16 Epic Things to do in Bogota

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The high altitude capital of Colombia is awash with history and gold. This means there is no shortage of impressive things to do in Bogota on your visit to Colombia.

The city of Bogotá, a Spanish corruption of the indigenous Muisca name Bacatá, is home first and foremost to the legend of El Dorado.

It was gold that sparkled in the eyes of the conquistadors when they conquered their way across the Americas, something that is kept alive in the city’s world-renowned Gold Museum. Of course, seeing said gold is one of the top things to do in Bogota. 

Gold is not the most recent of riches to be exported through Colombia, with the country still under the shadow of an ongoing conflict between different factions, previously known for the heavy inclusion of drug cartels, and the government itself.

Bogotá, therefore, shines as the beacon of Colombia, a vibrant capital full of international cuisine, a multitude of cultural institutions, graffiti that tells of the people’s struggle, and of course the long history from its foundation in 1538 to today.

But where do you start exploring the city? Here’s a round-up of the coolest things to do in Bogotá.

Don’t leave home without: Lonely Planet Colombia (Travel Guide)

16 Best Things to Do in Bogota

1. Monserrate Mountain

BOGOTA, COLOMBIA - Monserrate Mountain (Cerro Monserrate)

Dominating the city center of Bogotá is Monserrate, a 3,250-meter high mountain that serves as Bogotá’s most iconic landmark.

While most people climb for the view, locals make the pilgrimage to the church and shrine of El Señor Caído (“The Fallen Lord”) at the top.

Religion drawn aside though, the high panoramic views certainly make the long staircase worthwhile on its own and the climb is a great morning workout.

The mountain was already sacred to the indigenous Muisca people who inhabited the area before the arrival of the Spanish, but at its lofty summit, like its Catalan namesake, there is a church with a shrine devoted to El Señor Caído – The Fallen Lord, constructed in the 17th century.

Today it is one of the most popular tourist attractions of Bogotá, and there are a few ways to ascend its heights, by funicular, aerial tramway, or the preferred way for pilgrims: climbing.

The views from the top of the city below are outstanding, making it easily one of the most rewarding things to do in Bogotá, even if you don’t climb!

If you’re not feeling too athletic, you can also take the cable car or funicular. Don’t forget to explore the small stalls and restaurants around back after you’re done taking pictures!

Our top recommended tours of Monserrate Mountain:

2. Simón Bolívar Metropolitan Park

Simón Bolívar Metropolitan Park

This large green space is best known as the Simón Bolívar Park and can be counted as the equivalent to New York City’s Central Park. However, in reality, the park is much larger in area than New York’s, being over 970 acres of grassy wonder.

It’s such a slice of nature, in fact, that the park is colloquially known as the ‘Lung of Bogotá’.

Aside from being a huge park, Simón Bolívar Park is also home to an amusement park (the Salitre Magico, featuring a Ferris wheel with nice views of the city), a lakeside area, a sports complex, and an aquatic center complete with Olympic size swimming pool.

The park also regularly puts on events for internationally renowned artists, bands and musicians. There’s enough space to put on an event for around 140,000 people. With all this to do, it’s almost like a town in itself.

3. Gold Museum

Gold Museum in Bogota

If there’s one thing the Spanish Crown was interested in when they first set foot in the New World all those centuries ago, that thing was gold.

Gold made the Spanish empire tick, and it was the legend of El Dorado in particular that sparked their imaginations and drove the conquistadors to explore (and plunder) their way across South and Central America.

Colombia was no different. In fact, it was purported that the mythical city of El Dorado was located in Bogotá itself.

In any case, this museum charts the history of this particularly gold-rich country, back when its indigenous people or namely, its rulers were draped in gold.

Expect to be wowed by ornaments, statues, jewelry, and much more in the way of this intoxicating precious metal.

The most famous museum in Bogotá and the largest collection of pre-Hispanic gold work in the world, the Museo de Oro is a must-see!

Enter Bogotá’s national treasure via heavy vault doors as you explore their gold exhibitions, offering interesting insights into shape and variety as well as educational videos about how gold pieces were made by indigenous Colombians. And all for only a $1 entry fee!

Our top recommended tours of the Gold Museum:

4. La Candelaria

Street of colorfoul buildings in colonial old town la candelaria in Bogota

Taking its name from the Spanish for Candlemas, La Candelaria is most essentially known as Bogotá’s Old Town.

Dating mostly from the 17th century, when the city was founded as a few thatch houses and a straw church, this area is necessarily packed with a million and one historical sights to see.

It is also home to a number of other cultural powerhouses, like Bolívar Square (best known for Primatial Cathedral of Bogotá, housing the remains of the city’s founder, Gonzalo Jiménez de Quesada).

Luis Angel Arango Library, home to 1.1 million books and the most visited in Latin America, Teatro de Cristóbal Colón, as well as a smattering of museums and art galleries.

For things to do in Bogotá, you could do a lot worse than walking amid edificial history, an array of architecture from Baroque to Neoclassical.

Our recommended tours:

5. Do a Bike Tour

Bolivar Square and Cathedral - Bogota, Colombia

One of the best things to do in a new city is to take a walking or bike tour. Bogotá Bike Tour was certainly enjoyable!

Not only do they take you on a tour through Bogotá with informative guides, but you also get to try unusual fruits in a local market and try your hand at tejo, Bogotá’s explosive national pastime!

Only costing one beer to play, you lob heavy stones at explosive triangles placed in a circle on a mud wall. trying to hit one and blow it up.

It is a real explosion so the noise is quite startling, especially since you never know who is going to make contact, but it’s great fun and definitely authentic.

Our top recommended Bike tours:

6. Santuario Nuestra Señora del Carmen

Santuario Nuestra Señora del Carmen in Bogota

This unique Catholic church is built on the site of an older site of religious worship, the small Church of Carmen, built in the mid-17th century to serve the Monastery of San José de las Motores Carmelitas Descalzas in Bogotá.

After various iterations throughout the years, in 1926 construction started on a very different style of church.

Designed by Giovanni Buscaglione, the church took ten years to build and now sits as a proud multicolored building in the Florentine Gothic style, taking cues from Byzantine and Arabic art to complete the amazingly striking edifice.

The interior of the church is just as unique a wonder of red, white and blue in bold arches and vaulted ceilings, an artful and traditionally apt trade for the usual gold-leafed opulence of Catholic churches.

It’s just one building, but this place sure packs a punch.

7. El Dorado Lake Tour

Lake Guatavia, Colombia. Circular lake in the mountains.

As a fan of the movie El Dorado when I was a kid, a visit to the Guatavita Lake where the legend of the City of Gold supposedly came from was a must. Take a tour and you’ll learn all about the odd history around this lake.

The legend of El Dorado incarnates, the Laguna de Guatavita is not located in the city center at all but is an easy day trip away and worth the visit. It was here that the legend of the Golden City began.

The rulers of the Muisca (one of the pre-Spanish Colombian people) in the Bogotá area were called zipas.

In order to win the favor of the Guatavita goddess, the zipa would cover himself in gold dust and then float out to the center of the laguna ‘lake’ where he would throw in gold and other treasure.

The zipa himself became the El Dorado, in Spanish, that’s ‘the Golden One’ and the rumor soon became a legend among the conquistadors.

The Muisca people would celebrate their new king by throwing gold items into the lake as offerings to the gods. Others speculate that the lake is a dimensional gate that leads to a magic world with hidden treasures.

Whatever it is, numerous attempts have been made to drain or otherwise salvage the supposed riches at the bottom of the lake, but only a few artifacts have turned up, now housed in Bogotá’s Museo del Oro.

Our top recommended tours of El Dorado Lake:

8. Catedral del Sal

Catedral del Sal in Bogota

Completely man-made, Bogotá’s famous Salt Cathedral is a maze of tunnels that were blown out with dynamite and then chiseled with jackhammers.

Locals would mine 120 tons of salt from the caves every day but the cathedral now stands as an interesting place to visit and explore.

Don’t miss the Salt Planetarium ceiling that is smoothed so well it looks like marble and reflects light.

Our top recommended tours of Catedral del Sal:

Don’t leave home without: Lonely Planet Colombia (Travel Guide)

9. Graffiti Walking Tour

Graffiti street in Bogota

There’s a modern tradition of graffiti in Bogotá that is just screaming to be discovered.

This is easily done on foot, but an organized tour is by far the most enlightening way to explore the multitude of murals daubed on the side of many of the Colombian capital’s buildings.

Bogotá is well appreciated and known for its elaborate street art. Graffiti was actually legalized in some sections of the city, leading to a generation of extremely talented graffiti artists, actively making it a part of Bogotá’s artistic and cultural identity.

Take a guided tour through the famous cobblestone La Candelaria district given by actual graffiti artists and get a personal account of Bogotá’s unique art scene.

An organized tour encompasses works by the city’s most famous street artists, often representing the culture of Colombia, as well as the political and social struggles of its people.

The country has had a tumultuous recent history, with a complicated civil war only just simmering down, and seeing it through art created by the people at street level – along with an English-speaking tour guide, of course – is a fascinating way to learn more about this vibrant country.

10. Try a Food Tour

Street food in Bogota

While Colombia is known for its rice & beans, and deep-fried dishes, there is much more to be discovered.

Take a food tour through Bogotá and taste local classics like arepas, Bandeja Paisa, bocadillo con queso campesino- Guava Paste with Cheese, honey lollies, and Ajiaco soup.

Try a tour that will steer you out of the tourist areas and off the beaten track to where locals get their cuisine while telling you about Colombian history, culture, and daily life.

Our top recommended food tours:

11. Museo Santa Clara

Iglesia Santa Clara church in La Candelaria aera Bogota capital city of Colombia South America

Construction on the oldest church in the Colombian capital began in 1619, ending in 1647 and becoming one of Colombia’s most richly decorated in the process.

The interior is simply incredible: almost every surface available has been covered in gold or gold ornaments of some kind, and the gleaming gilded way in which it was decorated reflected Spain’s fervor and thirst for gold at the time of its construction.

Today the Iglesia de Santa Clara is not so much a place of worship as it is a museum (as you can tell from the heading of this entry), which itself is housed in a temple previously used by female religious devotees.

Expect colonial artwork alongside modern art exhibitions, as well as the 148 saintly paintings and sculptures in the central nave itself.

12. Botero Museum

Botero Museum in Bogota

Known in English simply as the Botero Museum, this art gallery is named after Colombian artist Fernando Botero.

In 2000 donated 208 pieces of art (123 of his own; 85 from other, international artists) to the state-owned Bank of the Republic, who promptly established the museum in Bogotá’s Old Town.

This is an odd, but nonetheless popular collection famous for his depictions of robust women and fruit. You can see Botero’s artwork all around the city but this is a great little museum to visit.

The historical building it’s located in is beautiful as well. It has a small courtyard in the middle to enjoy as you’re going from room to room.

If art is your thing, then this gallery needs to be on your list of things to do in Bogotá.

Alongside the characteristically chubby and exaggerated objects, and humans of Botero’s own sculpture and paintings there is a large collection of work from numerous well-known artists, from Monet and Degas to Dalí and Max Ernst.

Our top recommended tours including Botero Museum:

13. Gamble on a Guinea Pig

Guinea pig gambling in Bogota

Walking through the streets you may stumble across a peculiar sight: 20-30 overturned bowls and a guinea pig sitting in the center. Guinea pig gambling is a local street performance in Bogotá.

You place your coin on the container you think the guinea pig will choose and if it picks yours, you win!

Of course, the odds are not really in your favor as the guinea pigs are trained and there are many bowls it can choose from, but it’s a fun street game to try for sure.

Don’t leave home without: Lonely Planet Colombia (Travel Guide)

14. Jardín Botánico de Bogotá

Jardín Botánico de Bogotá

Also known by its full title of José Celestino Mutis botanical garden, this splendid showcase of Colombian and Latin American flora was founded in 1955 and is Colombia’s biggest.

Not only a recreational place but also a research center, the botanical garden features every single region, climate, and altitude of Colombia, with a particular focus on Andean and Páramo (read: high altitude tropical) ecosystems.

Alongside an artificial waterfall, there’s a sun clock, a palmetum (a collection of palms), a large variety of South American flowers in addition to a beautiful collection of orchids.

There’s also an arboretum, a plethora of xerophytes and cacti, aquatic plants, and various greenhouses. Fans of greenery could easily spend a day marveling at the flora on offer here.

15. Have a night out at Andres Carnes de Res

Andres Carnes de Res in Bogota

If you want a fun night out, no place is better than Andres Carnes de Res. This club/restaurant is huge, spanning 4 dance floors representing Heaven, Earth, Purgatory, and Hell for you to get down devilishly low all night long.

While the food is fantastic and well varied, you come here for the quirky atmosphere and entertainment. There are cool decorations, odd themes, waiters dressed in odd costumes, and piles of free strawberries.

The whole place is designed for drunk people. They have an entire room of hammocks where you can take drunk friends to be taken care of as you carry on.

They also have a hangover bar next door that offers good soups and other comfort foods. So feel free to salsa the night away!

16. Usaquen Flea Market

Flea Market in Bogotá

Usaquen is a cute little neighborhood to explore that has shops, restaurants, and sometimes live music shows.

The best time to visit is on Sunday, for the flea market. Here you can have fun searching through stalls selling everything from jewelry and scarves, to needle threaders, and shirt pill removing machines.

More on South America:

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About Lina Stock

Lina is an award-winning photographer and writer that has been exploring the world since 2001. She has traveled to 100 countries on all 7 continents. Member: SATW, NATJA, ATTA, ITWA

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