As the vibrant capital of Colombia, Bogotá is a destination on the rise that has much to offer in terms of art, a growing gourmet food scene, and of course, Colombian coffee. It's not unusual for people to still associate the country with drug wars and crime. Seriously, if I had a dollar for every time someone thought I was going to get kidnapped by the cartel, I could've probably funded my trip to Colombia! But if you can let go of these outdated notions, you'll find that Bogotá is actually quite safe and progressive. As more and more travelers are flocking to Colombia, it's time to add Bogotá to your list of cool, new destinations to visit.
The official language of Colombia is Spanish. We found that English is not widely spoken here, so don't expect the locals to speak English with you just because you're a tourist. As someone who speaks very broken and poorly pronounced Spanish, it was definitely a challenge communicating at times. However, all the locals we encountered were very friendly, patient with us, and tried their best to understand. Before you go, I recommend having a few essential Spanish phrases written down or have google translate readily available.
1 USD equals approximately 3,000 COP. The best and easiest way to obtain Colombian pesos is to withdraw from an ATM. Be sure to withdraw the max amount (600,000 pesos) to avoid having to incur transaction fees every time you use the ATM.
Also, Colombian pesos come in large denominations, so always check the amount of change you're getting. It can be easy to mistake a 1,000 bill for a 10,000 bill!
Something I was not prepared for was the change in altitude in Bogotá, which sits 8,675 ft (2,640 m) above sea level. When you're that high up, walking up a flight of stairs feels like a mile on the treadmill. Pro tip: bring your inhaler if you've got asthma!
I highly recommend taking an Uber to get around the city if it's too far to walk. Technically, the service is illegal here, but there are plenty of drivers and we never had an issue using it. Fares are also super cheap, usually around $3-5. It gave us a peace of mind knowing the fare amount rather than getting scammed by taxi drivers.
Is it safe?
For the most part, yes it's safe. I've read stories about travelers getting mugged at knife point, and we were warned by locals to not wander off in certain areas after dark, but my sister and I did not feel unsafe during our time here. The only unfortunate incident of our trip was my sister getting pickpocketed and had her phone stolen. While pickpocketing can happen anywhere, be wary of your surroundings! And as always, it's best to travel in groups.
Where to Stay
During our five days in Bogotá, my sister and I decided to stay in two different hostels so we could experience the different neighborhoods within the city. We spent the first few days at El Pit Hostel, which was located just close enough to the main tourist area without having to be in the middle of it all. It's a 20-30 minute to La Candelaria and a 30 minute walk to the cable car station for Monserrate.
Our second pick was Hobu Hostel. Located in the Chapinero neighborhood, Hobu is farther away from the main tourist attractions, but closer to great nightlife and swankier restaurants. If you want to see the chic side of Bogota, head further up north towards Zona Rosa and Parque 93.
Safety was a main concern of ours when we were researching hostels, and we felt very secure at both locations. While we enjoyed both hostels, I recommend El Pit if you're only in Bogota for a short period. It had a great vibe, and we met a lot of great people here - perfect for a solo traveler looking to make new friends to explore the city with!
Where to Eat
La Puerta Falsa
For traditional Colombian dishes, head to La Puerta Falsa, one of the oldest establishments in Bogotá. Here you can find dishes like tamales and hot chocolate with cheese and fresh bread. But our personal favorite dish was ajiaco, which is this creamy chicken and potato soup topped with avocados, capers, cream and a corn on the cob. It's a super hearty dish, but so flavorful!
If you're looking for a quick bite or something to snack on, you can find empanadas and arepas almost anywhere. Around La Candelaria, you can also find carts selling plantain chips or obleas, which are these wafer sandwiches filled with jam or dulce de leche and other toppings. I recommend the free walking food tour with Beyond Colombia if you want to learn more about the cultural history of typical Colombian food.
Bourbon Coffee Roasters
I'm always on the search for cute cafes, and this place did not disappoint. They specialize in single-origin Colombian coffee, so if you're looking for a good cup of coffee and breakfast, this place is worth a visit. Not to mention they have the most charming patio space!
What to Do
At the heart of Bogotá is Bolívar Plaza, the main square of the city. Surrounding the square are historical buildings including Catedral Primada. Unfortunately, it was under restoration (apparently for the Pope!) while we were there. The statue of Simón Bolívar sits in the center surrounded by an endless flock of pigeons.
Not far from the plaza is Museo del Oro and Museo Botero - the city's best museums.
This historic neighborhood is full of beautiful Spanish colonial architecture and some of the most interesting graffiti. It's a great little area to walk around during the day time, but can get a little dodgy as the sun sets, so make sure to go out in big groups.
Going up Monserrate was the highlight of our trip. From the main station, you can opt to take the funicular or a cable car. There's also the option to hike, but we were warned of possibly getting mugged along the way sooo...nope, hard pass!
Once you're up there, you're treated to an amazing panoramic view of Bogotá. There are two restaurants at the top if you want to grab a bite to eat and a small church. My only regret is that we didn't go during sunset!
For a true look into the local life of Bogotanos, head to the fruit and flower market, Paloquemao. Colombia is home to a plethora of exotic fruits, and you can find many of them here to sample.
While my sister and I went on our own, there are exotic fruit tours you can book for a more thorough guide of the market. If you go on your own, do some research on what fruits you would like to try and write down their Spanish name. We had some trouble communicating, but thankfully the vendors were all very helpful!