So, you’ve arrived in the mountainous city of Bogota. Congratulations! Bogota sits at 2,640 meters high, and is a vibrant, colourful and interesting city. I spent over a month in Bogotá. Here is my Bogota travel guide with my top things to do. Most of them are cheap or free, so perfect for budget travellers!
Bogota: A Love It Or Hate It City
Bogota seems to invoke a mixed reaction from visitors. Some hate it, calling it busy, dirty and full of pick pockets. There is probably some truth in these criticisms. However, I preferred it to Medellin, which is a favourite city for expats. I’d say you’ll get more authenticity and less tourist traps in Bogota than it’s coastal counterpart Cartagena. I’ve been to my fair share of trash South American, African and Asian cities (I am looking at you Manilla!) and I don’t think Bogota should be put in that category.
Bogota has got an incredible museum scene. The old town (La Candelaria) is full of trendy Bogota university youths. The street art is incredible. Simon Bolivar Park is immense and beautiful.
Yes, Bogota is run down and could do with a bit of development, but it’s got a lot to offer and is certainly worth visiting for a few days. I’d say stay longer but it really depends on the person. I am certainly in the love camp, but maybe I am just a weirdo.
Bogota Travel Guide: 18 Awesome & Cheap Things To Do In Bogota
1. War and Peace Tour – Beyond Bogotá
I did shed loads of walking tours in Colombia, but this tour with Beyond Bogota was one of my favourites. It is number 1 in my Bogota travel guide due to the deep knowledge and expertise of the guide.
There was no breezing over and half facts you can get with some other Bogota walking tours. Issues were explained properly, accurately with nuance and sensitivity.
The War and Peace Tour helps you start to piece together the complex and fascinating contemporary history of Colombia. A good one for fellow history and politics geeks like me.
Price: This is a tour for tips, so has no fixed price. You can pay as much or as little as you want.
2. Learn Spanish with The Whee Institute
Between us, we spent 6 weeks learning Spanish with the Whee Institute.
I absolutely hated learning languages at school, but the Whee Institute squad made learning Spanish fun and gave me a love for learning Spanish. That’s why it’s part of my Bogota travel guide.
We played games, listened to music and even cooked. It’s an incredibly welcoming Spanish school and you feel part of the Whee family in no time.
The Whee Institute also run loads of social activities in the evenings. From dance lessons to tejo (Colombia’s explosive national sport).
They’ll give you a local insight into life in Bogota with lots of tips and recommendations (including the best Colombian shows to watch on Netflix). We learnt lots more about Colombia’s recent past and present struggles. Oh yeah, and our Spanish improved a lot!
Price: It depends on the type of classes and the number lessons you take. If you take a lot of lessons, prices can work out as cheap as just under $8 USD per hour.
3. Explore La Candelaria
I’ve heard a few people complain about Bogotá, and say Medellin is better. But does Medellin have La Candelaria? No, it does not!
I like Medellin of course, but I found wandering around the colourful streets of La Candelaria a feast for the eyes and the ears.
Incredible street art covers the walls, Merengue music is blasted out from old fashioned latin bars and there are plenty of cosy cafes. The square where Bogota began (Plazoleta Chorro de Quevedo) is often frequented by stand up comedians, musicians and often has a small market.
The area is popular with tourists, but also university students making the whole place trendy and vibrant. It’s worth taking half a day or so just to wander around and explore at your own pace.
4. Bogotá Graffiti Walking Tour
Do this Bogota walking tour! Bogota is rapidly becoming known internationally for it’s jaw dropping street art. Artists from around the world visit Bogotá and create their masterpieces on the city’s walls. These are beautiful to look at, but often the messages and stories behind them are just as captivating.
The best way to find out more about the street art is through the Bogotá Grafiti Tour.
Bogotá Graffiti Tour is run by experts in the street art world. They’ll give you the history of street art in Bogotá, why there has been such an explosion of street art in recent years and how the relationship between the police and street artists has changed. Strangely it involves Justin Bieber.
Bogotá Graffiti Tours also offer workshops, where you can finally live out that rebellious life ambition to use some spray paints. These workshops are run by local street artists.
Price: This is a tour for tips, so has no fixed price. You can pay as much or as little as you want.
5. The Gold Museum (Museo Del Oro)
Number 5 in my Bogota travel guide is The Gold Museum. Some people I know missed out this museum because “they aren’t interested in gold”. OMG, neither am I! Don’t miss the Gold Museum out. The most interesting aspect of the museum is not the gold, it’s the cultural significance given to it by Colombia’s (and more further afield) indigenous populations.
The museum explains why indigenous communities used to chuck loads of gold in Colombia’s lakes.
It explores their belief systems and anthropology. Including the intriguing beliefs on why they taught parrots to speak and why chieftains grew their fingernails really long. I am not going to tell you why. You are going to have to go to the Gold Museum to find out why!
Price: Adult 4000 pesos ($1.26 USD), and it is free on Sundays and public holidays. But probably very busy!
6. Museo Botero
Whilst Medellin’s Antioquia Museum has a bigger collection of Botero paintings, the Museo Botero in Bogotá also has some damn impressive works.
Botero’s take on the Mona Lisa is particularly awesome. There’s nothing like seeing Botero’s works in real life to really appreciate the talent of this incredible Colombian artist.
The gallery also has works by Picasso and Dali.
It’s also attached to the Casa de Moneda (Currency House). Which is a museum on money and is worth a speedy visit. And there is even another art museum attached as well, in case you can’t get enough!
Price: All of these museums are free.
7. Simon Bolívar Metropolitan Park & Bogota Botanical Gardens
Simon Bolivar Park is a huge park out of the central of Bogotá and is one of the major parks in the city. Bogota locals rave about it, but I wasn’t too fussed about going. However, when I did I realised that was a mistake. It’s got a massive lake in the middle of it with boats, lots of playgrounds and you can stroll around for hours spotting colourful Colombian birds in the trees. Simon Bolivar Park is really well kept. Pick a nice sunny week day and go explore. What I really liked about the park is it felt very safe, unlike some other parts of Bogota. The park is often missed by tourists.
The Bogota Botanical Gardens are a few minutes away by foot, so also worth visiting at the same time. These botanical gardens are small, but pretty. When we visited in December 2019 they were building some green houses in the botanical gardens. Hopefully these will be open in not too long, as although the botanical gardens are nice there wasn’t masses to do in them. Keep your eyes peeled for hummingbirds though!
The Simon Bolivar Park is also where the free Rock al Parque music festival is held in June/July.
To get there you can take an Uber to Simon Bolivar Park and the Botanical Gardens. Do note that Uber is banned in Colombia though, so make sure you sit in the front seat next to the driver.
Price: Free for Simon Bolivar Park and 1100 COP per person for the botanical gardens.
8. Mount Monserrate
Monserrate is a slightly dizzying 3,152 metres above sea level. Perched on top of the hill is a church and you get pretty awesome views across the whole of Bogotá.
You can either take the cable or walk up Monserrate, the train (funicular) is currently closed. And to be fair when I saw the train, I thought if I had to go on it I probably would have pooped myself in fear. That mountain is fecking steep!
It’s nice to trundle around the Monserrate area for a little bit. Although there isn’t that much to do bar admire the views. There’s a very touristy bit which sells bad tourist souvenirs and has rows and rows of restaurants selling very stinky meat.
Monserrate is very popular with locals, so it’s best avoided at weekends and bank holidays. Colombia has tons of bank holidays so do check when these are. Monserrate can get extremely busy at these times. Apparently night visits can be spectacular, but again will get busy at weekends.
Also, don’t go up when it’s foggy. It’s totally pointless…unless you just like stinky meat. Each to their own I guess.
Price: We paid 21,000 (over $6 USD) pesos each, but the price can change depending on the time of day. It’s more expensive in the evening. It’s cheaper on Sundays during the day.
9. Plaza Bolívar
If you do a downtown walking tour (either the War and Peace one or the Downtown one mentioned in this Bogota Travel Guide), it will cover Plaza Bolívar. If you aren’t doing any tours it’s worth visiting. Plaza Bolivar is the main square for the city of Bogotá.
It’s home to Palace of Justice, Liévano Palace, National Capitol and Primary Cathedral of Bogotá. And about a gazillions pigeons and a guy with an alpaca.
The Plaza is iconic as it was where the Palace of Justice 1985 siege took place. A guerrilla group (M-19) stormed the building and held the Supreme Court hostage. The intention was to negotiate with the president.
The situation escalated. The army literally drove tanks into the actual Supreme Court building.
25 Supreme Court Justices were killed, and over 100 died altogether and some people vanished altogether. The building was destroyed and rebuilt into the one you see today.
10. Play Tejo At Tejo Field The Bucaros
Colombia’s national sport is of the explosive variety. Tejo involves hurling a metal puck at a pit of clay laced with gunpowder. Yeah, you read that correctly.
And it’s standard to do this whilst drinking a ‘cerveza’ (beer). Don’t expect much health and safety, but it’s very much worth a try.
At Tejo Field The Bucaros the explosions are good and really loud. We played tejo elsewhere, and the explosions were just not loud enough for our liking.
Price: If you go on the bike tour (below), a game of tejo at Tejo Field The Bucaros is included in your tour price and a beer is 4,000 pesos or about $1.26 USD.
11. Bogotá Bike Tour
Explore outside the usual touristy parts of the city with a Bogotá Bike Tour. The most interesting aspect of this is observing the huge divide between the rich and poor in Bogotá.
You peddle along tree lined manicured neighbourhoods, whilst also venturing into the more shady areas such as the red light district.
The tour took us to see street art, a coffee roastery, a fruit market, to play tejo and more. It was awesome to explore out of the well trodden centre of Bogotá.
However, the tour group was massive, unruly and the cycling was unnecessarily slow. I’m not part of the Tour De France, but my legs started seizing up because we were moving a such a sluggish speed.
Further, after doing many more in-depth tours and speaking with the locals in Colombia, I found some of the information vague and occasionally inaccurate.
The Issue With Inaccuracies
The numerous recent tragic killings of social leaders (often anti-corruption activists and indigenous rights leaders) in Colombia were mentioned. Up to 700 social leaders and activists have been killed since the 2016 peace agreement. Yet the blame was placed on M-19 (a leftist group).
Although it’s murky on who is to blame and varies from case to case, often evidence points towards the paramilitaries and the local elites, the big land-holders, businessmen who pay these paramilitaries to kill social leaders. This might seem a little pedantic, but when it comes to conflict in Colombia, it’s sensitive and nothing is helped by peddling inaccuracies. Colombia is a country with fragile peace.
The bike tour place is located next to a great lunch place (SPQR) that does the ‘menu del dia’ (fixed price 3 course menu with juice), for only 10,000 pesos or about $3.15 USD! It has a veggie option too.
Price: The bike tour costs 40,000 pesos ($12.50 USD), and we paid 4000 ($1.26 USD) each for a beer during the tejo.
12. Beyond Bogotá Free Downtown Walking Tour
This is a general walking tour of Downtown Bogotá. It gives an overview of the history of Colombia and Bogotá, and takes you to some important sites around La Candelaria and other parts Downtown. The tour highlights the history and importance of these sights.
This Bogota walking tour is good and the guide engaging. But I found it didn’t cover anything more than the War and Peace tour (above) and lacked the depth.
To note, I’m not anti ‘more general’ tours. I did a more general tour of Medellin with Real City Tours. It was amazing, if you are going to Medellin, do a Real City Tour!
In Medellin, the history and politics angle was covered well and with enough depth. Heart wrenching personal stories and nuanced views of Medellin’s dark past were shared.
However more lightheartedly it covered the quirks of Colombian and Medellin culture, the buildings and even the metro system.
We were given tips on understanding and interacting with locals. General tours can be totally awesome and don’t have to be sparse on depth and breadth.
Beyond Bogota Tours are well reviewed and worth going on. You might have a totally different view to me!
It’s just not my favourite. The tour I felt most moved by in Bogotá was the War and Peace Tour, rather than the Downtown Tour.
Price: This is a tour for tips, so has no fixed price. You can pay as much or as little as you want.
13. Bogotá Sunday Antique Flea Market
Mercado De Las Pulgas De San Alejo is an awesome thing to do in Bogota on a Sunday. It pops up every Sunday. It’s a vibrant flea market selling antiques and other largely retro bits and bobs.
It is a treasure trove of wonders for the person obsessed with all things old (me). Old cameras, clocks, gramophones, TVs, clothes and jewellery at a fraction of the price you’d get in the UK. I almost bought a gramophone, but I can’t imagine how I’d fit that in my backpack…
It’s got a great vibe too. Old tunes hum out from different stalls and the place is full of locals. You can even get your photo taken by a guy with an old box fashioned camera and feel like a classy Victorian lady (or man).
14. National Museum of Colombia (Museo Nacional)
The National Museum of Colombia is situated in a former prison, which is an interesting feature in itself. The museum has a lot of information on the history of Colombia and takes your on a journey through this using anthropology and art.
It only has a few exhibitions in English, so it’s more recommended for those who are more proficient at Spanish.
Price: Adult ticket is 4000 pesos ($1.26 USD). On Sundays it’s free!
15. Hiking Around Bogotá
This is a bit of a different thing to do in Bogota, but you can go hiking. Bogotá is surrounded by beautiful mountains!
A group recently organised a trip to Paramo De Cruz Verde. You tend to have to do this walk with a tour, due to permissions and such. But get in contact with: email@example.com
16. The Police Museum (Museo Historico de la Policia)
As the name suggests, this is a museum on the history of policing in Colombia. The museum explores the different policing units, key events for the Colombian police force, and the unique issues the police force had to face during Colombia’s conflict. There are exhibitions on the war on drugs and a room dedicated to Pablo Escobar.
It’s mostly in Spanish, so bring google translate. The museum is a bit haphazard, but interesting. You get a very nice view of Bogotá from the rooftop.
17. The Colonial Museum (Museo Colonial)
If you are interested in colonial history, art and colonial era paintings the Museo Colonial is for you.
It’s one of the more obscure attractions in Bogotá and gets very few visitors.
It’s well curated, informative and has some nice paintings and pieces. It has exhibits in English and Spanish and is in a pretty 17th century building with a courtyard garden. It takes about 45 minutes to get around.
Price: An adult ticket costs 3000 pesos (under $1 USD). A student ticket is 2000 pesos ($0.63).
18. Emerald Museum, Bogotá
The final recommendation in my Bogota travel guide involves those shiny green precious gems!
You might know that Colombia is famous for its emeralds. Angelina Jolie is rumoured to have spent shed loads of dollars buying a pair of huge emerald earrings for the Oscars. Guess where she got them? Yup, it was Colombia!
This recommendation is a little random, but is a tour of a private collection of emeralds for those who really love these green precious gems.
The tour can be a bit ropey, but is speedy. They’ve got a good and beautiful collection of emeralds and there is a shop at the end.
It’s not really a museum, but if you are really into emeralds a visit is recommended. The ‘museum’ is located on the 23rd floor of the Avianca building and you’ll need to bring your ID to gain access.
Price: 5000 pesos, so $1.57 USD.
Beware When Buying Emeralds
If you are looking to buy emeralds whilst in Colombia, make sure you check out reputable emerald dealers.
Don’t buy them from the emerald market in downtown Bogota, e.g in the square where you see all the old guys standing around, unless you are an expert. Otherwise you might end up with a very pretty…fake emerald. You can also go on a rather pricey emerald tour, if you really want to build up your knowledge of emeralds.
Where To Stay In Bogota
I do recommend pushing the boat out a little and staying in La Candelaria (the old town). We’ve been to Bogota 3 times now and I liked staying in La Candelaria the most. Chapinero is another area popular with tourists, but I’d say it’s a bit too busy, full of traffic and far from central for my liking. With Bogota some areas are dodgy, so do make sure you pick well.
CGH hostel is ran by Carlo, who is a fabulous human. He will do what he can to make your stay comfortable and even help you practice your Spanish. Plus, you will be located bang in the center of La Candelaria and the beds are super comfy.
Casa Del Arbol
Another wonderful place we stayed was Casa Del Arbol as CGH Hostel was booked up one time when we were heading to Bogota. Again the owner is delightful (like so many Colombians), the place comfortable and well located.
Where To Eat In Bogota
Bogota has some damn good (and cheap) eating places, our favourites were:
Quinua y Amaranto
SPQR is pretty popular so often it’s hard to get a table. It’s the top rated place on tripadvisor. It’s blooming cheap and usually serves 2 dishes per day. Again, both are a 3 course meal!
If you are this side of town and want a more local experience, this vegetarian cafe is totally worth your time. You get massive portions, again a 3 course meal! And the cakes they make are as big as bricks. It’s as cheap as chips!
This is one of the few cheap places we found that was open in the evening. It’s cute, cosy and has lots of weird and wonderful antiques around the place. There are lots of veggie options too!
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What an intimate look at Bogota! Definitely my style of exploring a new place. I’ve been trying to learn Spanish with an app but your way sounds lots more fun!
Ah thanks Gabby! And oh my gosh, this school was a hundred times better than apps. I could never get anywhere with app learning. There’s nothing like being taught by a real person, who you can ask questions. Particularly when the classes are full of games and fun 🙂
Insightful read and interesting that Bogata is becoming a haven for international street mural artists. You’ve captured a collection of talented and colourful artists.
The street art really is absolutely beautiful in Bogota. The pictures capture it somewhat, but not completely I’d say!