Last Updated on December 11, 2022 by Jim Ferri
By Jim Ferri
On occasions over the years, I’ve researched what there is to do in Bogotá, and was never really enthused enough to travel there. But a week ago, I finally paid it a visit. And surprisingly, I found it to be a fascinating city.
The capital of Colombia, Bogotá sits in a valley at 8,660 feet (2,640 meters) above sea level in the northern Andes Mountains. It’s the fourth highest capital city in the world, with a population of around 8 million people. It’s an interesting and colorful place and, best of all, it’s only a three-hour flight from the U.S.
I had been to Colombia a few years ago when I spent a few days north in Cartagena, on Colombia’s Caribbean coast. The two cities are quite different, however, and each is well worth a visit. You might even consider tackling both on the same trip, as some travelers do.
Although Cartagena is laid-back, as one might expect given its Caribbean neighborhood, Bogotá is a lively city with great museums, a beautiful “old town,” and some excellent restaurants.
If you visit Bogotá, here are some great places to see and things to do in the capital.
Things to See in Bogotá’s La Candelaria
La Candelaria is Bogotá’s “old town,” the city’s historical heart. I found it to be the most exciting and colorful part of Bogotá, with many things to do and places to visit. Those places include the world-class Gold Museum, the fantastic Botero Museum, and numerous restaurants.
Walk the cobblestone streets of La Candelaria and enjoy an incredible variety of architecture, including Spanish Colonial, Baroque, and Art Deco. You’ll find plenty of group walking tours here, free (tips expected, based on your level of enjoyment), and private tours organized for tour groups.
La Candelaria is also home to the Plaza de Bolivar, the vast main square of Bogotá, with buildings dating back to the 16th century.
The Stunning Gold Museum (Museo del Oro)
More than one-half million people visit the Museo del Oro every year, making it one of the most visited places in all of Colombia.
Opened in 1939 to protect the archaeological treasures of Colombia, it focuses on the use of gold by pre-Colombian civilizations. The museum has more than 55,000 stunning artifacts, the most extensive collection of its type in the world. It’s an incredible, elegant museum spread out on four floors.
You can, of course, just wander about admiring the incredible collection. But this museum is where you’ll want to join a guided group to fully understand what you’re viewing. It will significantly enhance your understanding and dramatically increase the “wow” factor.
There are free daily tours in Spanish and English and audio guides (Spanish, English, French, Portuguese) for rental for COP 8000 (approximately $1.80).
Museo del Oro
Carrera 6 No 15-88
Open: 9am-6pm Tuesday – Saturday / 10am–4pm Sunday / closed Monday
Admission: adult COP$4000 (approximately $.90) /children 12 and younger and adults 60+ free / free admission on Sundays.
Monserrate is a mountain adjacent to Bogotá that’s more than 1600 feet higher than the city itself. You can see it from almost anywhere in Bogotá.
Atop it, there is a church with a shrine devoted to El Señor Caído (“The Fallen Lord”). It’s a very popular place to visit from a religious perspective, and pilgrimages have been made here since the 17th century. It provides stunning views of Bogotá below and the statue “Cristo Rey” (Christ the King) on an adjacent hilltop.
There are also three restaurants on the mountain top: Santa Clara, which specializes in Colombian dishes, the grill restaurant Monserrate, and Casa San Isidro, which purportedly has the best French menu in the city. See all three Monserrate restaurants here.
You can make the steep walk up the 1500+ steps to the top in about an hour. (It’s said not to be safe walking up at night due to thieves, however). Another popular alternative is to take the cable car or funicular to the top.
The cable car operates Monday–Saturday 12pm–11:30pm / Sunday 10am–4:30pm (does not operate on Monday holidays). The funicular operates Monday–Saturday 6:30am–11:45pm / Sunday 5:30am–5:30pm and on Monday holidays 6:30am–5:30pm.
Adult roundtrip COP 23.500 (approximately $5) / 62years+ 19.500 ($4.40). See here for additional rates and Sunday fares.
Museo de Botero
You’ll love this museum if you’re a fan of Fernando Botero’s portrayal of “chubby” subjects. It is one of Latin America’s most important art collections.
The Museo de Botero was created after the artist donated his works to the Banco de la República de Colombia. (The bank is the same organization that created the Museo del Oro.) The one stipulation Botero attached was that the works must be displayed in a free museum for everyone to see.
Although I assumed I’d only be seeing Botero’s work, the museum also houses works of other masters, including Picasso, Renoir, Monet, etc. What a treat!
Go see this great Bogotá museum since you’ll likely love it. However, there’s also an added incentive. Behind the museum (non-street side), you’ll find a fantastic little café restaurant Marcha Restaurante Café with a delicious gourmet menu. It’s so good that a group of us went back without revisiting the Botero.
Calle 11 No. 4-41
Tel: +57 13431316
Open: Wednesday–Monday 9am–7pm / Sunday 10am–5pm/closed Tuesday
Marcha Restaurante Café: Cl. 11 #4 -93
Churches of Bogotá
Since Colombia is primarily a Catholic country, you’ll find, as you might expect, numerous churches and cathedrals in Bogotá. One of my favorites, and the country’s main cathedral, is the Primatial Cathedral of Bogotá on Plaza Bolívar. It’s a grand cathedral built on the spot where a friar celebrated the first mass in what is now Bogotá in 1538. It’s quite significant, with more than a dozen chapels.
Another is the Santuario Nuestra Señora del Carmen (National Shrine of Our Lady of Carmen), just a few blocks away. Built in Florentine-Gothic style, it’s quite distinctive with its red-and-white-striped pattern inside and out, giving it a bit of a candy-cane appearance. Inside you’ll find Byzantine and Moorish art.
Across from the Museo del Oro is the 16th-century Iglesia De San Francisco, the oldest church in Bogotá. While rather bland on its exterior, go inside to enjoy its beautiful frescoes.
By the way, the city has 1,544 churches. So if you enjoy visiting churches, “you’ll be in heaven” in Bogotá.
Primatial Cathedral of Bogotá
Plaza de Bolívar
Santuario Nuestra Señora del Carmen
Cra. 5 #8-36
Iglesia de San Francisco
Av Jimenez de Quesada #7-10
A Place to Go: Plaza Bolívar
Plaza Bolívar is the main square of Bogotá, the heart of the old city. A visit here is one of the top things to do in Bogotá. In addition to the Primatial Cathedral of Bogotá, you’ll also find Colombia’s Palace of Justice, the mayor’s office, and the Capitol Building.
It’s a square filled with history, with some buildings dating back to the 16th century, and good for people watching. During the Spanish colonial period, it was the stage for circus acts, public markets, and, not totally surprising, bullfights. Today, however, it hosts primarily cultural events throughout the year.
When I visited, push-cart merchants were scattered about the periphery hawking their goods, a man was posing a llama for photographs, and two school bands were performing in front of the National Capitol.
Bogotá’s Street Art
Without a doubt, Bogotá is a great city for street art. You’ll see it in many of the places you visit.
Street art is often a window into the discontent- or happiness-level of a city, and I’ve found I often see both ends of the spectrum anywhere I find it. Whichever the end, one can’t help but marvel at the proficiency of the artists.
In Bogotá, one of the most famous places for street art is on Calle del Embudo in the La Candelaria neighborhood. However, you’ll also find it in many other places all over the city.
Of course, you could wander about Bogotá searching for it yourself. On the other hand, you could join a tour that focuses on it. Then you’ll be brought to specific areas where you can see the best of it that the city has to offer.
In addition, your guide can also explain something about the issues, social or political, that motivated the artists. It’s best to check with your hotel as to the most popular street-art tours.
Bicycle Tours of Bogotá
Although it might not seem that a bike tour of a major city would be one of the good things to do in Bogotá, they are actually popular.
One of the reasons is that many people cycle in Bogotá, so the bicycle infrastructure is already in place. In addition, if you enjoy bicycling, you’ll find these tours a way to see the city from a unique perspective. They’re also an excellent way to see city neighborhoods spread out and get some exercise along the way.
You’ll taste many city areas, from a fruit market to a coffee factory, a bull-fighting ring to a quiet park, or a street filled with street art.
A quick search on Google will show numerous companies offer bike tours in Bogotá.
A Great Day Tour From Bogotá: The Salt Cathedral of Zipaquirá
If you’re visiting Bogotá, you have the opportunity to experience one of the most unusual and fascinating things you’ve ever seen: the Salt Cathedral of Zipaquirá.
It’s a Roman Catholic cathedral built in the massive tunnels of an ancient salt mine about 600 feet (about 180 meters) below ground. In fact, it’s a functioning church where as many as 3,000 people often attend Sunday mass (1pm weekly), although it has no formal religious status.
It’s not one massive cavern, however. In addition to the main area, it also contains 14 small chapels connected by tunnels. Twelve of them are chapels are Stations of the Cross.
About 30 miles (50km) from Bogotá, it’s one of the most unique religious sites in the world. It contains alcoves for worshipping, huge crosses, and even a sound and light show. There’s also a restaurant, boutique shop, and an area for special events. When I visited with a large group, we utilized the latter for a cocktail party.
It’s the most popular day tour from Bogotá. The entrance fee is COP 60,000, about $13.50.