Bogota, one of South America’s most exciting capitals is packed with so many things to do and places to explore. Whether you’re looking to explore the authentic culture in the old town of La Candelaria or to eat your way around the foodie Usaquén district, there’s something around every corner. The city is far bigger than most imagine and can be compared to metropolises like Mexico City and New York City but don’t let that intimidate you. This guide to the top attractions in Bogota will help you kickstart your visit.
Plaza de Bolívar
Start off at the center of the bustling heart of Bogota and see where government business gets done. Stroll through the sprawling historic plaza, full of pigeons and lined with historical buildings such as the Palace of Justice, the Capitol Building, and the city mayor’s office. You’ll see lots of police around, but they’re just for security as the Presidential Palace – the Palacio de Narino – is just around the square too. The plaza used to be known as Plaza Mayor but was renamed in the 19th century after the military leader Simón Bolívar. Here you can gain insight into Colombia’s history, from its fight for independence to the days of Pablo Escobar’s siege of the Palace of Justice, and see the largest church in Colombia, the Cathedral of Bogotá.
After exploring the Plaza de Bolivar and the unmissable Palacio de Nariño take time to explore the rest of one of the most important areas in the city. La Candelaria is where Simon Bolivar escaped, the revolutionary heroine Policarpa Salavarrieta was executed, and where the revolution began with Grito de Libertad. Just walking along the streets of this district means you can admire the beautiful colonial architecture, and the emerald market is a dazzling spot that many visitors love.
The Salt Cathedral of Zipaquirá
Okay, so this one technically isn’t in Bogota but it’s one of the most popular attractions to visit on a day trip and it’s only about an hour away in the town of Zipaquirá. This entire cathedral has been carved deep underground in a salt mine, and it contains alcoves for worshipping and beautifully lit crosses. It is almost the size of a small town and is situated 180 meters below the earth. Apart from the alcoves for worshipping, the Salt Cathedral also has places to eat and stalls to buy trinkets too. We recommend making a trip here early so you can beat the crowds.
Mercado de las Pulgas de Usaquén
You’ll have to plan your visit to this next top attraction in Bogotá as it only happens on Sundays. This local street market takes place in Usaquén, one of the trendiest neighborhoods with a buzzing food scene in the north of Bogotá. Stalls and tents are set up in the park and down the streets with vendors selling trinkets, and all sorts of goods like handmade bags and shoes that are different from the typical souvenirs you’ll find in Colombia. On Sundays, you’ll find loads of cheap food options along the street and the Bogotá Beer Company is close by for when you’re done shopping.
Photo credit: flickr.com/photos/youngshanahan/326123688
Museo Nacional de Colombia
This is the biggest and oldest museum in the whole of Colombia, originally built as a prison this 1823 fortress is full of treasures waiting to be explored. The museum is massive, with over 20,000 pieces of Colombian history on display in 17 permanent exhibitions in blocks that were once prison cells. There are pre-Colombian artifacts as well as exhibits about the colonial times under Spanish rule. Take time to browse through the artwork and their Afro-Caribbean collections on display as well as the traveling exhibits.
Jardín Botánico de Bogotá
If you’re looking to escape the buzz of the city then the botanical gardens are the perfect attraction in Bogota to visit. This lush, peaceful place is never too crowded and entry to the botanical gardens is cheap (less than 1 USD). For a small fee, you’ll have free reign over the 19.5 hectares of gardens for a perfect day of being surrounded by nature. There’s plenty of room to do some exploring, or you can head out in search of some of the local animals. The variety of flora here is incredible thanks to Colombia getting almost 12 hours of sunlight a day so you can expect to see all sorts of exotic flowers.
The Gold Museum
One of Bogotá’s most interesting and most popular attractions is Museo del Oro, and it’s home to more than 30,000 pieces of gold. There are three floors filled with an unimaginable amount of artifacts collected from Colombia’s pre-Hispanic cultures, each focusing on a different theme. Uncover the symbolism and spiritual aspects of gold’s daily uses and learn how it was discovered, mined, and worked with to make jewelry, masks, bowls, offerings, and even armor. The whole museum is beautifully laid out and the entrance fee is small for such an in-depth look into the past.
The city of Bogota is dominated by a mountain called Monserrate. At the top of the peak is a church and a shrine, and you’ll also be able to access stunning views over the city below. Also at the top are two lovely restaurants and plenty of souvenir stalls. There are several ways to get up and down Monserrate. A stone path takes about 90 minutes to hike up, but you can also ride the funicular. Monserrate is easily one of the top attractions in Bogota, and it is a great way to familiarize yourself with Bogota’s layout from above.
Photo credit: flickr.com/photos/youngshanahan/326123688
Museo Santa Clara
One of the oldest churches in Colombia, with an interior that is one of the most extravagantly decorated. The church was built over a 50-year span in the 17th century and is filled with ornate features such as a barrel vault ceiling painted in a gold floral motif. There are nearly 150 sculptures and paintings of saints decorating the building’s walls. Today, the church is now owned by the Colombian government, and it has been transformed into a museum. Although there are plenty of beautiful churches to see in the city, the Museo Santa Clara is definitely a top attraction in Bogota.
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