South America

Bogotá city guide: Where to stay, eat, drink and shop in Colombia’s trendy capital

Once regarded as one of the world’s most dangerous countries, Colombia has seemingly turned a corner. Home to vibrant cities, sprawling jungle and idyllic Caribbean coastline, its capital, Bogotá, is at the forefront of this shift from shock-headline-magnet to must-visit destination. Located in Colombia’s deep interior and built on a high plateau over 8,000ft above sea level, the city has a relatively cool climate which remains similar all year round (temperatures reach an average of 15C even in the hot season, something to bear in mind when packing). Rich in history, Bogotá is a melting pot of culture with Spanish, Mexican and British influence showing in its architecture, cuisine and even the way the locals carry themselves.

Its northern neighbourhoods – Chapinero, La Candelaria and Santa Fe – thrum with tourists. Chapinero is a perfect base to set up camp: as well as being renowned for its nightlife, student population, shopping centres and LGBTQ+ population, it’s well connected by public transport, making it a popular first stop for first timers.

For an authentic Colombian culinary and shopping experience, head down to Paloquemao Market. With hundreds of stalls selling flowers, fruit, coffee, meat and fish, it’s the perfect place for a quick spot of lunch while taking in the sheer scale of what Colombia produces. Sniff out vendors nestled among its narrow passages, serving everything from tropical indigenous fruit such as maracuya to hearty street food snacks like arepas (cornflour tortillas filled with meat, veg or even chocolate). As in most markets around the world, never accept the first price – Paloquemao is a great place to flex your haggling skills. Start with half of what you’d happily pay and work up from there.

Bogotá is a beautiful place steeped in history, with stories at every turn. It’s worth putting aside time to just wander and explore. Peruse the graffiti-adorned streets of La Candelaria – the city’s thriving, bohemian student and arts district. Take a stroll along the eucalyptus-tree-lined avenues of the affluent Chicó district. And visit Bolivar Square to learn about the history of Bogotá and wider Colombia. Rodrigo of ToursByLocals is a Bogotá native and a bastion of knowledge who can also point out the best local coffee shops.

Colombia is famous for its coffee, and with the city of Armenia – centre of the country’s coffee growing scene – not too far away, Bogotá has some of the best java on the planet. Head to Café de la Fonda on your way to Paloquemao Market for some of the best; not only is the coffee delicious, but what looks like an unassuming family run café is actually a fully functioning ‘bean to cup’ coffee plant. Ask nicely, and they’ll let you “backstage” to see the entire process.

In the heart of Chapinero, a stone’s throw from some excellent bars and restaurants, the recently opened NH Collection Hotel strikes a good balance between affordable and luxury. Selling points include an impressive breakfast, comfortable king-size beds, cable TV, a 24-hour reception and security. Doubles from £70, B&B.

Also conveniently located within first-timer-favourite area Chapinero, charming and luxurious Casa Legado has spacious double rooms, a bar and shared lounge, plus a beautifully designed garden where you can eat, drink and relax. Take advantage of the free bike hire service as a convenient way to get around, too. Doubles from £140, room only.

El Chato’s head chef and owner, Álvaro Clavijo, spent years working, learning and honing his trade across Europe before returning to his homeland. He’s created a restaurant that takes traditional Colombian cuisine and gives it a 21st-century spin. Most popular are the chicken hearts with potatoes, but the meringue and lulo (a tomato-like fruit with a citrussy taste) dessert is one of the best in Bogotá.

For a quick pick-me-up to help you refuel, look no further than Renata Tacos. A cheap and cheerful chain of taquerias dotted around the popular Chapinero neighbourhood, their chorizo and cheese tacos should be paired with a Corona beer for a winning combo.

Part restaurant, part nightclub, Andrés Carne is an hour’s drive from Bogotá, but truly worth the detour. From the moment you enter, you’re surrounded by an ambience, colourful décor and music designed to bring Colombian culture to life. Adorned with giant neon signs, brash artwork and quirky décor, it wouldn’t be out of place in the most ‘hipster’ of neighbourhoods; once inside, musicians, magicians and dancers provide tableside entertainment, darting from group to group whilst you eat. Go for the spicy sausage or pork ribs with traditional Colombian breads and cheeses (as the “Carne” in the name suggests, veggie options are limited).

If you’re after fancy cocktails with a uniquely Colombian twist, Huerta Cocteleria n the heart of Chapinero will tick all your boxes. Using local produce, with a focus on sustainability, it combines a low-key, rustic look with a level of opulence that feels like a special occasion any day of the week. The food is pretty great, too.

The colourful, winding roads of the La Candelaria quarter are a great place to bar-hop and meet the locals. There’s often live music, so listen out along the little alleys; Quiebra Canto is a particular favourite, with live music every Wednesday. And be sure to try some chicha, an ancient, corn-based fermented drink sold on the streets here – it’s sweet, alcoholic and comes in different flavours.

Known to locals as “Zona T” due to the shape of its main connecting streets, Zona Rosa is the main nightlife and bar district. Here you’ll find a number of bars and clubs playing everything from pop music to salsa until the early hours. BBC (Bogotá Beer Company) provides great locally brewed craft beers, while Presea, the only Reggaeton club in the area, is perfect for a dance.

The impact of Christianity in Bogotá is plain to see, with over 1,500 churches throughout the city, dating back hundreds of years. One of the most impressive is Santuario Nuestra Senora del Carmen, a short walk away from Bolivar Square. Although not the biggest house of worship in town – that accolade goes to Primatial Cathedral of Bogotá – it’s certainly the most beautiful, with an ornate candy-striped exterior and richly patterned flooring. Take in the giant altar inside, as well as intricately detailed stained-glass windows and hundreds of statues protruding from the walls and crevices.

Colombian Pesos.

Food at El Chato restaurant

Spanish, but English is widely spoken.

Around 10-20 per cent seems to be the going rate.

Five hours behind GMT.

You can get far on foot; however, when travelling across the city, private taxis are recommended both from a safety and convenience perspective.

The patio at Casa Legado, Bogota

Santuario Nuestra Senora del Carmen

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