My first trip to Colombia was spectacular, to say the least – a perfect 10-Day Bogotá experience. Though I had a problem with my flight and arrived in South America one day later, the time that I spent in Bogotá was amazing. Colombia has a bad reputation that should have died out several years earlier. Many foreigners perceive Colombia to be full of dangerous drug cartels and violence that is out of control. However, this is far from the truth. Colombia might have had its share of problems back in the day, but its major cities have been very successful in stomping out many of the problems. If you don’t want to run into a FARC rebel cell, simply stay away from the Amazon region and other areas which are not so densely populated.
After arriving at El Dorado International Airport in Bogotá and venturing into the city, your first impression of the city may not leave you feeling too enthusiastic. The streets are dirty, homelessness is rampant, and stray dogs seem as common as pigeons in New York City. However, do not be deterred; there are many fun and exciting things to do around every corner.
10-Day Bogotá Experience: Attractions
If you are looking for touristy things to do in Bogotá, you will find yourself well-rewarded. Often given the nickname “Athens of South America”, Bogotá has an abundance of world class libraries and museums to sustain your appetite.
The Museo del Oro, or Gold Museum, is a great place to start your adventure. Gold was the major force behind colonial Colombian civilization, and the role that gold played in those early years can be experienced in its entirety here. Exactly half of the Colombian national flag is yellow, representing the dominance of gold here, so you can imagine just how important it really is. The museum houses the largest pre-Hispanic gold collection in the world.
The Museo Nacional de Colombia, or National Museum of Colombia, is another must-see attraction, as it presents you with a solid background to the country. The history of many of Colombia’s early and original natives, as well as the Spanish conquest that provided much of the country’s identity as we know it today can be found here. There is also a large portion of the museum that is dedicated to many of Colombia’s great artists.
To get a stunning bird’s eye view of the city, head a few blocks south of the Museo Nacional to the Torre Colpatria, or Colpatria Tower. The building, as of 2010, is the tallest building in Colombia and the second tallest in South America. The 50-story tower is named after Colpatria bank, which has its headquarters inside. The view from the top is stunning, and you can go all the way around the top of the Colpatria tower to essentially get a 360-degree view from the heart of downtown. At 3,000 COP (roughly $1.60 USD as of 2010), it is well worth the admission.
If the top of the Torre Colpatria did not satisfy your craving for sky-high panoramic vistas, you best visit Cerro de Monserrate. The summit of this mountain is a popular trek for tourists and pilgrims alike. There is a picturesque little white church built on the top of the mountain, 3200 meters high, and many make the pilgrimage to give thanks to El Señor Caido, the statue of “the fallen Lord” inside the church. Take the funicular (a rail car that feels as if it’s going straight up) or the teleferico (cable car) if you are not inclined to walk. There is some nice restaurants and a quaint little market at the top, as well as some well-kept gardens and a story of Christ’s death.
No tourist can miss out on La Candelaria, a neighborhood of Bogotá that has much historical importance, including the capture and escape of Simon Bolivar, as well as being integral as the starting point of the area’s revolution. This colorful district, filled with pastel colored houses, has many of the city’s most important museums. Check out the Cultural Heritage Museum, Museum of Colonial Art, Museum of Religious Costumes, and the National Police Historical Museum, though there are many more just as significant in this area. Most of the hostels are located in La Candelaria, which is why this is where the majority of the budget travelers and backpackers stay.
To complete the tour of Bogotá’s must-see tourist attractions, swing on over to Plaza de Bolívar, or Bolivar Square, named after Simon Bolivar (it seems as everything in this city is named after him) who has a statue in its center. This is a gorgeous square surrounded on all sides by massive and architecturally stunning government buildings. On the southern side, you have the National Capital building, where the seat of Congress is located.
The eastern side of the square has the Holy Chapel and the Primate Cathedral. On the northeast corner is the Vase house, and on the southeast side is the Mayor School of San Bartolomé, a secondary school originally established by the Jesuits in 1604. Finally, on the western side of the plaza is the Liévano building which is the seat for Bogotá’s Mayor. Though the buildings may capture many of your photographs, the Plaza itself is a relaxing sight to behold. The square seems to be the default gathering place of the city’s pigeons, and you can usually find many locals feeding them. Even as this photo gets duplicated hundreds of times every day, it is still quite the shot when you capture the pigeons newly taking flight, freshly disrupted as someone walks amongst them.
These six places are important for any first-time itinerary to Bogotá, and you could easily fit all of these attractions into one weekend, with time left to spare for others. However, do not limit yourself to these six places, as there are many other sites to see that can further your knowledge of Colombian community, culture, and way of life.