When people think of Colombia, they often think of the Carnival de Barranquilla, La Feria de Calí, the history that belies cities like Medellín and the beauty that lies in the old port city of Cartegena. What do these places have in common? They are all bustling with a vibrant party spirit, coastal flavors and of course the heat. So which one of these tropical paradises is the capital city, you ask? None of them.
With a population almost equal to that of New York City, fitting into about a third of the space, Bogotá, Colombia is more than meets the eye. While it cannot boast about inviting weather and has some of the worst traffic in the country, being the capital city has its perks. After living in Bogotá for a year, I discovered some hidden gems within the city, and had some charming experiences that will make any visitor happy that they picked the the capital over the country’s smaller, yet temperate tourist attractions. Here are my top six picks of things to see, do and experience in Colombia’s capital city:
1. Take a graffiti tour! Bogotá is not so secretly on the come up when it comes to street art. All across the city you can see what some may consider street artivism (art as activism) as well as intricate portraits and public art pieces. To take in this site, there are guided walking and bike tours of the city’s graffiti spots depending on your preference.
2. Want a spectacular view of the city? Head up to Monserrate for the day. Monserrate is a mountain that overlooks the city at an impressive 10,341 feet above sea level. You can follow the path of those who take the journey up the mountain on foot or head up via an air tram. Either way, the view is magnificent, and a day trip to Monserrate will reveal some history about the city.
3. While Bogotá has malls and smaller shopping centers that resemble that of an American city or small town, the gems of the city are Usaquén and El Centro. These two areas do not boast a typical shopping experience but one that will leave you with hand crafted jewelry and one of a kind gifts and trinkets for your loved ones.
4. Ciclovia on 7th Ave is reminicent of Summer Streets in NYC. Have a bike? Want to run or walk? Sunday’s the day to do it! Every Sunday, La Septima, or 7th Ave, is closed off from downtown, all the way up to the northern most part for bikers, runners, walkers and strollers to move about the avenue, free of cars from morning through mid-afternoon. It’s a great way to see the city!
5. Because folks from all over the country come to the capital for work and other opportunities, there’s food from many regions! In the mood for some fish? Head over to Sabor del Pacifico in the Chapinero neighborhood. Want a hearty reminder of home? Head over to MASA for some French Toast that will have you rethinking your loyalty to your favorite diner. Make sure you get a bowl of Ajiaco soup at Sopas de Mama y Postres de la Abuela.
6. Cumbia, salsa, champeta, salsa choke and vallenato are just a few of the musical styles that’ll sweep you off of your feet in Colombia. There are small spots and grand halls that offer the best DJ sets and live jam sessions to entice newbie and seasoned dancers alike. Zona Rosa, Chapinero and La Candelaria are three neighborhoods that are notoriously filled with visitors and locals looking to dance the night away.
Visiting Colombia is a sensory experience. Bogotá welcomes all with open arms as it holds Colombian history and cultural pride at it’s core. It may not be the top destination for most visitors looking to get away from cooler temperatures or populated cities. However, it’s well worth the leap of faith and creating new footprints along the unbeaten path. Travel on!