Beautiful Bogotá: Taking on Colombia’s Capital

When you arrive in Bogotá at night, you don’t realize the size and proximity of the mountains. After a few hours and a walk to dinner followed by wine, you will, in fact, realize that you’re at altitude (8600 feet). We’re an excellent example of what not to do at altitude: Drink wine for lunch and dinner.

Bogota was a surprise for us.  We expected a simple jumping off point before beginning our Colombian adventure, and found a cultural, safe, historic city with a vibrant scene.  Bogotá is a big city, but it’s really easy to navigate if you keep your focus on the key neighborhoods and make sure you know which side you should keep the mountains on when you’re walking around.

To be in Bogotá on a Sunday for Ciclovía is to witness an unforgettable spectacle, and one of the world’s best examples of mass recreation and socialization.  They close the main streets and it turns into miles and miles of car-free streets packed with cyclists, runners, and walkers.  Every week.  It’s an amazing thing to go cruising down the wide boulevard in the company of all the Bogota city dwellers, stopping here and there at one of the parks, or for a snack along the way.

Where to Stay:

The most central place to stay is the Chapinero neighborhood, which has great walkability for bars and restaurants. Our accommodations of choice is the Four Seasons Casa Medina, a small hotel artfully born from a colonial private residence, with an amazing bar turned breakfast table indoor courtyard.  (The nearby Sofitel is a second choice.)

Other than Chapinero, the other two great neighborhoods to explore are Usaquén (keep the mountains on your right when headed there from the Four Seasons) and La Candelaria (mountains should be on your left). Usaquén is a real taste of the city, with artisan boutique shops and restaurants, bustling daily life, and a Sunday market that seems to go on for miles.

La Candelaria is the historic part of the city, filled with winding cobblestone streets that roll up and down, amazing street art and graffiti, and the most iconic square (Plaza Bolivar) and museums in the city—yes, we said museums. Even we couldn’t skip the Gold Museum.

Don’t miss a trip to the Paloquemao Market; the earlier you go, the better. It’s a beautiful, huge market where chefs and residents go daily to shop the fresh fruits and foods. The flower-market portion almost puts Bangkok’s famed flower market to shame. Go hungry and sample from the stalls—don’t be afraid to try the beautiful fruit; it’s truly mindblowing and very safe. And, lucky for us, the quintessential Colombian snacks are all about the carbs and cheese. Bunuelos, pandebonos, and arepas are worth every calorie. The hot, fresh sweet breads filled with cheese and guava paste will be something you crave for the rest of your life.

The restaurant scene in Bogotá is most impressive. Our recommendations (many of which are within walking distance in Chapinero):

  • El Chato: Incredible local cuisine, and don’t miss sitting upstairs near the kitchen
  • Villanos en Bermudas: For an intimate, creative, multi-course chef’s-counter experience
  • Salvo Patria: A great lunch or dinner experience from a local chef
  • Tabula (near La Candelaria): A more well-known chef, and more of a Spanish-tapas style

The most known restaurant in Bogotá is probably either Harry Sasson or El Cielo. El Cielo is a scene and a production, if you’re into that kind of a thing. We’re more the Harry Sasson type, with its great space and bar.

Be prepared: For Colombia, tourism from English speakers is relatively new, so don’t expect that they speak or understand English. Have Google Translate on hand for many of the menus, but don’t let that deter you from an amazing culinary experience (do we even have to say that at this point?).

It was the perfect Colombian introduction worth a few days before heading to coffee country and the Caribbean Cartagena.