Travel guide to Bogotá: hiking, history, and more

Destinations

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On a plateau high in the Andes Mountains lies the bustling, modern city of Bogotá, also known as the Athens of South America. Immerse yourself in everything Bogotá has to offer: mountains and history.

At 2,640 meters (8,660 ft) above sea level in the Andes, Bogotá is the third-highest capital of South America. While being landlocked, the city makes up for its lack of access to open waters by having become the artistic, cultural, sports, and economic centers of Colombia. The city has a rich history; from the museums to Monserrate, are plenty of things to see and do in Bogotá. Let’s get to it!

Bogotá’s history and development

View of Bogota from aboveBogotá is the third-highest capital in South America — Shutterstock

Before its official founding in 1538, the area was populated by the Muisca who were living in the area for centuries. They were defeated by Spanish conquistador Gonzalo Jiménez de Quesada and his younger brother Hernán Pérez. The newly founded city was formed by Europeans, mestizos, indigenous peoples and slaves, and its population was growing rapidly.

Currently, Bogotá, with its almost 7 million inhabitants, is the most populous city in Colombia. It prides itself with some 120 museums and galleries and around 45 theaters. Lately, the metropolis has become increasingly more recognized as a regional hub for the development of the arts.

La Candeleria, Bogotá’s pride of independence

Street in La Candelaria, BogotaLa Candelaria is arguably the most important district of the city — Shutterstock

One of the most notable leaders of the region was Simón Bolívar, who is among some of the most influential heroes of the Hispanic independence movements at the beginning of the 19th century. His memory has strongly been attached to sentiments of nationalism and patriotism, and the traces of Bolívar are to be found all over the city of Bogotá.

One of the living memories of this historic figure is La Candelaria, arguably the most important district of the city, which saw many landmark events of Colombian and South American independence. It’s the place where Bolívar was nearly killed, but luckily, managed to escape.

Plaza de Bolivar, BogotaBogotá literally grew around Plaza de Bolívar — Shutterstock

The main square, Plaza de Bolívar, is located in the heart of the city in La Candelaria. Bogotá literally grew around this square. Among other sights, it features a statue of Bolívar. Sculpted in 1846, it became the first public monument of the city and it’s surrounded by Simon Bolivar Park, as well as a number of impressive buildings — one of them being the Primatial Cathedral of Bogotá, the seat of the Archbishop of Bogotá, Cardinal Mon. Ruben Salazar Gomez.

Cerro de Monserrate: Hiking around the Andes

Funicular leading to the top of Mount Mounserrate at dusk, with a view of Bogota in the backgroundMount Monserrate is a must for hikers, but there’s also a funicular to the top — Shutterstock

If you’ve had enough history and are feeling slightly more adventurous, you should put Monserrate on your agenda. The mountain is a must for all keen hikers, and on its top, you’ll find a church with a shrine. The hike up will take you about 90 minutes and it offers stunning views over the city.

Located high up at 3,152 m (10,341 ft) above sea level, the Cerro de Monserrate is one of the most famous mountains in Colombia.

There are several ways to get to the holy mountain. The easiest way is to go up by cable car or funicular. But if you’re up for a hike and have around 90 minutes to spare, you should walk up the steep trail leading to Cerro de Monserrate. Montserrate is already very high up in the mountains, and on your hike, you will gain at least 500 meters in elevation. Make sure to take enough breaks to get acclimatized to the heights.

Venture outside of Bogotá for some more hikes

A girl staring at the Chorrera Waterfall near Bogotá, ColombiaAt a height of 590 m, La Chorrera is Colombia’s largest waterfall — Shutterstock

Colombia is a true hiking paradise with varied terrain ranging from dense jungle to sky-high mountains. You don’t have to venture far from the big city to see some amazing natural wonders.

Only a 45–minute bus ride from Bogotá is La Chorrera, Colombia’s largest waterfall. To get there, you’ll need to hike through beautiful farmland and diverse cloud forests for approximately 2.5  to 3 hours. On the way back, you can pass the smaller El Chiflon waterfall.

The taste of the Andes

Tamale on a dinner tableThe traditional dish of Tamale is a mixture of various ingredients wrapped in banana leaves and steam-cooked — Shutterstock

Bogotá offers some great traditional dishes that ought not to be missed. One of them is definitely tamale. It’s a paste made with rice and meat — depending on the region it’s generally pork, chicken, or beef. Other ingredients include chickpeas, carrots, and spices. This mixture is wrapped in banana leaves and steam-cooked.

Ajiaco, another of Bogotá’s signature dishes, is a traditional soup prepared with chicken, potatoes, and corn on the cob. It’s usually served with capers and sour cream with a side of rice and avocado.

After a traditional dessert such as postre de natas (basically a combination of milk, sugar, and egg yolks topped with rum and raisins) or cuajada con melao (a milk, vinegar and rennet custard mix), you can wash everything down with the alcoholic drink canelazo, or alternatively, carajillo, which is made with coffee.

Travel considerations in Bogotá

The best time to visit

Bogotá’s climate can be considered tropical, even though the two natural phenomena El Nino and La Nina can make the weather pretty inconsistent. The city can expect the heaviest rainfall from April through to July. Supposedly, December through to March is the driest time of the year and therefore the best time to visit Bogotá. As a general rule, the weather in places of higher altitudes is more variable.

How to get around

As is usually the case for any bigger city with an airport, there are several ways to get from the airport to the city center. If you decide to travel by taxi, you should avoid hailing a cab on the street as this can pose a risk to you and your belongings. Instead, order a taxi by phone, or even better, use Uber. Another way to the city is on the local bus, which is generally inexpensive and efficient.

Bogotá has the largest network of bicycle routes in Latin America. On Sundays and public holidays, many main and side roads close for the Ciclovia between 7 am and 2 pm. People can cycle, skate or jog freely, or simply watch from the side.

Safety precautions

The late 20th-century brought about a bad reputation for Bogotá. In the 1990s, the city was considered to be one of the most violent cities in the world. A lot has changed in 30 years, thanks to active political campaigning. However, certain common-sense precautions are still in order when visiting Bogotá.

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