Bogota, like many large cities, is a place of contrasts: colorful colonial streets in its historic center, surrounded by skyscrapers, cosmopolitan neighborhoods, and working-class barrios. There is a surprising amount to explore here, from museums and markets to cathedrals, restaurants, and vibrant street art.
First-time travelers to Bogota will find more than enough to keep them busy in La Candelaria, the colonial district. But a trip to Bogota is worth at least 3 days to explore this lively South American capital. I’ve got tips on all the must-see sights in Bogota, as well as day trips in the surrounding area for an itinerary of one day to one week.
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Visiting Bogota: The Basics
Haphazard Rating: 3 of 5. Travelers should be aware of safety concerns, and might find hiking at a higher altitude tiring on day trips outside the city.
Get here: Bogota’s airport is El Dorado BOG. It’s a hub for Avianca, LATAM and Copa Airlines, among others.
To do: Discover Columbia’s history at the Gold Museum and Botero Museum, take in city views from the top of Mount Monserrate, and explore the city through tours focused on its vibrant graffiti scene and food culture.
How long to stay: At least 2 days to see the city’s main sights, and 1-2 more for day trips in the surrounding area.
Stay: La Candelaria, Bogota’s charming colonial center, has many hotels and hostels close to the city’s main sights. Check out boutique options The Candelaria House or The Orchids. Fernweh Photography Hostel is one of the city’s best. Selina La Candelaria Bogotá hostel has private and shared rooms plus an in-house restaurant.
Must-See Bogota Sights
Check out more than 20 ways to explore the capital of Bogota, Colombia. I’ve listed what I think are the top sights and experiences first, for travelers short on time.
1. Explore The Street Art of Bogota with a Free Graffiti Tour
I always try to take a tour my first day in a city: it’s a great way to meet other travelers and get tips for the rest of your stay. The free tour from The Original Bogota Graffiti Tour was hands-down the best tour I’ve done in Bogota. In fact, it was one of my best day tour experiences overall! My tour guide Jeff – who is an anthropologist as well – was a wealth of information on the history and politics of Colombia. Beyond an appreciation for aesthetics, he provided a context for the sociopolitical, cultural and economic influences of Bogota’s street art. I highly recommend this tour which departs every day at 10AM and 2PM in the Parque de las Periodistas. The tour ends in La Candelaria at Casa Bogota Graffiti, a gallery and creative space where you can see more art from graffiti artists and even shop for souvenirs.
No reservation is needed; just show up at the meeting point. Be sure to tip at the end of the tour ($7-10 US is suggested) to support the guide and their community programs for artists.
2. See Bogota’s Top Sights with a Free City Walking Tour
Beyond Colombia offers several free walking tours, including city and food tours. Particularly for solo travelers or those short on time, tours like this are a perfect way to experience the highlights of the city. Be sure to tip your guide, and note that you’ll need to pay for food and drinks on the food tour. A reservation is needed.
3. Get a Bird’s Eye View of Bogota from the Cerro de Monserrate | Mount Monserrate Sanctuary
Bogota is one of the highest capital cities in the world, on a high plateau at over 2500 meters (8500 feet). Overlooking the eastern side of the city is the mountaintop sanctuary of Monserrate. Considered sacred by the idigenous Muisca population, it was later the site of a Catholic hermitage during Spanish colonial times. (Its name comes from the mountain and monastery in Spain, Monserrat.) A church from the 17th century has been rebuilt, as well as a shrine and statue of Jesus Christ, known as El Señor Caído (“The Fallen Lord”).
Today, Monserrate is a must-see tourist destination with amazing views of the city and surrounding landscape. It’s also a functioning church, with daily services, as well as a site of pilgrimage for many Colombians. You can easily spend a few hours here. In addition to the views, Monserrate has beautiful gardens and restaurants like Casa Santa Clara. It’s best to visit in the morning, since Bogota often gets hazy in the afternoons.
To reach the top of Monserrate, take a cable car or funicular for less than $10. Or the 1.5 mile pilgrimage trail is free to hike up or down (although some travel guides warn against this for tourists due to pickpockets and crime along the route).
4. Discover Colombia’s History at the Museo del Oro | Gold Museum
Bogota’s most well-known museum tells the history of the region through the largest collection of gold artifacts in the world. Exhibits are in both Spanish and English, and are grouped by regions and rituals. One of the most famous exhibits is a gold boat called the Balsa Muisca, which represents the ritual of throwing gold offerings into Lake Guatavita – rumored to be the origin of the El Dorado myth.
Admission is free on Sundays, which can result in large crowds. Other days, be sure to bring cash for admission and for renting an audio guide; or guided tours are available at set times Tuesday-Saturday. Plan to spend an hour or two here to see all the exhibits and stop in the restaurant and gift shop.
5. Get Cultured at the Museo Botero | Botero Museum
The Museo Botero is a few minutes’ walk from the Museo del Oro, and another must-visit site on your Bogota itinerary. In 2000, Colombian artist Fernando Botero donated more than 200 artworks to the Banco de la República. This included 123 of his own pieces and 85 from his private collection of international artists. Thus the Botero Museum was formed, housed in a colonial mansion in the La Candelaria neighborhood . It contains one of the most important international art collections in Latin America. Find Botero’s works in the museum’s west wing, while the east wing includes international works by Picasso, Chagall, Dali, Monet and more.
The museum is free of charge and has a lovely courtyard with a cafe, and audio guides are available. Find out more about the Museo Botero collection with the museum’s Google online Arts & Culture listing (and learn why Botero’s figures aren’t fat but rather full of volume!). Museo Botero is closed on Tuesdays.
6. Explore the La Candelaria Neighborhood
With colorful colonial buildings and winding cobblestone streets, Bogota’s oldest barrio of La Candelaria is a great home base for first-time visitors. The main square and government buildings of Bogota are here, as well as churches, museums, cafes and historical landmarks. Be sure to find the Callejón del Embudo (funnel alley), which is lined with street art, shops, and cafes. Stop in Cafe Casa Galeria to try traditional Colombian drinks chucula and chicha, plus coffee and desserts. Or relax in Plazoleta Chorro de Quevedo, a small square with shops, cafes, street performers and sellers.
7. Get a Feel for the City in Plaza de Bolívar | Simon Bolivar Plaza
At the heart of most Spanish colonial cities is a central plaza de armas. These generally contained an area where the army could be mustered, as well as the governor’s palace and main cathedral. Bogota’s square is Plaza de Bolivar, named for Simon Bolivar, a Venezuelan military and political leader who led Venezuela, Bolivia, Colombia and other countries in the region to independence from Spain. The plaza is home to the Palacio de Justicia (Supreme Court of Colombia), Palacio Liéviano (office of the mayor of Bogota), and the Capitolio Nacional (Congress). Two cathedrals also stand here: Catedral Primada built in 1807, and Capilla El Sagrario, which dates to the 1600’s.
It’s worth a visit here to see the bustling center of the city, and you can also get a photo of yourself with a llama if you’re so inclined!
8. Visit the Museum-Church of the Museo Iglesia Santa Clara
Iglesia Santa Clara is one of Bogota’s oldest and most beautiful churches. Originally part of a convent, the single nave Baroque church features a flower-stenciled ceiling covered in gold leaf. The walls are lined in paintings and sculptures of saints. The museum highlights the history and architecture of the original church as well as a collection of religious art. It’s definitely worth a visit to see the gorgeous ceiling alone!
Museo Iglesia Santa Clara is closed Mondays; there is a small entrance fee.
9. Get Sweet on the Candy Cane Church: Santuario Nuestra Señora del Carmen
Santuario Nuestra Señora del Carmen, or The National Shrine of Our Lady of Carmen, is another church in La Candelaria. You’ll notice it from blocks away due to its unique red-and-white striped facade. This is one of the most unique churches I’ve encountered in my travels, and I recommend adding it to your Bogota itinerary. The best time to see the inside of Nuestra Señora del Carmen is Monday – Friday 10AM-4PM, as it has limited weekend hours for worship.
10. Treat Yourself with Bogota’s Street Food
If you have time for the street food walking tour, I definitely recommend it! If not, you’ll find tasty street food as you wander the city. Be sure to try arepas, a patty made from ground maize and stuffed with cheese, meat, or other fillings. Obleas are large wafers filled with dulce de leche and other sweet toppings – and were reportedly tried by Mick Jagger on a visit to Bogota. (You’ll likely see several stands claiming to be the original!) Cheese lovers should keep an eye out for almojábanas, small round cheese breads, and buñuelos, deep-fried cheese balls. You’ll also encounter empanadas and tamales, as well as fresh fruit juices.
11. Explore Colombia’s Variety of Fruits at the Mercado de Paloquemao | Paloquemao Market
I love visiting markets and grocery stores when I travel, both to explore the local food culture and to bring home (packaged) snacks as souvenirs. If you’re the same, you must add Paloquemao market to your itinerary! Many visitors here are local residents and restaurant owners buying supplies. The market is divided into sections, including flowers, fruit and vegetables, herbs and spices, and fish and meat. For fruit-lovers, the wide selection and colorful displays are such a treat: be sure to try naranjilla, pitaya and (my favorite) granadilla.
Paloquemao is a little off-the-beaten path and I recommend a tour to get here. Particularly if your Spanish isn’t good, a guide can help you ask for permission when taking photos, and buy small amounts of the fruits to try.
12. Learn About History at the Museo Nacional de Colombia | National Museum of Colombia
Housed in a former prison building, the impressive National Museum of Colombia includes 17 galleries. It’s currently under renovation and parts of it need to be modernized and made more engaging, so I recommend this only for real history and art buffs.
13. Be Dazzled by the Iglesia De San Francisco | Church of San Francisco
If you haven’t had enough of churches yet, check out Bogota’s oldest church, Iglesia De San Francisco, built starting in 1567. Its Baroque interior is lined with saints, and features an enormous gilded altarpiece.
14. Explore the Bogota Foodie Scene
Bogota’s foodie scene isn’t as well developed as Mexico City or Lima, but it’s evolving into sophisticated takes on traditional ingredients and recipes. The most well-known Bogota restaurant is Andrés Carne de Res just outside the city in Cundinamarca, although there is another location in Bogota.
Made famous by Anthony Bourdain, the low-key La Candelaria neighborhood restaurant La Puerta Falsa reportedly has the best Colombian hot chocolate (which is served with cheese!) as well as tamales and ajiaco: a soup made from chicken, onions, corn, capers, avocado and sour cream. Also in La Candelaria, check out Prudencia for lunch, with a fresh menu featuring local ingredients.
If you fancy dinner with a sunset view, the restaurant Casa Santa Clara at Monserrate is one of the best in the city.
15. Get Outdoors in Bogota’s Green Spaces and City Parks
If you need a bit of a zen break in the city, get outdoors at the Jardín Botánico de Bogotá or Simon Bolívar Metropolitan Park. The botanical garden is also a research center and features plant species from regions and climates throughout Colombia. The Simon Bolívar Metropolitan Park is a greenspace and sports complex located in the center of the city.
Bogota Day Trips
If you have several days in Bogota, I recommend adding on some day trips to the surrounding area. You can find many of these day trips below combined into different itineraries from local tour companies, depending on your preferences.
16. Go Underground at the Catedral de Zipaquira | Zipaquira Cathedral and Salt Mine
The Zipaquira Salt Cathedral is an enormous underground church carved completely from salt, including a 50-foot cross in the main chapel. Located in a former salt mine, it started as a small altar where miners prayed for their safety. Later it became a place of worship, pilgrimage and tourism. Located about 2 hours north of Bogota, it’s equal parts tourist trap and architectural wonder. If you like offbeat sights or religious history, check out my full guide to visiting Zipaquira.
17. Learn about the Origins of the El Dorado Myth at Laguna de Guatavita | Lake Guatavita
Laguna de Guatavita is a beautiful, cerulean blue lake surrounded by green countryside. It’s also a former ritual site of the indigineous Muisca people. The Muisca chief would cover humself in gold dust and sail to the center of the lake on a ceremonial raft. There he would throw offerings of gold and jewels as offerings, before plunging himself into the waters. This symbolized a transition to a new chief. When Spanish colonizers heard of this, though, the myth of El Dorado was born and exaggerated; and they unsuccessfully tried to drain the lake to find a lost city of gold.
A day trip here includes a hike through the trails of the surrounding nature reserve. Tours are available in Spanish and English, where a guide explains different aspects of Muisca culture and history. There is even a recreated Muisca hut.
This tour is a bit physically challenging, as you’re likely at a higher altitude in Bogota than you’re used to. The trail includes about 150 steps up at one point. But it’s definitely worth it for the views at the top of Lake Guatavita and the lush surrounding countryside.
18. Learn More About Muisca Culture at Nemocón | Nemocon Salt Mine
Nemocón, another nearby city known for its salt mine, was an important Muisca village. Tours to its salt mine are less touristy than at Zipaquira and you can also explore the town.
19. Immerse Yourself in Colombia’s Coffee Culture at Fusagasugá
The small village of Fusagasugá is home to the Hacienda Coloma, a coffee plant surrounded by tropical plants and nature. Here you can learn about coffee cultivation, harvesting and roasting, as well as sample different ways of preparing it.
20. See Small-Town Colombia in Villa de Leyva
About three hours by bus from Bogota, the town of Villa de Leyva is a charming example of colonial architecture. Here you’ll find a main plaza perfect for a quiet a meal and drinks. This stop is often combined with a tour of Zipaquira.
21. Get Out in Nature at Chicaque Natural Park
Nature lovers will want to explore the cloud forest of Chicaque National Park, about 45 minutes outside of Bogota. See exotic plants, birds and animals and hike the 20 miles of trails in this national park. Note that most tours don’t include a guide, just transportation. You’ll need to be ready to explore on your own and prepared with supplies like water and snacks.
23. See High Elevation Plateau Flora and Fauna at Chingaza National Park
Chingaza National Park is a habitat for Andean flora and fauna. This is a full day trip, with up to 8 hours of challenging hiking trails at altitude. The weather here can be changeable, so hikers should prepare for sun, rain, fog, cold, and muddy conditions. The payoff is the otherworldly views and the páramo (high elevation plateau) ecosystem.
Safety in Bogota
Safety is a concern in Bogota, with pickpocketing and mugging being the most common crimes against tourists. I visited as a solo female traveler, and was careful not to be out at night alone. During the day, I booked tours with guides or kept to the main tourist areas. Stay aware of your surroundings, don’t carry valuables or large amounts of cash, and be careful when using ATMs. (I always try to use ATMs at bank branches rather than on the street.) This is a destination where I carry a slash-proof backpack or purse and use a cut-proof camera strap. Personally, I have not felt unsafe when traveling here; but the blogger Nomadic Matt has a dramatic story about being stabbed in Bogota when he let down his guard and wasn’t careful enough.
Please read the Colombia country information on the U.S. Department of State website. But know that Colombia has some of the friendliest people, most beautiful landscapes and rich culture, which make it a must-see destination in my book.
Where to Stay in Bogota
La Candelaria, Bogota’s charming colonial center, is the best place to stay for solo travelers or first-time visitors to Bogota. It has many hotels and hostels convenient to the city’s main sights. Check out boutique options The Candelaria House or The Orchids. Fernweh Photography Hostel is one of the city’s best hostels. Selina La Candelaria Bogotá hostel has private and shared rooms and an in-house restaurant which makes it great for solo travelers who get in late.
Interested in more South America travel tips?
Be sure to check out my guide to visiting Zipaquira Salt Cathedral on a day trip from Bogota.
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