We all know that Colombia has a dark past, so it may not seem like the paradisal vacation spot, but the country’s reputation is beginning to change. Traveling to Colombia is no longer dangerous and with the vast amount of cheap flights available from the USA, it’s a great choice for northerners looking to dip their toes in South America. This past fall, I took a short trip to Colombia, spending three days in both Bogota and Cartagena. Below you’ll find my Bogota travel guide, with a variety of budget-friendly activities. Could Colombia be your next adventure?
Bogota Travel for 1st-Timers
If you’re traveling to Bogota for the first time and, like me, you only have a few days to explore, I suggest concentrating on one district. For a three day trip, you can spend two days exploring your chosen neighborhood and then take a day-trip outside of the city to see something completely different.
Where to Stay in Bogota
La Candelaria is the favorite district for many tourists in Bogota. You’ll find the city’s most popular attractions in this area, and it’s also quite beautiful with colonial architecture, artistic graffiti, and historical government buildings. There are no shortage of hostels, hotels, restaurants, and bars in La Candelaria as well. I stayed at the Masaya Hostel near the Plazoleta Chorro de Quevedo. It was very nice, with travel info, clean rooms, and a bar! Book your dates through HostelWorld.com
A word on safety after dark
Although it’s a popular district to explore, La Candelaria is not the safest district in Bogota. At night, homeless citizens come out to beg and (sometimes) hassle the tourists. Always walk with the buddy and ignore beggers whenever possible. I carried a few coins in my pocket to hand out whenever I was approached. I didn’t have much trouble, but I met a few other travelers that had terrible stories. If you’re nervous, stay in your hotel after dark.
Bogota Travel: Top Things to Do in La Candelaria
Take the cable car to Monseratte
The top of Monseratte offers an epic view of the city on a clear day. You can take a cable car or (if you’re ambitious, hike) to the top, which is home to a church and a cafe. 30 minutes is enough time to take in the view of one of South America’s largest cities.
Go on a “Free” walking tour of La Candelaria
I highly recommend the “Free Walking Tour” of La Candelaria. The tour begins in the Plazoleta Chorro de Quevedo and lasts for about three hours. During that time, you are led by an english-speaking guide through the entire district, learning about the history, culture, and famous graffiti. The tour also includes a tasting of Colombian fruits and beverages. I tried chicha, cocoa leaf tea, and (of course) Colombian coffee. You should expect to tip about $10 USD, which is why the tour is necessarily “free.” No need to book ahead, just show up at the scheduled time. More info here.
Take a Day Tour of Zipaquira’s Salt Cathedral
The Zipaquira Salt Cathedral is the world’s only underground cathedral, located about 2 hours away from Bogota. On your visit, you’ll travel three levels underground to explore a working salt mine and gorgeous cathedral. The air is crisp, cold, and sulfuric at times. There are dozens of crosses, carved into the walls. Each is magnificent and lit with colorful LED lighting. It’s angelic and impressive. Finally, after passing through a few narrow passages, you reach a cavernous cathedral. My jaw dropped at the enormity of the space! No matter your religious beliefs, it’s an astonishing place to behold.
Bogota Travel: Where to Eat & Drink
There are so many amazing things to eat in La Candelaria, but you can also have bad meals as well. Follow my advice, and stick to the local food. I tried Japanese food, for example, and was not impressed. My favorite meal was actually at a vegetarian restaurant called NATIVO. Everything was fresh and homemade. The serving sizes were substantial, and it was very well priced. If you’re looking for a cheap meal, you can always purchase the “meal of the day” for lunch, which will usually cost about $3 USD, and comes with a bowl of soup and a main dish of rice and meat.
Happy hour is not hard to find in La Candelaria. If you want craft beer, the tourist favorite drinking hole is Bogota Beer Company. The local liquor of choice is aguardiente, which is anise-flavored and a bit strange. If you like black licorice, you’ll probably like aguardiente. There are many cocktails made with this particular liquor, and you will even find people selling hot alcoholic drinks out of beverage carts on the street for a very affordable price. Don’t be afraid to try it!
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