avocado.

While the best restaurants in Bogota are in Zona Rosa, your best bet for excellent food that is also cheap is the street, and if you dig well, you’ll find some delicious stuff. If you have just arrived in Colombia and feel overwhelmed by the incredible offer of food, you may want to opt for a food tour (even better, a street food tour) to taste all the local specialties – it’s one of the recommended things to do in Bogota.

Here is a selection of the best food tours of Bogota:

things to do in Bogota

Tasting coffee is one of the things to do in Bogota

Learn about coffee

In a country that exports some of the best quality coffee in the world, one of the most interesting things to do is learning about the secrets to a good coffee. While the Eje Cafetero, the coffee region of Colombia is at some 10 hours drive from Bogota, you can still appreciate coffee in the capital. One of the nicest things to do in Bogota is drinking coffee, and learning more about it. There even are guided coffee crawl tours (yes, seriously!).

These are some of the best coffee tours of Bogota:

Taste some beer

Latin America was never big on good beer – no matter how hard I tried in Costa Rica or even Panama, I never found a beer that I truly enjoyed. Except in Colombia, which has its own great breweries and where you can get draft beer. The most famous brewery is Bogota Beer Company, which has opened several locations across the city where you can walk in to enjoy some good pub food and what is unarguably the best beer in the country. They even do beer tours of the city – it certainly is what to do in Bogota if you like your pint!

These are some of the best beer tours of Bogota:

Enjoy Bogota’s nightlife

For the best nightlife in Bogota, you have to head to Zona Rosa, which attracts a good crowd of both locals and tourists. It’s where the best bars in the city are located, and home to the famous Andres Carne de Res where you can dine like a king before admiring dance shows and even dancing yourself. The gay friendly part of Bogota is Zona G, which also has some great bars.

These are some of the best night tours of Bogota:

things to do in Bogota

A day trip out of the city is a must!

Take a day trip to out of the city 

Bogota is lovely, but the surroundings are amazing too. One of the best things to do in Bogota is to take a day trip out of the city. The following is a selection of places that can be visited from Bogota. 

Zipaquira and the Salt Cathedral  

The Salt Catedral, which was born out of an old salt mine, is one of the most fascinating things to see in Colombia. It’s located near Zipaquira, which is 50 km north of Bogota. The Cathedral was open to the public in 1995 and can host up to 8400 people. Visiting is what to do in Bogota if you want to get out of the city for a day. You can get there on a combination of public transportation, or else you can join a guided tour.

These are some of the best guided tours of Zipaquira and the Salt Cathedral:

Guatavita Lagoon

La Laguna de Guatavita is located at around 18 km from Guatavita, which in and of itself is quite an interesting place to visit. The lagoon is a sacred lake and the ritual center of the Muisca indigenous peoples. It’s where the myth of El Dorado was born. Visits to Guatavita often include a tour of the Museo del Oro of Bogota, as this includes a lot of pieces coming from the Guatavita region. This is one of the nicest things to do in Bogota to get out of the city.

You can go to Guatavita by a combination of public transportation, or opt for a guided tour. These are the best tours available:

Villa de Leyva

Villa del Leyva is a gorgeous small colonial town at about 3 hours drive from Bogota. It’s a lovely place to explore for a day, though if you have more time I actually recommend to spend at least a weekend there. It’s where people from Bogota actually go for a getaway from the city. If you are pressed for time but you still want to visit, you can go there on a day trip.

These are the best tours of Villa de Leyva departing from Bogota:

A Layover In Bogota 

Bogota has a lot to offer, but if you are tight on time you can still try to make the most of the city, and do at least some of the things to do in Bogota. The best way to explore the city if you are tight on time is on a guided tour.

There are especially designed tours for people who are visiting Bogota on a layover. This is a selection of the best tours:

things to do in Bogota

There are a lot of good places to stay in Bogota

Where to stay in Bogota

Most people who visit Bogota stay in La Candelaria, where you’ll find the majority of boutique hotels and hostels. A few good ones can also be found in Chapinero and Zona Rosa.

Here’s a selection of the best places to stay in Bogota:

Watch this space as I will be writing a more detailed guide on where to stay in Bogota.

How to get to Bogota

Bogota is very well connected to the rest of the country by an incredible web of bus routes. The main bus station is La Terminal, around 5 km west of the city center in an area called La Salitre. There, you’ll find buses going to the rest of the country.

Bogota airport is called El Dorado and has flights to various locations in the country and to the rest of the world. From there, you can get to Bogota by public transportation, taxi or private transfer. You can book your Bogota airport transfer here.

Moving around

Unless you want to move around by bike, you can count on Bogota’s very efficient bus system. The service is cheap and fast, and buses run from 5:00 am to 11:00 pm.

Final remarks

I didn’t have any issue when I visited Bogota, and in the last few years crime rates have decreased thanks to the efforts of the police forces. Check the latest reports on safety here. However I recommend you use your caution when you walk around, especially at night. When in doubt, opt to take a taxi. Make sure to also purchase travel insurance before visiting. You can get one here.

If you are concerned about safety, you can actually get a local guide you around. Find out how here.

Have you ever been to Bogota? What are your favorite things to do in Bogota?

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Find out what to do in Bogota, Colombia - via @clautavani

The day I fell in love with Nicaragua

The day I fell in love with Nicaragua

I really did not have great expectations on Nicaragua. I hardly knew anybody who had been there before me, and those few persons were not particularly enthusiastic about it. For whatever reason, I had the impression it was a characterless country. I remember asking them: “Was Nicaragua cool?” And their answer was: “It is not really that great”. I certainly did not mean it to be the highlight of my backpacking trip through Central America. But it turned out to be.

The beaches near San Juan del Sur are gorgeous - photo courtesy of Alessandro Abis

The beaches near San Juan del Sur are gorgeous – photo courtesy of Alessandro Abis

Truth be told, before visiting Nicaragua I did not know much about it. My knowledge was limited to the fact that it is the second poorest country in the Americas and that it had once been under the influence of the United States, that got seriously involved with it to the point of being sued to the International Court of Justice for breaking its obligations under customary international law. Even though I used to be a human rights lawyer, I knew nothing about its current political situation and its human rights issues.

So, when I arrived in Nicaragua, I figured all there was to do there would be going to some beach, try to surf if I had the guts to do so, and just chill out till I continued on to Costa Rica. Soon enough, my plans were all cancelled and I had to reconsider all my misconceptions. I fell in love with Nicaragua on a long lasting affair that has brought me to visit it two more times after my first one, and to hope I can go again.

Isla de Ometepe, volcano Maderas

Isla de Ometepe, volcano Maderas

Yes, I had a really good time in Nicaragua. I found the country to be incredible: gorgeous beaches, beautiful colonial cities, lakes and volcanoes, diverse wildlife and all of this at unbeatable prices. I managed to do so many things in Nicaragua, that I had never done before – such as volcano boarding. But most of all, I fell in love with its history of resistance and revolution, and with its proud people, who chin up and never give up despite all the difficulties that life presents them with and always have a smile on their face. Yes: for as poor as Nicaragua is, I found its people to be happy. And that happiness was contagious. It made me reconsider many aspects of my life, and put back into the right perspective what I thought were some majour problems I was facing.

Las Isletas, Nicaragua

Life is simple and fulfilling in Nicaragua

I happened to be in Balgüe, the most rural village on Ometepe Island, on Christmas day. I had arrived there the night before, and my Christmas eve had been a very low key dinner at the hostel. I have never been a big fan of Christmas, you see. I just can’t stand all the frenzy: people going crazy with the preparations; all the traffic due to shoppers who rush out to get the ultimate useless gadget to put under the Christmas tree; and the long, unbearable meals with the family and relatives. To me, it was just such a waste of time and money.

Things to do in Nicaragua

Lovely locals in Nicaragua – photo courtesy of George Kenyon

Then, I just ended up spending Christmas (well, part of it) with a random family in Balgüe. I had gone out that day for a walk in the village (no more than a few houses along the main road), and got caught in a thunderstorm. It was pouring, I had no umbrella, and the hostel was a good hike away – it would take me a good 45 minutes under the incessant rain, on an uphill path in the forest to get to the secluded Finca Magdalena. As the rain was getting stronger, I started running to find some shelter. I literally walked in the first place I found – and this happened to be a private house, where people were gathered on a covered patio and played guitars and sang along to celebrate Christmas.

I enjoy perfect sunsets when I travel alone

The wild beach of Poneloya

All I did was open the gate, wave my hand and say: “Feliz Navidad!” That’s when I realised that I was standing in someone’s house. In any other place on earth, the owners would have called the police, chased me out, yelled at me. Here, they just stared blankly at me, surprised at first, then handed me a chair so I could join the celebrations. It was a modest house, really: a bare clay pavement inside and out, no more than 2 rooms; children, dogs and chickens all running about, inside and outside. I doubt they had potable water. And I am sure they did not have any fast internet connection, a flat screen tv, a luxurious shower and any of the commodities that we seem to can’t live without at home. I doubt they had had an endless meal to celebrate their Christmas. Yet, they looked happy and they surely seemed to be having a great time in their celebrations, much more than I would do at home when eating the best delicacies that one could find on the table.

Nicaragua - photo courtesy of George Kenyon

Nicaragua – photo courtesy of George Kenyon

How could these people be so happy, even though they were so poor? I finally understood: they had each other; they could count on one another. And more than anything else, they did not fall into the materialism trap: they did not have an insatiable desire to own things, thinking that they would finally feel happy once they managed to get their hands on the latest gadget – be it a smart phone, a new pair of shoes, or a flat screen tv. And since they were not materialistic, they did not turn into selfish and excessively competitive human beings who felt envy for anybody who owned more than they did, including the stranger who had just walked through their gate; they had not lost faith in the human race, thinking that they could not trust anybody.

I am sure that they faced difficult times – times in which they wished for an easier life, for more comforts and simply a bit more money. But this did not turn them into cynical, sour and cunning people who would try to take advantage of others to make whatever little extra that may make their lives a bit easier. It was quite the opposite: they embraced life, and whatever it brought them, in a hopeful way and with a smile on their face. That very smile that had disappeared from mine, because regardless of how lucky I may be, I felt overwhelmed to make money and buy things so to prove others and – most of all – myself that I was really accomplished.

These people helped me put my life back into perspective. They helped me understand what really counts for me. Sure, there have been many times in which I wished I had more money to buy things that I feel I need in order to have a better life: a new laptop that performs better; a smartphone that doesn’t freeze any time someone calls me; a pretty dress to wear at a party. But owning things will never make me feel accomplished, because things perish, they get old, they become useless. What I am truly happy for is that I have a mother that still comes with me when I have a doctor’s appointment and I am terrified of what may happen to me; a father that thinks I am a hero because I can swim really well; and a sister that values spending time with me and is the best friend I could hope for. And I have a few, close friends that support me, whatever crazy thing I do – including jumping off a 12 meter cliff.

I am quite sure that lovely family in Nicaragua forgot about me. I don’t mind. I never even asked for their names, but I will never forget their smiles, their singing, and I will never stop thanking them for teaching me what really matters in life.

Today, when people ask me if Nicaragua is a good place to visit, I say it is – the most underrated country in Central America is gorgeous and its people are truly amazing.

Have you been to Nicaragua? Do you love it as much as I do?

Things to do in Colombia: coffee tasting and mud hiking in Salento

Things to do in Colombia: coffee tasting and mud hiking in Salento

Colombia is one of the largest producers of coffee in the world, second only to Brazil. The quality of the coffee beans is excellent – after all, the climate and altitude are perfect for growing coffee. I thus expected coffee boutiques everywhere, millions of ways to prepare coffee, coffee shops and tastings. But this was not necessarily the case: more often than not, I had to make do with Juan Valdez, which is pretty much like the Starbucks of Colombia, or with the “taza sucia” (literally, dirty cup) that I could have at the many stands in the street.

The best coffee beans are exported and what is left to the locals is a lower quality coffee, which incredibly is imported from Ecuador. Thus, interestingly, when I travelled to Colombia I wasn’t be able to really have anything more than just decent coffee and often had to make do with tinto (a small cup of weak black coffee) or other coffee based drinks. I am a coffee puritan, I like my coffee with no milk and most importantly with no sugar, so to me the most horrifying coffee I tried was the one made with agua de panela, unrefined sugar melted in hot water – which gives coffee a tremendously sweet taste. One may like it if having a seriously sweet tooth though.

Things to do in Colombia

Having this in mind, one of the things to do in Colombia is visiting the Eje Cafetero. This is one of the most spectacular places to visit in Colombia and will allow visitors to see at least one of the many coffee fincas in the country, where they will be able to experience the full process of coffee production, from picking to toasting and sipping.

Places to visit in Colombia: Eje Cafetero, or else the Colombian version of Switzerland

Places to visit in Colombia: Eje Cafetero, or else the Colombian version of Switzerland

The best starting point for a visit of the Eje Cafetero is Salento, located at 1800 meters above sea level and one of Colombia tourist attractions in itself. This is a picturesque village, where colonial architecture meets the paisà style. It is a lovely, small and colourful colonial town surrounded by hills and forest, with a main street full of artesania shops, many relaxing bars, a chilled atmosphere, making it one of the places to visit in Colombia. From here, it is possible to visit a number of fincas.

Salento is also very close to the gorgeous Valle de Cocora, perhaps the very best of Colombia attractions. One of the top things to do in Colombia is hiking the Valle de Cocora. This is a lush, tropical valley surrounded by high peaks and cloud forest. Jeeps leave several times a day from the main square of Salento to take intrepid travelers to the valley. Arriving well early before departure, may ensure getting a seat. I leave things last minute so my I had to stand: getting to the valley thus turned into yet another adventure.

Things to do in Colombia: ride on the back of a jeep

Things to do in Colombia: ride on the back of a jeep

Once in Cocora, most people rent wellies. I surely did and I highly recommend it, along with carrying a good rain jacket as it does rain a lot there! Visitors then embark on a difficult, muddy hike that offers gorgeous views of the spectacular palma de cera (wax palms), some of which are as tall as 70 meters.

Things to do in Colombia: renting wellies to go on a hike in Valle de Cocora

Things to do in Colombia: renting wellies to go on a hike in Valle de Cocora

What I loved the most about it was that it really looked like a tropical kind of Switzerland – weird and amazing at the same time. Everything is green – many different shades of green. There are cows happily chewing grass everywhere. And there is a thick fog that covers the palm trees and the mountains, giving it a mysterious aura. It just is magical. A tiring hike (imagine getting deep in the mud!), but definitely one of the most amazing things to do in Colombia.

Valle de Cocora is one of the most spectacular places to visit in Colombia

Valle de Cocora is one of the most spectacular places to visit in Colombia

There is one main path that takes hikers to the beautiful hummingbird reserve (there is an admission fee of about 2 dollars which includes a drink), where it is possible to spot thousands of hummingbirds zipping by. On the way back, it is possible to also take an alternative path that takes visitors closer to the palm trees and to the Finca de la Montaña, where Don Luis Alberto and his family will give them a warm welcome and a good cup of coffee and from where the entire valley can be admired.

How to get to Salento

From Bogota, it is possible to take a bus to Pereira or Armenia. It takes about 9 hours to drive the 350 km, as the road cuts through the mountains and thus it is curvy; there is also lot of traffic. However the views are spectacular. It is best to carry some motion sickness tablets. I definitely needed them. Once in Armenia or Pereira, a local bus will take about an hour to reach Salento.

Where to sleep, eat and drink

There are many hostels in town, some better than others. I enjoyed my stay at Hotel Las Palmas, a family run guesthouse whose owner is a lovely, caring lady. Breakfast is included in the price and all rooms have a private bathroom with good hot showers. There are also two lovely cats in the house, which to me is always a bonus.

During the weekend, I ate in one of the many stalls in the main square. Otherwise, a good option is La Funda de los Arreiros. The local specialty is trout, which can be prepared in many ways and is usually served with a huge patacon (fried plantain, which here is pressed to make it thin and crispy). The local trout gave me a good break from the otherwise slightly monotonous food I ended up having while traveling.

For a drink, I went to Billar Danubio Hall. It really can’t be missed: located on the main shopping street, this is a huge bar with many pool tables, and is packed with locals playing pool, sipping beer or aguardiente and singing famous Colombian traditional songs. At some point while there I was the only woman in the entire bar. But everybody was so friendly that it never was a problem.

Colombia tourist attractions: Salento

Colombia tourist attractions: Salento

Looking for more places to visit in Colombia? Click here.

Click for a more detailed Colombia Travel Guide.

 

 

 

 

 

Things to do in Bogota and Villa de Leyva

Things to do in Bogota and Villa de Leyva

The huge capital of Colombia takes my breath away, for there are so many things to do in Bogota. Part of the reason is its beauty, but mostly for the altitude: it is located at about 2600 meters above sea level. Add to this the incessant traffic and pollution, and it will be hard to breathe. What is most interesting about Bogotà is that, being the main city of what is considered a tropical country, it leaves me somehow puzzled. I did not really believe that the average temperature is 14 degrees celsius. And it does rain a lot, especially in the rain season – so, I was glad I had packed a raincoat, an umbrella, and warm clothes.

Yet, it is an interesting city to visit and I wanted to spend a few days wandering around its squares and museums: there are many things to do in Bogota. It is modern, very progressive and lively, with a vibrant cultural, political and social scene, and at the same time as relaxed as only a Colombian city may be. It is a city of contrasts: La Candelaria with its elegant colonial buildings on one side, and the skyscrapers and glittering towers on the other.

Candelaria at night is one of the things to do in Bogota

Candelaria at night is one of the things to do in Bogota

Bogotà is the main airport hub and has connections to the rest of the country and the world. It is well connected to Cartagena, and from Bogotà there are flights to Leticia, in the Amazon – this can only be reached via plane.

Things to do in Bogota:

The city is to big and interesting that I am never left wondering what to do in Bogota.

Plaza de Bolivar is the heart of the historic town, and is interesting to see, despite being, according to the Lonely Planet, a mishmash of architectural styles. On the western side of the plaza, the Catedral Primada is Bogotà’s largest church and can be visited for free. The Capilla del Sagrario, right next door, is the only colonial building on the square and there is no admission fee either.

One of the best things to do in Bogota is going for a walk around La Candelaria: located east of Plaza de Bolivar, it is packed with cobbled streets, museums, theaters and cafes and street food.

What to do in Bogota: trying street food!

What to do in Bogota: trying street food!

Things to do in Bogota: snapping as many Renault 4 as possible. This nice man is an institution in Bogota!

Things to do in Bogota: snapping as many Renault 4 as possible. This nice man is an institution in Bogota!

Visit Museo del Oro: I was looking for what to do in Bogota and headed to Museo del Oro. It has the biggest collection in the world of pre-hispanic gold work.

Visit Museo Botero: one of the things to do in Bogota is visiting this incredible museum. It is a great gallery founded by a donation of Colombia’s most famous artist, Fernando Botero, and there are works of other artists such as Picasso, Mirò, Renoir, Dali, Matisse and Monet.

On of the things to do in Bogota is to go up the Cerro de Montserrate: considered one of Colombia attractions, this is by far my favourite one in town. It is more than a simple mountain. It is a peak that towers over Bogotà, at 3200 meters above sea level, and a symbol of pride for the residents of the city. The view of the city from up there is amazing, but try to go on a clear day to fully enjoy it. There is also a lovely, flowery park at the back. It is possible to go up by teleferico or funicular, or, if up for the challenge, there are 1500 steps to the top. I also advise to wear warm clothes. It gets chilly at that altitude!

Things to do in Bogota: go up to the Parque Montserrate

Things to do in Bogota: go up to the Parque Montserrate

Where to sleep, eat and drink in Bogotà

The city is huge, so I had to consider my options carefully since I didn’t want to blow my budget on transportation. Most travelers opt for some cheap accommodation in La Candelaria, and while I must say the area is pretty and safe, it does get very quiet during the night. It is best to find a hostel that has a kitchen to prepare your meals, as almost everything closes at 7 pm, including fast food chains, and even street food is harder to find after dark. Surely, one of the things to to in Bogota is trying some of the local street food – arepas are delicious, there is a huge variety of fruit too. The best bet for late night food may be the Bogotà Beer Company pub – there are several around town, and one in La Candelaria in Calle 12D No. 4-02: this offers pub staples and great draft beers.

Things to do in Bogota: trying a beer at Bogota Beer Company

Things to do in Bogota: trying a beer at Bogota Beer Company

Villa de Leyva Colombia, the most beautiful colonial town in the country:

When I have had enough of crowded and polluted cities and ran out of things to do in Bogota, one of the best places to visit in Colombia is Villa de Leyva. This is a good place to recharge dead batteries. Declared a national monument in 1954, and also a UNESCO World Heritage Site, this small city is a beautiful colonial settlement perfectly preserved – there is no modern architecture here. The town was funded in 1572 and feels like a walk-through museum: the main plaza is one of the largest squares in the Americas, and nearby there are three perfectly restored colonial mansions that now house cafes, restaurants and craft shops. The weather in Villa de Leyva is pleasant – dry and mild – and many bogotanos come over for the weekend to enjoy the beauty and the climate. There are many activities in the surroundings, such as a number of hiking paths. There is also the possibility to go biking or horse riding.

Colombia tourist attractions: Villa de Leyva

Colombia tourist attractions: Villa de Leyva

Villa de Leyva can be reached from Bogota with direct buses that take roughly 5 hours, and from Tunja which is about one hour away. It offers many budget options to sleep and eat, such as El Solar Hotel in Calle 10A No. 10-60, a lovely hostel whose owner is a really sweet lady.

Things to do in Colombia: parking your carriage outside

Things to do in Colombia: parking your carriage outside

For more things to do in Colombia, read here.

A concise guide to Cartagena

A concise guide to Cartagena

For a more complete guide about Cartagena, check out my post  25 Incredible Things To Do In Cartagena. 

If you are looking for accommodation in the city, read my post Where To Stay In Cartagena – The Best Neighborhoods And Places To Stay.

Colombia is huge, and it would require several months of travelling to discover its many beauties. However, one of the places to visit in Colombia, for however long one may be staying, is Cartagena, which is considered – and rightly so – the most beautiful city in the country. It is a perfect Caribbean vacation spot, it can be easily reached through regular flights and long distance buses. It is ideal for romantic city breaks: picture cobbled alleys, balconies covered in bouganvillea, beautiful facades, street art, music and lovely restaurants. It is great for nature lovers and beach bums too: it is a good starting point to visit the beautiful Islas del Rosario, where I could escape to whenever I felt like relaxing on the beach or snorkeling on the coral reef. There are so many things to do in Cartagena, that it is no surprise Cartagena is one of the main tourist attractions in Colombia.

Cartagena is one of the main tourist attractions in Colombia

Cartagena is one of the main tourist attractions in Colombia

Having this in mind, Cartagena has always been on my list of places to visit in Colombia, and in fact, it was my first stop in South America after having spent three full months in Central America. Despite my original plan to reach Colombia in the most adventurous way (sailing San Blas, in Panama, to cross the border via sea), I ended up having to be a not so adventure traveler and catch a flight from Panama City through Bogotà – read here to find out what happened. As soon as I landed, I knew there would be so many things to do in Cartagena.

Things to do in Cartagena: have a cold cerveza

Things to do in Cartagena: have a cold cerveza

Things to do in Cartagena

I am all about first impressions, even when it comes to places I visit: the minute I stepped off the plane and walked into the city, I fell in love with Cartagena, and it will be a long lasting affair I think. I knew I would soon find out what to do in Cartagena.

Right on the Caribbean, it enjoys a hot climate – if anything, too hot! – year round (December to April are the driest months), but the breeze that starts blowing in the afternoon cools the city a bit, making it more pleasant to walk around. It was entirely built by the Spaniards in such a way that the wind coming from the sea could circulate more easily, to bring relief from the heat. And relief I had to seek – just to give you an idea, imagine that despite being used to it, I was so exhausted from the humid heat that I would spend my day walking in search of a cool spot, drinking freshly pressed juice, and do one of the must things to do in Cartagena: sit in a tiny alley and wait for the breeze to come.

Things to do in Cartagena: sit in a tiny alley in Getsemani to enjoy some cool breeze

Things to do in Cartagena: sit in a tiny alley in Getsemani to enjoy some cool breeze

The old town of Cartagena is one of the tourist attractions of Colombia, in particular the inner walled city with the historical districts of El Centro and San Diego, with many beautiful squares, churches, museums and other places of interest. Getsemaní, the outer walled town, may not be as well preserved as the rest of the historic centre, but it is full of character and it is undergoing constant renovation. This is also where I managed to experience a bit of action and meet the locals. Quieter during the hot day hours, it gets really lively when the breeze starts blowing. I didn’t have to work hard to find out what to do in Cartagena: just walk out of the door!

I then saw people pulling chairs right outside their doors and sitting there to enjoy the cool(ish) air. Children would start playing football in the squares and Plaza Trinidad, the heart of neighbourhood, would become a football field, while everybody sit on the benches to have a chat and a drink, and street food vendors magically started appearing. Chances are I would meet people who were glad to share their anedocts about Getsemaní. I met the former mayor just by chance, as I sat next to him in the square and said hello: he was up for a chat and eager to explain a lot about the history of the area. This is how I learned that Getsemaní used to be a brothels area in the past.

Places to visit in Colombia: Getsemani, Cartagena

Places to visit in Colombia: Getsemani, Cartagena

I am a strong believer of getting the feel of a city rather than visit each single museum, church, square in it, although I know that there are so many things to do in Cartagena. It is in any case impossible to visit them all, there are so many. So, my budget tips for savvy travellers is to pick a few among the many places of interest. If interested in churches, I would enter them for free during mass, but I had make sure to wear appropriate clothes. Since I had a tight budget, I found that walking around is a free and great way to explore the city. That’s my favourite activity for sure.

Outside Cartagena

Visiting the archipelago of Islas del Rosario is one of the things to do in Cartagena. Located about 35 km south of Cartagena and consisting of 27 small islands – some of them so small that they only fit one single tiny house – it can be visited on a one day cruise leaving from the Muelle Turistico. This would normally start between 8 and 9 am and stop in many islands as well as in Playa Blanca, a long white sandy beach, before returning to Cartagena in the late afternoon. I would not miss it: the Caribbean waters are so clear and clean, the visibility so good, the coral reef so lively that I had to at least take a peek. Besides, here are some of the best beaches in Colombia.

Tours can be arranged through the hostel, and it should cost no more than 20 dollars including lunch. Carrying snorkeling gear is a good idea, otherwise it can be rented for cheap on the spot. I was so lucky to be randomly invited on a private boat, so I also managed to skip the crowds and got a chance to enjoy the freshest and loveliest lobster and crab: local fishermen usually approach the boats with their catch of the day, and offer to cook it. Cheap and delicious!

Best beaches in Colombia! Islas del Rosario, Colombia

Best beaches in Colombia!

Islas del Rosario, Colombia

I had to jump in!

What to do in Cartagena: eat lobster, crab and patacones: 100% fresh, 100% delicious

What to do in Cartagena: eat lobster, crab and patacones: 100% fresh, 100% delicious

Where to sleep and eat in Cartagena:

As one of the main tourist attractions in Colombia, Cartagena is inevitably more expensive than other places in the country. But since it is big and varied, there is something for any budget. Couples on a romantic getaway will enjoy boutique hotels. Younger and penniless crowds won’t have problems finding a good backpackers hostel. Just make sure to read the reviews before dropping by or committing to a room or a bed. I made the mistake of not doing it (what do you know, I am considered an experienced backpacker!) and ended up in the seemingly quiet Mama Waldy in Getsemaní. Pity it gets wild after dark, with parties and loud music until well after midnight, right in the common area where all (cramped and somewhat dirty and suffocating) rooms face, making sleeping almost impossible.

Good food is easily available in the many local eateries and even from street stalls, with lots of options – from grilled meat and corn to arepas and amazing tropical fruit and fruit juices. By all means, no matter what the guide book may suggest, avoid pizzerias – they are sad businesses and the food taste like it comes straight out of a can or a box: no reason to spend a fortune to eat poorly when, for a few dollars, you can have much better and fresher food in the street.

Things to do in Cartagena: try all the fresh fruit!

Things to do in Cartagena: try all the fresh fruit!

For more things to do in Colombia, click here!