I loved Bogotá. From the moment we walked out of the airport and were met with cool, clean subtropical air, I was like, “oh hell yeah.” Bogotá is huge. With a population of about 8.8 million people, New York City and Mexico City are the only North American cities larger than Bogotá. The old and and the new mix well together with giant modern skyscrapers towering over century-old plazas. The city is lush, vibrant, accessible, and rich with culture.
We spent less than 72 hours in Bogotá, here’s what we did.
1:30p Get in
After landing at the enormous new Bogotá airport (a huge change from the airplane hanger in Panama we flew out of) we hopped in a cab. Like most of the countries we’ve visited so far, everyone drives crazy. Most of the time one or more of the seat belts are missing, as if the driver was like, “What the hell are these weird straps for? Better get rid of these!”. We pulled into the Hilton Hotel (we were dying for a hot shower and it was only $70/night) along with a giant bus with a police escort that we deduced was transporting a soccer team. This meant there was 24/7 police presence (along with the cutest golden retriever bomb dogs) outside our hotel during our entire stay. The taxi driver tried to rip us off, we countered, and settled on $22,000 COP ($7 USD). The hotel was super nice, and we delightfully settled in.
3:30p Dos cervezas, por favor
We walked over to the Bogotá Beer Company, which was not easy. Due to the altitude (8,660 feet above sea level) it felt like we were walking through jello. Once we finally arrived we ordered some of their brews and snacks, but the bar felt very American/European, which was not really the experience we were looking for, so we were like BYE.
7:00p What is happening
After a very bumpy cab ride we got to Gaira Café, a giant, eclectic local restaurant/bar/Cumbia house. The decor was industrial shabby chic meets music paraphernalia explosion. We snagged a table on the wrap-around balcony right above the stage and enjoyed some Colombian fare and drinks. When I ordered a glass of wine our waitress looked at me like I had sixteen eyeballs. Either I had accidentally said something offensive in my rusty Spanish (very possible) or people just never order wine at Gaira. Patrick, smartly, stuck with beer. The music/show started around 9p and from that point on we had no idea what was happening. The show began with actors/singers dressed as doctors trying to pull sleepy ladies in pajamas up onto the stage. As far as we could tell the rest of the show consisted of singers (possibly impersonating local artists) trying to cure the sleepy ladies with their music. The house band was fantastic, the singers were like, too good, and the show was a rollercoaster of lights, costumes and music. The audience LOVED IT. They were on their feet dancing, buying bottle after bottle of alcohol, and singing along to the music. The energy was incredible. Bogotá definitely knows how to party.
10:00a To market, to market
We munched our way through the hotel’s incredible breakfast buffet and headed up to Usaquen for the Sunday outdoor market. We grabbed some authentic Colombian coffees and walked through stall after stall of hand crafted art, jewelry, furniture, clothing, and local delicacies. I wanted to buy everything, so instead I bought nothing, and we continued on to explore the rest of the colorful neighborhood.
12:00p History lesson
We walked through the Colombian National Museum, the largest and oldest museum in Colombia. The building was built in 1832 and used as a prison, until it was adapted for the museum in 1948. It houses a collection of over 20,000 pieces of art and objects, ranging from artifacts dating back to 10,000 BC, to twentieth century local art. The building itself was incredible, and very much felt like walking through an old, beautiful prison.
1:30p We’re full, let’s order the pasta
We strolled one block over to Tabula, one of the most delicious and most beautiful restaurants I have ever experienced. Flavorful, simple, and fresh tapas, hand-painted plates, bright, open, and airy space with a giant living wall and beautiful dark wood furniture. It was like a Colombian version of Foreign Cinema (our favorite restaurant in San Francisco) and I didn’t want to leave. After enjoying a number of delicious dishes and completely satiated, the couple next to us received an unbelievable looking lasagna. So, we immediately ordered the pasta del día, a house made red linguine with roasted tomatoes and melted cheese. I wanted to take a bath in it.
We walked through the Chapinero neighborhood, full of narrow tree-lined streets and cute shops. We tried to check out Bourbon Coffee Roasters and Lapercha (a Colombian design store) but were disappointed to find they were both closed. Instead we wandered the aisles of a nearby supermarket (one of my favorite things to do in foreign cities) and laughed at all of the the funny snacks in their kooky packaging.
7:00p Netflix and chill
We had every intention of going out for dinner, but after more than two solid weeks of travel and restaurants, we just wanted to, like, chill. We took advantage of our fancy hotel and ordered room service for dinner (empanadas, ajiaco, and wine) and rented Mission Impossible: Rogue Nation on pay-per-view. It was heavenly.
10:00a Cheese and chocolate
I was overly excited to try my first traditional, Bogotá-style breakfast. La Puerta Falsa, celebrating it’s 200th birthday this year (!) is a tiny hole in the wall restaurant just off one of the most popular plazas in Bogotá. We got a Chocolate Completo which consists of almojabana (bread roll made with cuajada cheese and corn flower), pan con mantequilla (bread with butter), queso (a triangle of fresh cheese), and a cup of hot chocolate. You dunk everything (including the cheese) into the hot chocolate and it’s hot and creamy and chocolatey and delicious. We also got a a steaming hot tamale, wrapped in banana leaves with a chicken leg tucked in the middle. Breakfast for two, $15,000 COP ($5 USD).
We spent the rest of the morning exploring Plaza Bolivar, a very popular square surrounded by four architectural highlights: the neoclassical houses of congress, city hall, the supreme court, and Cathedral Primada. Locals were selling bags of corn to feed/throw at the pigeons, kids were running everywhere, tourists were taking selfies with the monuments, the place was hopping.
We wandered up to Museo Botero, home of the collection of Fernando Botero, Colombia’s most famous visual artist. We uncultured morons described the paintings as “portraits of Augustus Gloop’s relatives”.
Bogotá is home to Monserrate, a mountain that dominates the city center. It rises to 10,341 feet above sea level, where there is, of course, a church. You can either walk up, yeah right, or choose between the 87 year old funicular or the 63 year old gondola. We chose both; funicular up, gondola down. Both rides were smooth, quick, and scenic as hell. The view from the top was breathtaking (there is hardly any air up there), the church was massive, and there was a sizable market of vendors selling tchotchkes and snacks. It felt otherworldly.
3:00p Oh well
With our feet solidly back at a less-insane elevation, we went to check out some local shops, cafes, and museums. Every single one was closed for the holiday weekend (major bummer) so we wandered around and eventually went back to our hotel.
6:30p Early bird special
Now that we’re an old married couple we like to eat dinner early. We walked over to Club Colombia, a highly-rated restaurant in an old two story mansion. The lavishly over designed interior was starkly contrasted with a simple outdoor patio (where we sat). Despite having tons of waiters, the service was laughably awful, but the food was pretty solid. We grabbed a tres leches cake to go (not as good as yours, Elliott, if you’re reading this) and headed back to our hotel for another nice early evening.
1:00p Ship out
After a leisurely morning and another spin through the buffet (seriously, it was amazing), we packed up and headed back to the airport. We definitely felt like we would have enjoyed another few days in Bogotá, especially since so many things were closed. We had a wonderful visit, and I’m looking forward to hopefully returning.
Oh, and one of my most favorite things? This guy’s dedication to cake protection.