Live Like a Local in Bogota

Continuing our Live Like a Local series, Pete’s sister Hannah talks to us about why she lived in Bogota for a year and what her top tips are for while you’re there.

Why did you choose to live in Bogota?

Good question, to be honest I’m not quite sure how I ended up in Bogota. I had been working in a fantastic charity in London but really wanted to learn Spanish and live abroad. I would not describe myself as a natural linguist but Colombia (as well as Ecuador and Peru) is a great place to learn Spanish. Colombians generally speak a very pure version of the Spanish so it’s a great place to start from scratch. Secondly, I’d travelled in South America previously and I had only heard good things about Colombia. We met travellers from all over the world whose favourite spot in South America turned out to be Colombia.

Hannah exploring
Hannah exploring on of Colombia’s national parks

Where did you live in Bogota?

I lived in a barrio (neighbourhood) called La Macarena just north of the centre of Bogota and the old town, La Candelaria. It’s a nice, mostly residential area which is supposedly very ‘bohemian’ right against the side of the mountains which border the city. It’s a mixture of locals and some expats as well as a super cheap local ‘plaza’ and ‘mercado’ with excellent food as well as some great more western style restaurants.

Bogota
Bogota

Where would you recommend visitors stay?

The main area for visitors in Bogota is La Candelaria. It’s full of narrow, steep streets with beautiful old housing and is close to sites like ‘Plaza Bolivar’, ‘Museo Botero’ and ‘Museo del Oro’ (or the Gold Museum’). This is a good area to base yourself in terms of access to sites as well as the cable car up to the ‘Monserrate’ the view point over the city. Yes, you will bump into other tourists but it’s generally your best bet. If you fancy something different you could look further north to Chapinero or Usaquen which are more residential areas but you’ll then need to take a taxi or bus to the main sites. One things to remember about La Candelaria, it’s best to take taxis around after dark just to be on the safe side.

Bogota street art tour
Bogota has a great street art walking tour

Where’s your favourite place to eat?

Hmmm tricky, if you’re looking for cheap and delicious try Kafarte in La Candelaria. They do a ridiculously cheap and very tasty lunch menu, or if you fancy sea food you could head to ‘Taganga’ further north in Chapinero which does a Colombia version of ceviche as well as Cazuelas (seafood stews). If you want to splash out, take a wander through Carrera 4a in La Macarena, there are any number of good restaurants. I’d recommend ‘La Taperia’, although you might need to book at the weekend.

Traditional food from Bogota
Chocolate completo (chocolate and cheese) and ajiaca (tasty chicken and potato soup) – traditional foods from Bogota

Where’s your favourite place to go out?

Bogota and Colombia generally is music and dance mad. You can find any sort of night out. I’d recommend a trip to Armando Records which often has amazing live music from Cumbia and Salsa through to the classic Colombia reggaetón. If you’re into electronic music, head to Baum which is the centre for all things electronic in Bogota. They also hold ‘Baum fest’ each year so look out for tickets. If you really want to get your groove on and try out some salsa moves, head to ‘Disco Jaguar’, ‘Latino Power’ or the world’s largest gay club ‘Teatron’ which has an entry charge but drinks are then free all night. You will not be disappointed.

Bogota street art
The street art in Bogota takes on many forms

What’s something that you’d recommend visitors do, having spent so long there, that they might not have heard about otherwise?

It’s very hard to get bored in Bogota – there are a ton of different places I would recommend but here are just a few:

On a Sunday afternoon, head out north of the city to La Calera in the countryside which you’ll find restaurants serving ‘Asado’, a Colombian barbeque. This means copious amount of delicious meat served on a huge dish to be shared with a large group of friends with plenty of beer. In the city take a trip to the top of the Colpatria tower for a great view of the city or get lost in the enormous local market, Paloquemao, and try the best fresh fruit juice in South America.

Waterfalls in Cano Cristales
Waterfalls in Cano Cristales

Where would you go for a weekend away from Bogota?

There are lots of beautiful spots around Bogota that are easy to access for the weekend. If you’re looking for heat head to Melgar, south west of the city. For fresh mountain air, Villa de Leyva is the place and also has beautiful views and colonial architecture. If you want to be a little more adventurous head to La Macarena (in Meta). You have to fly here as it’s in the middle of the jungle and not accessible by road. The main reason to visit is the beautiful national park ‘Caño cristales’ which is famous for plains, jungles and rivers full of beautiful red, orange and yellow aquatic plants the likes of which you won’t find anywhere else. Flights are cheap if booked in advance. The advice is to take a tour from Bogota but this is VERY expensive and totally unnecessary. It’s possible to fly in and organise everything from the tiny airport in La Macarena. We found basic, cheap and clean accommodation when we arrived without any trouble and spent two days exploring the park with a local guide. Definitely a highlight of my time in Colombia.

Hannah in Guatape
Hannah in Guatape

If you only had 48 hours in Bogota what would you do?

Okay, ‘Pastelería Florida’ on La Septima (the main street in the centre of Bogota) for a breakfast of Colombian tamale (flavoured rice and meat steam in a banana leaf) with hot chocolate and cheese, a Colombian classic. Then wander down La Septima and take the cable car up to Monserrate for a phenomenal view of the city. Spend the afternoon enjoying the stunning graffiti in La Candelaria and pop into Museo Botero and Museo del Oro. Dinner in La Macarena and then perhaps to Rincon Cubana to try out your salsa skills. Next day, head to Paloquemao market to explore and have breakfast. Then either spend the afternoon doing a bike tour of the city or head up to Usaquen market (only on Sundays) for all your souvenir needs. On Sundays all the main streets in the city are closed to cars and are opened to bicycles, walkers and runners all over the city. Stroll along La Septima to see street artist and stalls selling delicious fruit and other local delicacies. Finally, spend the evening having a few beers at the Bogota Beer Company, whose cervecerias (breweries) are spread across the city.

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