Best of Bogotá: What to Do and Where to Eat
A few years ago the Colombian government signed a historic peace deal with the FARC rebels to end decades of violence, though Andrew Dier, author of the Moon Colombia travel guide, says the country has been a safe place for tourists for years.
“Colombians are very warm and welcoming people,” says the American expat. “They’re actually glad that you’re there. Like, if you go to Germany nobody cares, but there they're actually grateful and proud that you've chosen their country to visit.”
Andrew and his Colombian husband have lived in Bogotá for 20 years and founded the country's main gay rights nonprofit, Colombia Diversa, back in 2004. He came on the Postcard Academy podcast to share his best tips on that to see and do in Bogotá and the rest of Colombia. Here are some highlights (subscribe to the podcast).
Bogotá’s must-see museums and culture
“Bogotá is worldwide known for its gold museum, the Museo Del Oro, and it's a fantastic place where they display gold and silver artifacts from the indigenous cultures of the country. Give it a least three or four hours — they have very good tours there, as well.
“There's an art museum, the Museo Del Banco De La Republica, in Candelaria, it's free. Next to it is the Museo del Botero which is a beautiful colonial house, and it features works by Fernando Botero.
“And historical churches are all over the place – the 16th century, 17th century onward. The Monserrate is a famous little chapel on top of the mountain. Bogotá is surrounded by mountains, the eastern range of the Andes. And you can either hike up the mountain or take a cable car, and, depending on the weather, you will get a great view of the city.”
Art galleries in Bogotá
“There's a burgeoning gallery district called San Felipe, and it's in a working-class neighborhood. All of a sudden in the past couple of years it cropped up kind of out of nowhere. There are probably 10-15 galleries there where you can visit and gallery hop. Some of them are linked with the galleries in New York and other places. But you don't have to be in the market to purchase art. You can just check out the art on display.”
Bogotá food market
“There's a famous market called Paloquemao and that's sort of near the Candelaria downtown. It’s humongous and sells fruits and vegetables, there is fish. But what's nice about it is, if you can get up at 4 in the morning and go there, that’s when the flower sellers are out, and you have to go there early to get the most beautiful flowers. Colombia is a huge flower-producing country.
Bogotá’s best coffee
“My favorite coffee shop is Azahar coffee. This is a coffee company that was started by an American, and they have a café in San Felipe, so you can go do the gallery thing and then take a break at Azahar. Their main branch is in the north, and what's special about Azahar is that they serve really good specialty coffees, and they have a social impact policy where they only source from small farmers and different regions throughout Colombia, paying them much more than some of the bigger coffee companies pay.”
Best dinner options in Bogotá
“They go out a little bit later than Americans do. Probably 8ish, 9. There's a district in Bogotá called Chapinero Alto. It's gay hipster, and it’s a pleasant barrio. There are several restaurants there that are fun and happening. There's one called Villanos en Bermudas, which literally means 'villains in Bermuda shorts.’ There's another place in that same area of Chapinero Alto called Salvo Patria.
“The most famous restaurant in Colombia is called Andres Carne de Res, which literally means Andrew Beef, which I think is funny. It's a huge, huge restaurant. They have a couple of sites. It’s a fun carnivalesque atmosphere, and they serve of all kinds of Colombian dishes from all over the country. Waiters and waitresses all dress up in costume, and they act crazy. They have fun musical shows. Usually you have dinner, and then at some point everybody's dancing.”
Vegetarian restaurants in Bogotá
“Before, I’d have to rely on a can of lentils or something when I traveled somewhere, but nowadays, there’s several vegetarian restaurants. Make Out is by a chef from New York, Matthew Kenney. He has a fancy vegetarian restaurant in New York and in Miami, as well, so that’s on the high end of vegetarian. On the lower end, but also good, you can check out RAW, and also VG TAL. They usually have a set lunch menu for, like, $8.”
Do they tip in Colombia?
“I wouldn't worry too much about tipping. In Bogotá, in the major restaurants, there's a 10% tip already included, you have to look for that on the bill, it's servicio incluido. That's true, as well, in Cartagena. In small towns, It’s not usually expected, or if you'd like, just 5 or 10%. Taxis: sometimes they'll include the tip without your permission, but you don't need to tip them. And in bars, you don’t need to tip.”
Best souvenir of Colombia
“Every part of Colombia has their own handicraft. These are centuries-old traditions usually from indigenous tribes. For instance, on the Caribbean coast they weave beautiful, colorful hammocks and they’re also known for their sombrero vueltiao. It means a turned hat, which refers to the process of making it. It's a woven hat made from this special reed that grows there, and it’s sort of like the symbol of Colombia. It’s like a cowboy hat.”
What do I need to know before visiting Colombia?
“When you meet people, you have to go through some pleasantries before you get into the conversation, so you have to ask ‘How are you’ and ‘What have you been doing,’ ‘Hello.’ Reserve five minutes for these pleasantries.”
Special events held in Bogotá
“Bogotá is the cultural capital of Colombia. There are tons of museums, and there’s also a famous theater festival that takes place every two years. It's usually around Semana Santa, which is Holy Week, Easter week. It's amazing because on any one day, every evening, there’s, like, 10 different plays or dance productions you can go see. These are from all over the world: the US, Slovenia, Australia, everywhere, Korea. It’s called the Festival Iberoamericano de Teatro de Bogotá.
“There's a fantastic artesanias festival, handicraft fair, in Bogotá every December and you’ll see hand-woven and hand-produced items from all over the country, indigenous tribes from the jungles of the Amazon. The government actually pays for them to come to Bogotá during that time to help sell their wares, and it’s the major source of income for them. But if you're not lucky enough to go during that fair in December, you can look for artesanias handicrafts in markets. There's some that are geared toward tourists downtown which are kind of fun to visit, but there's also high-end handicrafts at the store called Artesanias de Colombia, and they have a store in Bogotá and in Cartagena.”
Where to stay in Bogotá
“Most people stay at La Candelaria, which is the historical center of Bogotá. The Plaza de Bolivar is the center of that center. It's full of museums. Colombia’s had a very, very rich development in art in the past 30, 40 years, probably due to the conflict. That's the way artists express themselves.”
Bogotá weekly events
“What I love most about Bogotá is the Ciclovía, and that's every Sunday from, I guess, 7 a.m. to 2 p.m. Many miles of the city streets are shut and open only to bicyclists and joggers and dog walkers and skaters. And so on a sunny day, you might see up to 1.5 million, even 2 million, people exercising. It's fantastic.
“A good website to check for goings-on like big concerts and stuff is Tuboleta.com.”
Interested in becoming an expat in Colombia?
If you found this article useful, please share it, and subscribe to the Postcard Academy podcast. Each week, expats and adventurers share their insider travel tips on the best food, nightlife, and cultural experiences in the most interesting places around the globe. I’m your host, Sarah Mikutel, an American who's spent the last 7 years living in, and traveling around, Europe.