Things you need to know about Bogotá, Colombia’s highly under-rated capital
Bogotá totally took us by surprise during our travels. From other travellers’ reviews, we expected to hate this orange-bricked metropolis, but after our first 2 weeks in Bogota, using it as a base to have a normal working life during a big freelance project, we ended up loving it. We then came back for another 4 months, and have just returned again for another 3. This guide will tell you all we know about what to do in Bogota, how to get around and what to pack for the climate. We’ll also direct you to other posts about where to eat, stay and party.
How to pronounce Bogotá: Boh-goh-TAH (for Brits, use ‘o’ as in ‘got’, not as in ‘go’.)
We usually say to people that Medellín is better to visit, whilst Bogotá is better to live, mainly because much of what to do in Bogota revolves around just enjoying the everyday life here, whereas there’s an absolute Mary Poppin’s bag of things to do in Medellín.
Bogota has big contrasts in wealth, development and safety, but during our months here, we’ve never had a problem other than the odd taxi driver trying to overcharge us. Usual precautions apply; you don’t have to be on edge the whole time. Read our guide on the barrios of Bogotá to see which areas are good to stick to, and get safety tips in our post that answers the burning question, ‘Is Bogota Safe?‘.
Use this particular travel guide to plan what to do in Bogota, what to pack and how to get around. We have a fair few other guides for Bogotá, Colombia, so have a good browse before you go!
Bogota is fairly easy to plan a trip to as the temperature is the same all year round – however, this temperature is a mild 18-or-so degrees celsius so you will need jeans and a jacket at the very least (Bogota locals love a good leather jacket). We travelled to Bogota during rainy season, and boyyyyy can it rain! Make sure you have a waterproof of some kind if you’re travelling to the Colombian capital during the rainy months (April, May, October and November).
The best way to pack for Bogota is to bring things you can layer. It’s known as the city of 4 seasons in one day – and it’s easy to see why. Things can change from pouring with rain to burning sun in a matter of seconds, so you might find yourself stripping off layers and piling them back on constantly!
In terms of clothing style, it depends on where you stay in Bogota. Up to the north, when things get swanky, you can expect to see ladies in boots and nice jackets, with large sunglasses and their hair flawlessly sprayed into shape. Men often wear shirts tucked into jeans or nice trousers with a light jacket. Further south, it’s way more casual. It’s rare to see anyone dressed smartly here, with plaint-shirts, football shirts (Colombian, of course), jeans and trainers the norm. Put frankly, it’s good to dress appropriately so as not to stand out as someone worth robbing.
How to get around Bogota
Bogota Transmilenio Bus
This is the infamous red public bus system that runs all around the city. On the main street of Caracas, you’ll see that the Transmilenio has two-lane exclusivity in what would be the central reservation, and you’ll see the platforms every few blocks.
At first, this transport system is a bit confusing, and for some reason it’s something that many people living in Medellín quote as being ‘hell’ when actually their metro system gets just as sardined at peak times. There are two things you need to be able to use the Transmilenio properly. The first is your top-up card, like an Oyster, which you can get from any open office in a Transmilenio station. The next is the TransMi app, which allows you to make sense of and easily navigate Bogota’s bus system. Avoid the Transmilenio at rush hour if you can, as it really does get busy, and make sure your valuables are way out of reach – deep pockets are not deep enough. Take some spare change with you too, as every Bogota bus journey comes with at least one Venezuelan busker – some of them are pretty damn talented!
Uber in Bogota
Using taxi apps in Colombia is illegal, and although they still operate, you need to be aware of the risks. Uber drivers in Colombia will always ask you to sit in the front and may come up with a story of how you met each other as friends. Calling an Uber to or from an airport or bus terminal is an easy way to get stopped by the police – they will take your passport details and give the Uber driver a fine or driving ban. Cabify is apparently also not legal, but at least it would allow you to pull up in a legal-looking yellow taxi.
2020 update:Uber has just announced that they are withdrawing completely from Colombia following pushes from the government. Cabify it is!
Yellow taxis in Bogota
We’ve been ripped off by the official yellow city taxis rounding up and adding imaginary charges a few times, but we’ve been ripped off by an Uber driver making us pay extra by showing us a screenshot of another trip too, so we shouldn’t completely write them off. In the day, there’s not much hassle in taking them, and at rush hour we’ve found yellow taxis in Bogota to be as little as half the price of what Uber was quoting us. It’s only at night or for a very long trip that we would prefer to take an Uber for security and knowledge of how much it’s going to come to. A taxi from Bogota airport to the centre will cost between 25 and 35,000 COP, but you can always organise private airport transfers here.
‘But I haven’t brought an electric scooter to Bogota with me!’ we hear you cry. Worry not. Through the Rappi app, you can simply roam the streets of the ‘Grin zones’ of Chapinero and Usaquén until you come across a green Grin scooter sat on alone the street, scan the QR code on its handlebars and scoot off into the distance. Make sure you’re using either the roads (Grin scooters are pretty fast!) or bike lanes, not the usual pavement. When you’re done, just drop the Grin scooter off wherever you like in the Grin zone for the next person to find. And the cost of Grin scooters in Bogota? There is a starting fee of $1500 COP to unlock and then $300 COP per minute of use.
Walk – it’s ok!
Yes, really. Despite its horrendous reputation, pretty much anywhere in Chapinero, Teusaquillo and Usaquén are actually fine to walk around without fear. La Candelaria is fine in the day, too. Of course, things happen, as they do in literally any city in Europe or North America, but as long as you’re not increasing your risk by flashing expensive things or looking like you’re an incredibly lost, helpless, rich gringo, you’ll probably be fine.
Where to watch European football matches in Bogota
Yes, this is a real thing that we type into Google every time we’re in a new city. Andy can’t live without those Premier League updates whilst travelling! In Bogotá, there are many options for watching European football matches. We recommend Buffalo Wings on Carrera 7 with 57, El Inglés (an English pub) on Carrera 11 with 69, or near enough any BBC location – one of our faves was always in Chapinero, on Carrera 7 with 59.
What to do in Bogota
Go up Monserrate
Here’s what to do in Bogota on the miracle occurrence of a clear day! Monserrate is the big mountain you’ll see as soon as you arrive. At the top is a white church, and incredible views of the city. Perhaps worth noting that it is pronounced phonetically Mon-ser-rat-eh, as many tourists have a habit of saying it like Montserrat, as in the British Caribbean island (for more tips on how to pronounce Spanish place names, check out our full guide).
To get up Monserrate, you’ll need to either get the teleférico cable cars or funicular tram. If you fancy having a particularly unpleasant time, you can also walk up Monserrate.
For the non-walking options, you’ll need to buy your tickets from the desk first – ‘dos trayectos’ will get you a return ticket. Then you have to queue up in the line of whichever mode of transport you chose. The teleféricos don’t start moving until 10am on Sundays and 12pm on other days, but best to get in line a bit before that anyway. The funicular starts much earlier, at 5:30am and 6:30am respectively. Sundays offer reduced price tickets (12,000 return vs 21,000 pesos – last updated August 2019), as well as being a busy day for the church, so unless you’re on a very tight budget it’s best to go another day to beat the crowds. Make sure you go early on a clear day so you can see the city – mornings tend to be clear and afternoons tend to be cloudy in Bogota. The last Monserrate cable car returns just before 11:30pm, so you can enjoy a sunset up there if the evening isn’t too smoggy or cloudy.
Check out 360 views from Colpatria
If all this cable car up Monserrate malarky is too much effort for you, you can also go to the top of the Colpatria Tower in Santa Fe, Carrera 7 with 89. At 50 stories, this is the third tallest building in Colombia, and fifth in South America. The 360 viewpoints from the top are fairly epic. Entry costs 8k COP per person, and it’s open from 6pm to 9pm on Fridays, 2pm to 8pm on Saturdays, and 11am to 5pm on Sundays and national holidays.
Get a taste of Bogota
For the foodies among us, the city of Bogota offers a great range of tickles for your tastebuds, and you can also go further afield to a finca to see how the coffee producing process works in the third biggest grower in the world. Check out some of your options here:
Another thing we ABSOLUTELY recommend you do (but it can be done in most cities in Colombia, not just Bogota) is play tejo. Tejo (pronounced ‘tay-ho’) is a traditional Colombian game – think bowling mixed with shotput with some explosives thrown in. Yes, real explosives. The aim is to throw a metal disc onto a clay target, the perimeter of which is marked with explosive patches to let you know you’ve hit the jackpot. And as with all good sports, Colombians believe the drunker you are, the better you play, so expect to get some beer included with your evening. If you’re travelling solo and want to find people to play this game with, check out the Bogotá tejo and beer tour.
– Where to play Tejo in Bogota
In Bogota, the most popular no-frills authentic place with a friendly atmosphere is Club de Tejo La 76 in Barrios Unidos, but on a Friday or Saturday you have to get there early (before 6-7pm) or you won’t get a space. If they don’t have room, there are plenty round the corner, such as Club de Tejo San Miguel and the slightly ropier Campo de Tejo 28 (above the pool bar). Our favourite is by far Club de Tejo Piqueteadero La 28 B for its less stuffy atmosphere and LOVELY manager, Mariela.
The area seems a little rough around here at night, so take a taxi rather than walk if you’re not in a big group. Check out a video of us playing tejo here:
– Can kids play tejo in the clubs in Bogota, Colombia?
Unfortunately, no. Unless you find a casual tejo lane in someone’s garden (much more likely in the countryside), licensing laws mean that most owners of tejo clubs will not let you play tejo with kids, especially on a Friday and Saturday when the police are most likely to come knocking. We tried to take Lozzy’s 13-year-old cousin with us and 3 clubs turned us away. When planning what to do in Bogota with a teenager, we forgot to recognise that tejo is essentially a drinking game, and the tejo clubs are essentially bars. Slow clap. You’ll need to find something a little more wholesome for kids!
Get smashed on a chiva
You heard us. A chiva is a typical windowless bus, usually painted in Colombian colours, adorned with flashing LED lights and fitted with booming speakers. If you’re lucky, it’ll have a few dancing poles installed, too. Now that we think about it, a chiva ride should perhaps have been first on our list of what to do in Bogota.
In the capital, you can either take a chiva bus as transportation/a warm-up to Andrés Carne de Res (more on that in our Nightlife in Bogota post) using an organised tour, or you can book yourself on a chiva ride that essentially just cruises round the city for a few hours, with a stop at a city viewpoint on the route. While tourist deals tend to be around 90-100k pesos per person, often with some rums included, the best deal we found by contacting companies privately was 3 hours for 45,000pp with Chiva Tours de Colombia, which includes one beer and the rest is BYOB. If you have a lot of friends in Bogota and want to make a real party of it, you can hire the whole chiva bus and fill it yourself with 30-40 people using Chivas City Tours and Tu Chiva, at around 600,000 pesos total. You can also find smaller 10-person chivas to fill for 500,000 pesos.
Drink as the locals do
As you know, when not knocking back rum on a chiva bus, Andy loves to sit down with a good craft beer. It just so happens that the pride of Bogota is BBC, or Bogotá Brewing Company. You’ll see their outlets all over the city (and a few in other cities too), with small, cosy outlets called the BBC’s ‘Bodegas’, larger bars with beer gardens or even a food-truck courtyard surrounding a BBC bar.
Make sure to pop in for at least one – the beers are all named after areas in an around the capital city and they have a great selection – the honey beer is recommended for anyone who isn’t that into beer. You can also try ‘refajo’ here, a traditional Colombian drink which is a beer and fizzy drink mix; typically lager with ‘Colombiana’ soda, but BBC have a few varieties on offer with different types of beer and soft drink.
For the beer connoisseurs, there is also a craft beer tour to do in Bogota.
Brunch at Click Clack Hotel
Available on a Saturday and Sunday by reservation only, Click Clack Hotel puts on an incredible brunch in Parque 93. While expensive on Colombian terms, for the average European 95,000 COP (£24) for unlimited cooked-to-order crepes, eggs, cakes, Colombian dishes, fruit, sushi, meats, bread, coffee and cocktails in a seemingly unlimited time frame all accompanied by a live DJ is pretty damn cheap. Dress up a little nicer for this one; you’re with the other half!
Now, Bogota has a fair few flea markets, but our favourite way to while away a Sunday afternoon is to visit the artisanal market in Usaquén. Expect to find high quality goods and souvenirs here – if you’re going home soon and don’t have to worry about luggage space, this is an excellent place to find something to brighten up your home. Go around lunch-time so that you can fill your boots with street snacks.
If you’re looking to buy tech stuff, head to Unilago on Calle 78 #5, or Avenida Caracas in the mid-50s for second hand gear. Cheap clothes can be found in Chapinero Centro (carrera 12), or Outlet Centre Las Americas further west. You’ll be able to shop European and American clothing brands in Zona T.
Get lost in the Paloquemao Market
This is fast becoming a popular place for tourists to go to see a real slice of Bogotá outside the tourist centre of La Candelaria. If you’re wondering what to do in Bogota on a rainy day (there are many), this is a pretty good option. On Avenida 19 with 25, Paloquemao market has separate sections for flowers, meat, spices, fruit & veg. It’s open from 5am to 4:30pm Monday to Friday, and only until 2pm on weekends. We highly recommend supporting the locals there by buying a few things – don’t forget to haggle, but don’t be too ruthless. Buy a few fruits you’ve never seen before and give them a try! You do have to be careful with your bags in Paloquemao, but let’s be real here, if you’re staying in La Candelaria the risk of pickpocketing is probably the same anyway.
Take a Bogotá walking tour
This is exactly what to do in Bogota on your first day in the city to get a brief flavour of the history and culture. The Beyond Colombia free walking tour in Bogota is pretty interesting, starting from outside the Museo del Oro at 10am or 2pm. It will take you to all the main sites in the centre, including inside the Museo Botero gallery which people rave about. You’ll also do tasting of some traditional chicha drinks in the old-style gourds. There are several other tours in Bogota, including a graffiti tour which people tend to love. Check out a full break-down of tours at our friends Wandering Excursions’ site here.
Get your jog on!
Every Sunday, Bogota’s main road, Carrera 7 (Septima) is shut to cars, leaving it free for cyclists, runners and roller-bladers to use. It’s more like a fun-run than anything serious, so if you’re looking to do something like a local, get jogging! If you love running AND drinking combined, check out our friends’ weekly event, the Bogotá Hash Harriers to see when they’re next meeting! If you do any running in Bogota, though, do remember that the altitude is 2,600m, so depending on where you’ve last come from, there’s a fair chance your body will need a few days at this height to acclimatise.
What to do in Bogota’s nearby towns
Day-trips and weekend breaks
There are plenty of places to visit within a 3 hour radius of the city of Bogota, and the buses tend to be pretty straight-forward and inexpensive. See why each of the below made our list of best day-trips and weekend breaks from Bogotá here. We plan to flesh all of these out into proper guides on what to do near Bogota, so bear with us! Roughly, from close to far:
There are soooo many barrios to choose from, so for this, please check out our standalone Guide to where to stay in Bogotá. This will let you know the most vibrant, safest areas of Bogota to stay in.
Where to eat in Bogota
Again, way too much to say here, so we’ve split out the best places to eat in Bogota into a separate post to give this one any chance of being readable.
Nightlife in Bogota
You guessed it, we’ve put a list of what to do in Bogota at night into a new post to make things clearer. Have a read of the list of the best bars and clubs in the city in the nightlife in Bogota post.
How long to stay in Bogotá: 2-3 days (over a weekend), not including Bogotá day trips!
That’s a wrap! Hopefully this has given you a good idea of what to do in Bogota, how to get around and how to pack for the climate. If you have any questions still unanswered about our favourite city, please reach out to ask us!
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