Bogotá, the sprawling capital of Colombia, South America, is where I called home for 3 months! The city, as I’d come to find out first hand, is rich in culture, food, and activities. (And definitely is colder and higher up in altitude than I first expected!)
While many Colombians and international tourists prefer Colombian cities like Cartagena on the Caribbean coast or the charming pueblo of Salento in the coffee country to the west, I quite liked Bogotá. Sure, it is a big, noisy city. But in terms of things to do in Bogota, I never ran out of options. Even in three months, I never managed to fit in everything I wanted to do!
So here is my guide and recommendation for the top 10 things to do in Bogotá, Colombia, from strolling around the famous historic Plaza de Bolivar to throwing mini canons at a target full of explosives in the name of the national sport!
10 Things to Do in Bogota Colombia!
1. Stroll the colonial streets in La Candelaria
Anyone traveling to Bogotá, Colombia must explore La Candelaria! It’s the most colorful, charming neighborhood in Bogotá. It’s where a maze of colonial homes, painted in all hues of vibrant colors, steadily climb up the hills.
There are actually so many things to do in La Candelaria in and of itself! It’s where you’ll find a cluster of museums, the best restaurants, cute boutique hotels, the library, government palaces, and so much more.
Not to mention, La Candelaria is how Bogotá got its start; La Candelaria was Bogota’s first neighborhood, founded in the early 16th century. Knowing how old this historic neighborhood makes it all the more charming! Exploring La Candelaria is simply one of the essential things to do in Bogota.
2. Take the funicular up to Monserrate
The mountains surrounding Bogotá are called the Eastern Hills (Los Cerros Orientales). You’ll quickly notice a shining white steeple peeking out from the backdrop of Bogotá’s skyscrapers; that’s Monserrate, and you can visit it by either hiking or taking the cable car up to the top!
Visiting Monserrate is a must-do activity in Bogotá! From here, you can get panoramic views of the city below. It’s the only location where you can see the scale of the city in full (it’s enormous – 8 million people!).
Bogotá is definitely one of the biggest cities I’ve ever lived in. And visiting Monserrate made me extremely aware of that! When you’re down on the streets, it doesn’t feel possible that Bogota is that big. But it is!
How to reach Monserrate in Bogotá: You can hike the 30-40 minutes it takes to climb up to Monserrate, but I recommend taking the steep funicular up the mountain.
Funicular: One-way rides will cost around 12,000 COP (~$4) from Monday to Saturday and $6.500 COP on Sundays. Hours are M-S 6:30 AM – 11:30 PM and Sun 5:30 AM – 4:30 PM.
3. Visit the historic Plaza de Bolivar
Visiting la Plaza de Bolivar in Bogotá is one of the best things to do as it is the seat of the government palaces, the historic cathedral dating back to 1539, the National Capital, and other important landmarks.
Just off the square sits the Presidential palace, universities, and other historic buildings. There is so much history to learn here! I recommend taking a walking tour to check out and learn about all the buildings.
Buildings to see in la Plaza de Bolivar:
- Bogotá Cathedral
- National Capital
- Palace of Justice
- Liévano Palace
The buildings have so much history to share, with the most famous being the Palace of Justice Siege in which guerrillas of M-19 and the Colombian Army stormed the palace, capturing and killing members of the government.
Still today, there is an eery tension in the square, a place of rebellion, protest, and bloodshed. The square itself is enormous and spacious, so remember to bring walking shoes! You’ll no doubt see flocks of pigeons, candy/snack stands, performers, maybe even a donkey, and lots of people.
4. Tour the Museo Botero, Museo del Oro, and Museo National
There are several amazing museums to visit in Bogotá! Three especially stand out as being the most popular things to do in Bogotá: The Museo Botero, the Museo del Oro, and the Museo National.
Museo Botero houses over 200 famous works of art by Fernando Botero, the guy famous for his depictions of overly-enlarged (inflated?) human figures. His fat Mona Lisa painting I knew of beforehand, and seeing it in person was quite interesting. There are many works I recognized and no doubt you will too! The entrance to the museum is free although I’m sure you can book a tour guide if you’d like.
Museo del Oro or the Gold Museum is one of Bogotá’s most stunning museums showcasing over 50,000+ pieces of gold. Of all the museums to visit, you should visit this one as it showcases the great history and richness of gold in pre-Columbian times. Location: Carrera 5 # 15-82. Entrance fee: 4,000 COP Tue-Sat, Sundays are free.
Museo National is another museum to visit in Bogotá, but it is not located in the downtown Candelaria neighborhood but along the great Carretera 7 route. The museum is housed in a beautiful building, which was once used as a prison. Now it displays history throughout the ages and has various floors filled with artifacts, relics, and paintings. My favorite feature was the real-life Santa Rosa de Viterbo Meteorite which they have preserved into the floor under a sort of sunroof. Entrance fee: $4,500 COP. Hours: Tue-Sat 10-6, Sundays 10-5
5. Photograph the striped “candy-cane” Cathedral (Santuario Nuestra Senora del Carmen)
While getting lost one day around La Candelaria, I came across this striking red and white striped church – the Santuario Nuestra Senora del Carmen. From steeple to step, it had stripes and it reminded me of a candy-cane or a peppermint! So I decided to look inside, and it was equally as beautiful. For some reason, this cathedral doesn’t get so much hype. But I love it, and I think you will too. Is it still okay to call it an off-the-beaten-track thing to do in Bogotá? Who knows, I bet since the rise of Instagram this place has become more popular. But it’s worth going and checking out since it is so unique!
6. Discover Bogotá via a bike tour
At the end of my time in Bogotá, my partner Paul came to visit. And to show him the city, we decided to book a biking tour around Bogotá. Booking tours isn’t something Paul and I would usually do as we often like to explore on our own, but this time we did it and we are so glad we did! The biking tour was definitely a highlight of his stay, and we both learned so much about the city. (Even though I had been living there I still learned so much!)
Starting from La Candelaria, we rode through some cute streets to cute plazas, making pit-stops at iconic locations like Plaza de Bolivar, etc., so that our tour guide could tell us about the history and folklore of each place.
We would then hop back on our bikes and discover other parts of Bogotá, even the more “dodgier” places so that we could get a true oversight of the city.
The tour took us down the main Carretera street, showed us so many murals and wall art, and we even did a mini-tour of a traditional coffee factory and tasted fresh, exotic fruits at the Paloquemao market (read about it next).
I highly recommend doing this in Bogotá! We booked our tour with Bogotá Bike Tours. If I remember correctly, it cost us around $30 USD each (including tip). Well worth it!
7. Shop at the local market of Paloquemao
If you truly want to delve into the daily life of Colombians in Bogotá, then head to Paloquemao. It is where you can eat a typical Colombian breakfast of hearty, meaty soup with potatoes or arepas; shop for fresh fruits and produce from local vendors; and pick up fresh flowers, clothes, or anything else you could imagine.
I would often go to Paloquemao with Marcela, a lovely Colombian woman who hosted me in her home during those months. Paloquemao is also where the bike tour took us so that we could see local life in Bogotá and try exotic fruits, like fresh dragon fruit and passion fruit, among others.
8. Play the explosive national sport of Tejo
Now, if you want to further delve into the like of Colombians, then there’s no better thing to do in Bogotá than to play Tejo! Tejo is Colombia’s (explosive!) national sport. You basically drink beer and throw small but heavy cannonballs at a target that is riddled with gunpowder. The aim is to hit the bullseye without the explosives going off.
There’s a location near downtown that our bike tour actually introduced us to, where you can play Tejo with locals. It is called Club de Tejo La 76!
9. Go on a scavenger hunt to find all the street art
Bogotá, and specifically the country of Colombia, has seen war for the past 60+ years, until the Colombia Peace Deal in 2017 when the FARC laid down their arms.
The country still is tense, not everyone agrees with each other, warring politics and protests are common, and people still crave justice. With that said, the people of Bogotá and Colombia have produced incredible works of art on so many walls and buildings which can be seen – and felt – around the city.
It’s really impressive just how many artists painted these incredible murals, most often which have deep significance in relation to the war. (Lots of the stories behind the murals we learned from our bike tour!)
10. Dig into delicious Colombian cuisine! Try arepa, oblea, and Juan Valdez coffee!
You shouldn’t leave Bogotá if you haven’t yet tried one of the Colombian arepas, obleas, or Juan Valdez coffee. These are staples of Bogotá cuisine and culture. In general, Colombian food isn’t spicy. In fact, it’s rather plain – think chicken/grilled meat, rice, plantain, and arepa. That’s a typical dish you will find in nearly any restaurant.
I know a lot of tourists are scared of trying street food, but this is where I have had the tastiest Colombian food, especially arepas. My favorite arepas are filled with cheese. They are so buttery and are the best – but there are different types of arepas depending on who you talk to and the region in Colombia you visit. There are arepas stuffed with meat, cheese, egg, and more.
I am drooling just thinking about them! There are restaurants serving arepas too, or at least more restaurant-like places. So ask around, don’t be shy to taste several arepas (hehe!) to find the best.
Obleas are thin, waffle-like desserts filled with a creamy caramel sauce (dulce de leche) inside.
Juan Valdez is like the Starbucks of Colombia. It has good, cheap coffee and is a famous coffee brand.
Final Thoughts: 10 Things to Do in Bogota, Colombia
Those are my top recommendations for things to do in Bogotá, although there are dozens more I could add to this list (and I might in the future!).
Above all, Bogota is worth exploring. It is a bigger city, and crime is no stranger to it. There are petty theft and robberies. Don’t walk around with your phone out or your camera on you visibly. Like in any big city, it’s about staying aware of your space and traveling smart!
Have you ever visited Bogota, Colombia? If not, is it on your bucket list?!
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