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A First-Timer’s Guide to Bogota: 7 Things You Can’t Miss

A Bogota city tour is a great way to find your bearings in Colombia's capital. Here's what to expect from a guided Bogota City Tour with Impulse Travel—plus the seven Bogota sights I think every first-time visitor should take the time to see.

A Bogota city tour is a great way to find your bearings in Colombia’s capital.
Here’s what to expect from a guided Bogota City Tour with Impulse Travel—plus the seven Bogota sights I think every first-time visitor should take the time to see.

 

Big, bad Bogota. At least that’s what they told me.

Bogota’s reputation precedes it—and unfortunately, not everyone has good things to say about Colombia’s capital city. Locals warned us to watch our step, reciting sad tales of lost possessions and uncomfortable encounters. Other tourists told us to stay away from Bogota all together. Never ones to pass on a place based on second-hand information, we were curious to see what Bogota was all about and made room in our Colombia itinerary for a quick visit.

The Bogota we experienced on our half-day tour was a city filled with history, ritual, and the beauty of everyday routine. Sure, Bogota has some of the hallmarks of a large, densely populated capital—but there’s a softer side to the city, too.

 


Bogota in 2 minutes! Check out my Bogota City Tour video, then read on to find out where it was filmed!
 

Audio track courtesy of Nekzlo – Bloom (Vlog No Copyright Music).


 

Our Bogota City Tour with Impulse Travel

It would be easy to walk away from Bogota without really getting to the heart of the place. I really believe it’s one of those rare examples of a city where having a guide to show you the ropes makes all the difference. Although we had a great experience in Bogota, there is some truth to the rumours. There are parts of the city that aren’t ideal for tourists to visit, and there are lots of hidden gems that you’d have no hope of finding without a local’s guidance. Even the city’s most popular landmarks have a lot more to them than meets the eye, which is why it really pays to have local knowledge on hand.

We only had a couple of days to try and squeeze everything in, which would have been impossible on our own. So we were thrilled to partner up with Impulse Travel for a half-day Bogota City Tour to uncover some of the capital’s best sights.

 

If you’re interested in doing your own Bogota City Tour with Impulse Travel, follow this link and use the code BOGOTA10 at checkout to receive 10% off your booking.

 

Seven things no first-time visitor to Bogota should miss

We packed a lot into our Bogota City Tour. Here are the seven attractions and experiences that I think are worthy of a place in your Bogota itinerary.

1 | Ride the funicular up to the city’s highest lookout

Whenever we arrive in a new city, my first inclination is to go somewhere high up to get a view and find my bearings. So that’s exactly what we did. The first stop on our Bogota City Tour was Monserrate (), Bogota’s best-known viewpoint and site of one of the country’s most important religious monuments.

 

A Bogota city tour is a great way to find your bearings in Colombia's capital. Here's what to expect from a guided Bogota City Tour with Impulse Travel—plus the seven Bogota sights I think every first-time visitor should take the time to see.

 

At 3,152 metres above sea level, Cerro de Monserrate (Monserrate Mountain) soars above the city. The mountain was considered auspicious by the area’s indigenous Muisca people (more about them a little later) long before Spanish settlers erected a chapel at the summit in 1640. The sweeping views of Bogota you get from the top of Monserrate are unmatched and unmissable. Believe it or not, it’s not possible to get a full panorama—there are parts of Bogota that can’t be seen from Monserrate because the city is just that big.

The best way to visit Monserrate is to ride the funicular up (try to stand in the last compartment to get the best views). In the afternoons, the funicular is swapped out for a cable car. Or, if you’re game enough to follow in the footsteps of countless pilgrims before you, you can walk up. A trail leads from the base of the mountain to the Sanctuary and is signposted with the Stations of the Cross towards the top. A word of warning: The climb involves 1,500 stairs and a gain of 400m, so some preparation may be required if you’re not used to hiking at high elevations.

 

2 | Make a pilgrimage to Monserrate Sanctuary

While it’s worth visiting Monserrate just for the city views, you shouldn’t descend the mountain without first going inside the Sanctuary. Legend has it the neo-Gothic Catholic church that dominates the site was completed with the aid of eager pilgrims, each of whom carried a single brick for the 2.5km walk up the mountain. The church’s spartan interior is a match for its all-white facade. On either side of the nave, lavishly decorated nooks conceal icons including a Statue of the Black Madonna (also known as the Morena Virgin), Patron Saint of Catalonia.

It only takes 15 to 20 minutes to cover the church. If you’re lucky, you might end up sharing the pews with a group of modern-day pilgrims like we did. Just as we were entering, a group of religious devotees who had apparently summited Monserrate on their hands and knees entered through the doors and formed a final procession down the aisle. It was quite a sight to behold.

 

3 | Learn about Pre-Columbian culture at the Gold Museum

Being Australian and having grown up with the Gold Rush narrative, I was fully expecting the Gold Museum () to focus on Colombia’s colonial history and the so-called New World quest for God, Gold and Glory. In fact, the museum examines Pre-Columbian Colombia—that is, the Colombia that existed before the conquistadors arrived.

If you’re interested in learning more about this fascinating chapter of Colombian history, the Gold Museum is a fantastic place to do it.

 

 

Never heard of the Muisca? You’re not the only one. Colombia’s most prominent indigenous group did pioneering work in metallurgy that is nothing short of breathtaking considering the resources available to them at the time. It should have earned them a name akin to the Zapotecs, Mayans or Aztecs—but alas, sadly not.

Housing the world’s largest collection of gold artefacts (there are more than 6,000 individual objects on display at any one time), the Gold Museum is your chance to learn about Muisca culture through the ritual objects they crafted from gold and other alloys. The highlight for us was hearing about the ‘real’ El Dorado and seeing an interactive exhibit that simulates the ritual that led credence to the myth.

History isn’t the only thing the Gold Museum is good for: According to our guide, the museum cafe serves some of the best Colombian coffee in town. Exit through the gift shop to shop a beautiful range of handicrafts.

 

4 | Go window shopping at Bogota’s local markets

Speaking of handicrafts… Apart from the independent vendors set up on almost every street corner, Bogota is also home to some excellent formal markets. We were lucky enough to visit no fewer than four during our city tour.

Markets provide a window onto local culture and commerce, which is why I always recommend visiting as many as possible. Bogota is no exception.

 

A Bogota city tour is a great way to find your bearings in Colombia's capital. Here's what to expect from a guided Bogota City Tour with Impulse Travel—plus the seven Bogota sights I think every first-time visitor should take the time to see.

 

Located directly opposite the Gold Museum, the Galeria Artesanal de Colombia () is a permanent undercover handicraft market that’s mainly designed for tourists. Dozens of stalls stretch out under glass-roofed corridors, each selling a colourful array of local products. Among the offerings we spotted some beautiful molas (indigenous textiles), leather goods and painted masks. There is definitely a mix of handmade and mass-produced goods (the hats and ponchos, for example, aren’t the best quality), so it pays to take your time and shop around before committing to purchase.

A few blocks away, we happened on the Mercados Campesinos de Cundinamarca, a pop-up produce market organised by the local government. More than 114 producers from 46 municipalities of Cundinamarca Department (the area surrounding Bogota) gather for the occasion, selling fresh fruit and veg as well as locally made dairy products, sweets and coffee.

 


Read next: 3 local markets you can’t miss in Medellin.

 

In the Plaza Bolivar, we encountered a very special market, the PaZiempre Fair. Organised by the Mayor’s Office of Bogota and the High Council for the Rights of Victims, Peace and Reconciliation, this market is designed to promote entrepreneurship and cultural revitalisation. Stallholders here are primarily former victims of armed conflict. A good mix of food and handicrafts is on offer.

A few blocks from Plaza de Bolivar, we paid a quick visit to one of Bogota’s oldest marketplaces, Pasaje Rivas (). This maze of undercover shops connected by narrow alleyways was the biggest and most atmospheric market we visited in Bogota. Stallholders here mainly sell handicrafts, including wicker baskets, carriel bags, wooden kitchen utensils, and wool ponchos. Again, it takes a good eye to sort the handmade items from the mass-produced, but we felt the range here was a lot better (and less touristy) than at Galeria Artesenal.

 

5 | Sample Bogota’s best street snacks

Despite what the size of their dinner plates might tell you, Colombians are grazers. In Bogota, street snacking is an activity in itself. Everyone has their favourite roaming vendors and hole-in-the-wall bite bars. Food can be found all over the city—the tricky thing is deciding what chow to try. My street food rule of thumb holds true in Bogota: Choose a spot that’s busy, and always go for something that’s cooked fresh. Of course if you’re travelling on a tour, your guide will point out the cream of the crop like ours did.

Chances are whatever you choose is going to be fried (at least once, maybe twice!). Arepas and empanadas are crowd pleasers (Pro tip: Always pair a hot, salty empanada with a glass of cool, sweet orange juice). But my favourite snack we sampled on our Bogota City Tour was buñuelos. Pillowy on the inside and crispy on the outside, we first tried these cheesy balls of goodness in Medellin. I’m pleased to say we haven’t yet tired of them!

More intrepid travellers might be tempted to stop for a cup of coca tea. Brewed in large silver pots with different herbs and spices added, it purportedly assists with acclimatising to Bogota’s high altitude.

 

If you’re interested in doing your own Bogota City Tour with Impulse Travel, follow this link and use the code BOGOTA10 at checkout to receive 10% off your booking.

 

6 | Roam the city’s oldest neighbourhood, La Candelaria

The Gold Museum is conveniently positioned on the edge of La Candelaria (📍), the oldest part of Bogota. After wandering around the dramatically lit museum exhibits, the light of day is a bit of a shock to the system. But trust me, this is one part of Bogota you definitely don’t want to miss.

 

 

The only way to explore La Candelaria is by foot. Take your time as you wander the cobblestones; soak up every little detail of the crumbling architecture and picture-perfect street scenes. We only had time for a brief stroll through the neighbourhood, but it’s one part of the city I’d love to return to.

 

7 | Soak up the history at Plaza de Bolivar

Walking into Plaza de Bolivar () is like stepping into a living museum. No where in Bogota can you find more history and legacy concentrated in the one place.

 

A Bogota city tour is a great way to find your bearings in Colombia's capital. Here's what to expect from a guided Bogota City Tour with Impulse Travel—plus the seven Bogota sights I think every first-time visitor should take the time to see.

 

The plaza itself is a classic Spanish Square—the same you see in small towns such as Jardin. But unlike most other Colombian towns and cities, Bogota’s main square is enormous. There’s a funny story behind the discrepancy: Squares were measured out using a ‘Spanish Stick’ in an effort to keep them uniform. Evidently no one thought to establish a standard length for the sticks first, so each square turned out to be a different size.

It’s easy to miss the petite statue of Simon Bolivar that sits atop a raised platform at the centre of the square. Instead, its the buildings on the periphery that vie for visitors’ attention, positively dwarfing Bolivar with their grandeur. Along the southern border, the grand National Capitol building houses Colombia’s National Congress. The neoclassical Lievano Palace on the western side was completed at the turn of the century and now serves as the City Hall. At the head of the square is Bogota’s main cathedral, aptly named Catedral Primada de Colombia.

 

A Bogota city tour is a great way to find your bearings in Colombia's capital. Here's what to expect from a guided Bogota City Tour with Impulse Travel—plus the seven Bogota sights I think every first-time visitor should take the time to see.
A Bogota city tour is a great way to find your bearings in Colombia's capital. Here's what to expect from a guided Bogota City Tour with Impulse Travel—plus the seven Bogota sights I think every first-time visitor should take the time to see.

 

In the middle distance, you can spot the rooftop of Colombia’s oldest school. One building on the square sticks out like a sore thumb—the Palace of Justice, site of the infamous 1995 siege, is a hulking modernist block.

 

A Bogota city tour is a great way to find your bearings in Colombia's capital. Here's what to expect from a guided Bogota City Tour with Impulse Travel—plus the seven Bogota sights I think every first-time visitor should take the time to see.

 

Plaza de Bolivar is a place where Bogotanas of all stripes gather to commune. It’s a must-visit if you want to get right into the thick of it and pursue some seriously good people-watching opportunities. There are often markets and live music events happening in the square, which makes it all the move lively.

 

How to organise your own Bogota City Tour

Impulse Travel hosts immersive tours all around Colombia, including a range of thematic itineraries in Bogota. The half-day Bogota City Tour provides an excellent overview of Colombia’s capital and hits on all seven of my Bogota must-dos. It’s the perfect choice for first-time visitors to the city. This tour has a maximum group size of eight people, and includes an English-speaking guide plus transfer to and from your accommodation by private car.

Book your Bogota City Tour with Impulse Travel using this link and enter the code BOGOTA10 at checkout to receive 10% off the cost of your reservation. Even if a different itinerary takes your fancy, you can still use the code to receive a 10% discount on all Impulse Travel tours in Colombia.

 


 

Over to you! What’s your favourite thing to do in Bogota? Would you consider taking a Bogota city tour to learn more about the capital? I’d love to hear your thoughts!

 


 
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Transparency: We were hosted by Impulse Travel for our Bogota City Tour in November 2018. As always, all opinions and recommendations are 100% my own.

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